August 25 is Kiss and Make Up Day. And that’s a perfect time to discuss how to fight in a family. There’s a misnomer in parenting intelligentsia that mom and dad should never argue around the kids. This myth is not only unrealistic and unfair, it’s unhealthy. Disagreements are normal. Kids need to see their parents squabble occasionally to learn communication and conflict resolution skills. Obviously, there are cleaner ways to fight, but even messy battles provide learning opportunities. Here are tips on how to fight, communicate, resolve conflicts in families. Use these healthy parent “fight club” rules.
Choose your battles carefully. Kids learn to prioritize problems by watching what issues their parents choose to fight about. If parents constantly quarrel over petty trivialities, kids learn to devalue the essentials and over-focus on the insignificant. Teach kids what things are worth fighting for what aren’t.
Bite your tongue, but gingerly. Parents shouldn’t bicker endlessly but neither should they evade every confrontation. Bite your tongue too often and you end up with festering canker sores. Biting your tongue when you should speak your truth teaches kids to be doormats.
Find your Zen zone. Problem-solving isn’t easy, so look for ways to make it as comfortable as possible. Have those big discussions (that may turn into arguments) after a meal, on walks or cuddling in bed. Don’t try to problem-solve if you’re tired, ill, depressed or have been drinking alcohol. It will turn uglier than you can handle, fast.
Don’t always suck it up. There isn’t always time or space in family life to talk out every problem. This shouldn’t become an excuse to avoid problems. When negative feelings get put on hold for too long, they turn septic. Rearrange logistics so that there’s time to address feelings, issues and concerns.
Enforce “do not disturb” times. Parents, jealousy guard your private talk-time. Don’t make excuses or apologize for it. The kids should know that if there’s an emergency (as in the blood-on-the-floor kind) parents are available. Otherwise, during talk time, be off limits until you get the issue straightened out. Obviously, don’t push it too long or chaos will ensue. But as you make problem-solving a priority, so will your kids.
Do what you need to do. To make time for problem-solving, you sometimes have to postpone plans. Don’t apologize for that either. As co-pilots of the family, parents are responsible for navigating the family ship. You need time and space to do that as you see fit, whether it inconveniences others or not.
Don’t be afraid of fireworks. Another misnomer about good parents is that they never yell. That causes a lot of unnecessary parenting guilt. A lot of issues are so sensitive you can’t avoid getting upset. So it gets loud and everyone is uncomfortable for a time–they’ll survive. In fact, as kids grow, they often say they appreciate the candor, even when it gets noisy, as it helps them work through their own relationship issues.
Build bridges, not walls. Look for common ground. Nix your personal agenda in favor of a shared vision. Make discussions collaborative, not combative or competitive. Put your partner first. In marriage, couples ideally become one, so what’s best for her is what’s best for you, too. This teaches kids how to sacrifice for the good of others. Most of all, be easy on yourselves and each other. Forgive quickly. Be willing to kiss and make up. Hug early and often.