THE DAUGHTER ARRIVES HOME LATE
Although their daughter agreed to be home by 12 midnight, she arrives at 1.30 in the morning. The parents are extremely worried that something may have happened to her and are quite relieved when she finally gets home.
What kind of message might they give to the child? They might express their anger at her disobedience and reject her for being inconsiderate and irresponsible. They might threaten her and punish her with the hope that she will obey out of fear in the future.
A possible communication might be something like this:
“Susan, please sit down. We have a great need to discuss with you how we feel about your coming home at 1.30 in the morning, when we had agreed that you be here by midnight. We have been extremely worried during the last hour and a half. All kinds of possible dangers have passed through our minds as we were waiting for you. We love you very much and would not like any harm to come to you. We still feel responsible for your health and well being, and would find it difficult to forgive ourselves if anything happened to you. We would feel that we had been irresponsible in our roles as parents.
“It is extremely important for us that we come up with a formula with regard to your evenings out, which would be agreeable to both you and us. We want you to be happy in your life but also have a need to feel that we are performing our role as parents correctly and that we are protecting you as well as we can.
“We also need to feel that we are bringing you up in the right way. When you do not respect your word, we worry about whether we have failed, as parents, to teach you to honor your word. We are interested in hearing from you what happened and why it is that you did not come back by midnight; also, how you believe we should act in this situation. We would like to hear your suggestions as to how we can find a formula for future times when you go out. It is very important for us that we know when you will be arriving and can be sure that you will be here at that time”
The discussion can then go back and forth as we alternate between I-statements concerning our feelings and needs and active listening, in which we listen to the needs of the daughter, until we find some suitable solution.
THE CHILDREN ARE FIGHTING OVER A GAME
When we see our children fighting over a toy, a game, TV program, or any other object, we feel great inner conflict. We feel that both of our children are parts of ourselves, so when they are fighting, it is as if two parts of our own being are fighting. We may feel that we are failing as parents to create harmony in our home. We may feel guilt for that. We may feel angry towards one of the children who is acting more egotistically. We may play the role of the judge and persecutor. We might punish one or both children, without discussion.
A possible example of communication might be:
“Children, please come and sit down. I want to express to you how I am feeling at this moment, as I am watching you fight. Each of you is equally a part of me. I feel so connected with you that whatever happens to you is like it is happening to me. When you fight with one another, I feel great inner conflict. I feel confused. I do not know what to do. I do not want to take sides. I want you both to be happy. I do not know how to make you stop.
“Maybe you could help me so we may together discover what I could do to help you. This will be useful for all of us. There will certainly be times in your lives, in which you will come into conflict with others around you. This will help us all to see how we can handle such conflicts in a different way. I would like each of you to think about what it is that you wanted and could not get from the other, which caused you to get angry and to fight in that way.
“Each will take turns to express what his problem was and we will keep going around until all of us have said whatever we need to say. I ask that only one rule be kept: when someone is talking, that we do not interrupt him but let him conclude that which he is trying to say. If we disagree with him, we can have a chance later to express it. Now, let us begin”.
After each child has had a chance to express his or her feelings and opinions, and the opportunity to speak has gone around the circle a number of times and everything has been said, then we can ask for possible solutions as to how we can structure our lives and routine of living so as to avoid similar conflicts in the future. All of these solutions can be written down and then discussed. Eventually a combination of the various ideas can be adopted for a trial run to see how it works.
This group method of “brainstorming” for solutions to group problems has the advantage that each person feels that his or her ideas and needs have been respected in the creation of the solution. Even if our needs are not 100% met, we feel that at least we have been heard, considered, respected and allowed to participate. Thus our cooperation will be much greater and from the heart.
Eventually we can close by asking the children how they would like us to act in such situations, if the children, in spite of their efforts, come into conflict again for some reason or other.
The basic obstacle towards such a way of handling conflicts between children is, on the one hand, the lack of time on the part of the parent and, on the other, the lack of ease the parent feels in handling such conflicts. We must learn that conflicts are natural in a world in which we all have differing needs and ways of seeing things.
We tend to avoid talking openly about conflicts, which just makes them recur more and more often, because they are never brought out into the open and be solved. Many times conflicts occur concerning superficial or unimportant matters, when the real problem is about something else, which has never been discussed. Handling conflicts in this open and honest way gives us a chance to deal with the real personality problems that are behind these superficial conflicts.
Communication is a lost art, one which must be regained through practice and by breaking free from the ineffective patterns which we have learned from our parents and from society.
Effective communication is a process of being constantly aware of what we are really feeling and expressing it openly and honestly without blaming the others for what we feel. The other aspect of communication is to understand what the other person is feeling and thinking. Without mutual love, respect, understanding and atmosphere of equality, there can be no effective communication.
I again encourage us all to become more efficient in our communication skills, to take seminars on communication, in which we can practice those techniques under guidance. It is never too late to make the change. We might be 70 and our child 50 and we may still be caught up in the same old ego games we were 40 years ago. We would do well to free ourselves from these obstacles to love and unity, and thus happiness.