“If any married couple tells you that they always agree, they are either lying or one member of the relationship is unnecessary”. I remember Jay Fesperman saying this as his lovely wife, Sally, stood next to him smiling sweetly. The Fespermans were the owners/directors of the Inn of the Last Resort in Franklin, North Carolina. This mountain retreat center held marriage and parenting retreats where Jay and Sally imparted Godly wisdom to young families in the 1970’s. My husband and I were privileged to attend several times. It wasn’t that we were slow learners – at least I hope not – it was more that we learned something new each time as our children grew older, as we matured in our marriage, and as circumstances changed in our lives.
The first time we attended the Christian Marriage and Parenting retreat it was 1977 and I was pregnant with our first child. I was teaching kindergarten at that time and I could manage 23 five-year-olds easily. My classroom was organized and productive. Parenting was going to be a piece of cake!
Wrong!!! I had a difficult time getting a handle on organization in the home. Sometimes it was 5:30 before I even thought about supper, and that was the time the children were ready to eat. I would lay something down to change a diaper or resolve a sibling conflict and forget where I put it. When I left home to run errands, I often forgot something because I was in a hurry to get home to breastfeed, put the kids down for a nap, or feed them lunch.
This created some conflict in our marriage. I had been very competent as a teacher, but as a mother of four young children, I felt like I was struggling to keep my head above water. My frustration spilled over into my relationship with my husband.
Fortunately, we had learned some conflict resolution skills at the above mentioned Marriage and Parenting Retreat. Ignoring this conflict would not make it go away. It would not “fix itself” over time. We had to address this issue and come to a place of mutual understanding. Here is a list – please forgive me, but lists clarify things for me and bring order to my right-sided brain – of steps that have helped us resolve conflict in our family in a positive way.
- Conflict is normal, even healthy, if resolved with respect. Differing opinions can bring new insight and balance to a relationship. No two thinking people always agree.
- Resolve conflict at a “neutral” time. In other words, don’t discuss what appropriate discipline for a child should be when you are disciplining the child.That will allow the child to determine who is on their side and play the parents off one another. Present a united front – then discuss appropriate discipline when the child is not there. If the issue is varied opinions about manners at the table, discuss it before or after the meal, not during the meal. We are more defensive in the heat of the moment than if a concern is brought up later.
- Address the present concern without bring up the past. “You did it again……” Maybe that is true, but we all need grace to change and the real issue is the present concern. This can be particularly disheartening for small children who by nature are learning to follow through and will repeat misbehavior.
- Avoid using “always” and “never”. Besides being untrue, those words are often unfair. I may forget to lock the front door once in a while, but to say “You never lock the front door” is not true. “You always leave your toys all over.” says to a child that you don’t notice when they do pick up their toys.
- Let the other person know how their behavior makes you feel. I had to let Phil know that I felt rejected when he didn’t want to hear about my day, or talk to me about his. Believe me, this was not resolved once and for all time! We have revisited this issue several times in our marriage because of the differences in our personalities. This will happen with children as well. You may need to explain to a child several times that it is disrespectful to ignore a parent’s instructions, that you feel upset when they don’t listen.
- There are times when you need to agree to disagree. As adults with different personalities, there are areas that you may never agree on. Phil and I have one area in particular. We recognize this and though it still causes occasional conflict, we refuse to let it divide us. With children, they may not agree, but they still must obey!
- Love One Another – Love covers a multitude of sin.
Colossians 3:10-14 (NLT)
12 Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.
These verses share the wisdom needed to live together in harmony. May God grant us His Spirit to do so.