Tag Archives: compassion

Taking the Negativity out of Conflict

Last month, we had a guest speaker at my church – Tim Dawes, an author, consultant and TEDx speaker – who offered a powerful approach to conflict based in compassion and respect.

Drop-Shift-Give

When you find yourself in a conflict you can’t see a way out of:

  1. Drop whatever approach is putting you at odds. (Arguing, accusing, making threats, trying to change their mind or change their behavior.)
  2. Shift your focus to the other person’s perspective. What is their experience / how are they feeling?
  3. Give – Acknowledge what they want, validate their experience. You really need to accept and respect that this is their experience. (Note, this is not necessarily saying that they’re “right”, just acknowledging their view.)

This creates a connection between you and the other person. After you do these three steps, it is as if you have set a place at the table for their needs. Then you can bring your needs to the table and can sit down and have a real conversation about how to move forward. You may see new options you didn’t see before, and may be able to quickly negotiate solutions that work for both of you.

If you are feeling wronged or hurt, it can be hard to let go of arguing. If you’re a parent, it’s hard to let go of teaching and correcting. If you have strong opinions, it can be hard to let go of trying to convince someone you’re right and they’re wrong. But arguing, correcting and convincing can prolong an argument.

Examples

My oldest child resisted putting toys away. It was an on-going conflict where I battled him again and again. At one point, I dropped my usual tactics for a moment and asked him to explain things from his perspective. He said that when all the toys were put away, the house looked like a place where no one was allowed to have fun. I acknowledged that this was his truth. Then we sat down and negotiated some compromises we could both live with.

My youngest got into a battle at school today. He was upset at getting tagged out in gaga ball. When someone else tried to get him to calm down by saying “it’s just a game”, that upset him more. Rather than try to convince him that he should relax and that a game is not worth getting upset over, I dropped that approach and shifted to curiosity – asking him to explain his perspective. He shared that games are really important to him, whether that’s gaga ball or video games or a board game, and he doesn’t like that people trivialize them all the time. Spending some time talking about his thoughts on this and validating them “brought him to the table” to where we could have a conversation about how he could have reacted differently today.

I appreciated learning this new tool for approaching conflict and look forward to exploring it more.

Failing to Meet Your Own Expectations

Before we have children of our own, we typically form a lot of expectations about what it would be like to have children, and expectations of what kind of parent we plan to be. When those expectations meet reality, we may need to take time to re-evaluate and re-adjust our own definitions of what it means to be a successful parent.

What did you expect?

Our pre-parenthood expectations may have been unrealistically optimistic, filled with the sorts of happy, active families having lovely outings that you see in all the commercials for medications that will fix all your ills. We may have imagined that we would always love spending time with our children, and that we’d teach them to love the things we love, and that they would achieve things we had not achieved. Even if we saw other people’s children being challenging or difficult, we may have reassured ourselves that our children would be better, because we would be better parents – we believed that if we just did things right, it would all work out.

Within a few days after a baby’s birth, we typically discover that the reality does not meet our expectations. Even if we “do everything right”, our babies still cry and they still spit up all over us. And often we don’t do things right. We make mistakes all the time as we try to manage this new full-time job we weren’t adequately prepared for. Parenting is hard work! And it’s made harder by the contrast between our expectations and our realities. That contrast is a significant predictor of postpartum depression. Parents with very high, even unattainable, expectations are more likely to experience mental health challenges.

For parents of infants and young children, it’s worth taking some time to reflect on what expectations you hold for yourself, and making conscious choices about adjusting those expectations to make them more realistic and compassionate.

What expectations did/do you have that don’t serve you?

Let’s examine some types of thinking that parents may have which are not helpful.

  • To be a good parent, do you need to be happy all the time? Fully functional, with a clean house, healthy home-cooked meals, and festive decorations for holidays?
  • Should you always know exactly what your child needs? Should you always be able to meet all their needs? Always enjoy spending time with your child? Never speak harshly to them?
  • Is your self-worth tied to your achievements or your child’s achievements? Are you afraid that if anything goes wrong, you’ll be blamed? If you’re coming from a successful long-term career, do you expect to be just as successful at your brand new job of parenting?
  • What criteria do you judge yourself on? Should you never make mistakes? Should you do all the things that other parents show themselves doing on social media?

How would you like to adjust those expectations?

If you find yourself often thinking you’re not a good enough parent, maybe it’s worth re-defining what it means to be good enough.

  • Can you assess your own personal values so you can prioritize putting energy into the things that matter most to you, and let go of the high demands in areas that aren’t that important?
  • Can you role model resiliency for your child? We can’t always control whether bad things happen to us, but we can control how we respond. We don’t always get everything we want, but we can find ways to be happy despite that.
  • What do you want you child to remember from this time? Do things have to be perfect to make good memories?
  • Can you embrace messy moments when things go badly as learning opportunities? Can you remind yourself often that not everything will go as planned, and it’s OK to make the next best choice?
  • Can you admit that sometimes you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and that it’s OK to ask for support? OK to take breaks? OK to prioritize self-care?
  • Can you let go of your not-enough story? Let go of doing things because you think you need to prove your worth, and start believing in your inherent worth.
  • Instead of setting vague goals – “to be a better parent” or unattainable goals – “to never yell at my kids again”, can you set up clear and achievable steps in the right direction?
  • Can you practice self-compassion? I often urge parents to remember the power of the word YET. Instead of thinking your child will never do something, just think “they can’t do it yet.” We can do the same thing for ourselves – we can hold ourselves to high standards AND forgive ourselves for the times we aren’t yet meeting those standards.

I created an exercise you can do to examine your expectations, and to re-frame them into more reasonable, achievable goals. You can do either art or some creative writing of a “job description” in this exercise.