I was raised in a family of three boys. My brothers and I are about two years apart, very competitive and shy isn’t a word that you would use to describe any one of us. We are, and always have been, very driven, loud and opinionated. So, let’s just say that as we were growing up “peace and calm” was not a phrase that you would use to describe the Whitt house. There were fights in the living room, bathroom, backyard, front yard and basically anywhere else you can imagine. Holes were knocked in walls, lips were busted and noses were bloodied.
One night when our parents got home from going out to dinner for some “alone time,” they found the door to the hall bathroom laying in the middle of hallway. When they asked what happened, we just shrugged our shoulders and mumbled something about it just falling off the hinges. (Of course, this is one reasons why my dad was never willing to live in a parsonage. What pastor wants to go to the deacon body to ask that the bathroom door be fixed or the wall patched because his three boys had a “knock-down, drag out” over whose football team was the best or simply because one brother looked at another one in the wrong way.) Now, there was never any doubt that we loved each other, but let’s just say that there were times when that “love” could be heard at the end of the street.
Does that sound slightly familiar? Is there a “family resemblance?” Are there times that could be considered to be “contentious” in your family? Are there days when things are not all “calm and peaceful,” but rather “loud and angry” in your home? Are the siblings squabbling? Are there times when there is a “family feud” in your house? I’m sure that’s the case. The issue most likely isn’t the fact of disagreement in your home, but rather the volume of that disagreement.
So, what should we do when families fight? Let me share several suggestions. (Some will apply only to the relationship between a parent and child. Others can be applied to any relationship within a family.)
Understand that all families experience times of disagreement. Our families are made up of people with different personalities, likes and dislikes. Then there is the fact that we’re all going to have days when we’re a little on edge or have a short fuse. At times there will even been external circumstances that come into play – problems at work, school or in other relationships – which cause the likelihood of conflict to increase. Health problems, expectations, unresolved conflicts from the past can come together to produce a perfect storm for family fussing and fighting. So, take a deep breath and realize that your family isn’t unique, special or worse off than every other family. We all have times in which conflict comes to our home.
Make sure to distinguish the bad behavior from the person you love. This is one thing that Kim and I make a point to remember when our children misbehave. We don’t say that they are “bad.” We make sure to describe their actions as “bad,” or “wrong,” or “disobedient.” Differentiating your family member from his or her bad behavior is a great way for you to demonstrate unconditional love. Real love, true love, agape love is a love that doesn’t have any strings attached and says “I love you, but I will not accept or condone the way you’re acting.”
Never say “Never!” Try to avoid saying things like, “You always…” or “You never…” or “You won’t ever get to…” Not only are these statements most likely untrue, they’re also unhelpful. They only serve to shame and infuriate the one that they’re directed towards. You won’t get the desired results resorting to such exaggerated sayings.
Makes sure that the expectations and consequences match the age of those to which they are directed. You will save you and your family a lot of heartache and hard feelings in the future if you will make sure that the rules and punishment are age-appropriate today. As the father of young children, it would be unreasonable for me to expect my three young children to understand and obey at the level of an older child or teenager. It’s is also likely that taking away the keys to the family car for a month will strike more of a nerve when they become teenagers than a spanking will.
Remember that it’s amazing what praising can do. When your child or family does something right, let them know. Never underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. Giving positive feedback will not only let them know that you appreciate and approve of what they have done right, but will provide a balance to the times when they misbehave or act bad and have to give negative feedback. A “Good Job!” goes a long way.
We are all going to have times of contention and disagreement in our family, but at the end of the day, we’re still family. We love each other. We might fuss and fight with each other, but you’d better not pick on my brother or you’ll have all of us on you. That was the case with my brothers as we were growing up and its still true today. Why? Because we’re family.