Healthy Fighting

It may come as a surprise when readers see the smiling faces on Instagram or Facebook, but our family doesn’t always get along.  My wife and I have been known to argue, and there have been those occasional moments when the kids get into a verbal battle.  We aren’t perfect.

Fights and arguments are part of life.  Even a family that enjoys being together (like ours does) doesn’t always like each other every moment of every day.

What makes it work is when you lay some ground rules for how you fight–or disagree, if the word fight causes you to think of a bout of fisticuffs or a street brawl.  When you agree on how to disagree, you’ll help each other and your kids deal with those moments as they come.  (Because they will come.)

After a particularly ugly fight early in our marriage, Robyn and I agreed on some rules for how we would fight from then on.  Here are a few of them.

 + Don’t Get In the Car.  This may not work if your fight starts in the car, but one thing we learned after that really ugly fight was that we should never get in the car and drive away mad.  One reason is because you may damage the car (ahem, I don’t know this from personal experience, ahem), and another is because if you drive mad you drive crazy, and you don’t want to get in a car accident while you’re angry at each other.  You don’t want your last words to be your angriest words, do you?

+ Learn Each Other’s Styles–and Respect Them.  I like to talk through an argument, Robyn likes to process.  Because of that, I have often made our fights longer than they needed to be because I wanted her to talk while she wanted to process.  This only made things worse, and it wasn’t until recently–nearly 17 years of marriage later–that I think I’ve finally respected that difference.  It makes a world of difference, and keeps the fights shorter than they used to be.

+ Don’t Fight to Win.  You don’t get a medal for winning a fight with your spouse.  What you get is hurt and resentment.  Arguments in marriage aren’t about defeating your partner, but finding a suitable compromise that is the wisest choice for you both and for your family.  You don’t win when your partner is hurt by your victory–you both win when you find ways to work together toward a good solution.

+ It’s Okay to Fight In Front of the Kids.  Some parents never argue in front of their kids.  They don’t want to let the kids see the ugly side of marriage.  But if you’re fighting with the rules, agreeing to work together, not trying to win, it’s okay if you don’t always agree in front of the kids.  They need to see you argue–because they need to see that a healthy response to a disagreement can be found.  You model for them how to respond in their own fights, and if they never see you fight ever, they won’t see how you solve it when tensions rise.

There are a few more: don’t throw things, admit you’re wrong if you are, avoid swear words, and if you are both yellers, be careful how much arguing you do with the windows open.  Yes, it’s tongue in cheek, but knowing how to fight and still go to bed loving each other and not angry is not only what God wants for your marriage, it helps your kids see how to handle it when their tension moments come along.

What are your rules for those tension moments in your marriage or family?  Share them in the comments below!

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3 (More) Things Every Kid Needs

As I’ve mentioned before, there are 3 Things Every Kid Needs.

A Job to Do. Something to Celebrate.  To Say Thanks.

But there are three more things every kid needs, too.  These three other things can help make the difference in how your kids turn out.  Remember, parenting isn’t just about what happens today, in the now, but parenting about what you want your kids to become, in the future.  This is parenting with the end in mind.

Those three other things?  Here they are:

Kids Need Other Adults Who Can Speak Into Their Lives.  While you might be the biggest influence on your child’s life, you aren’t (and can’t be) the only one.  Smart parents will help choose who those people are, instead of leaving it just to chance, or to your kids (who will choose celebrities, movie stars, singers, and the like).

Find some great adults who can speak into your kids lives about the stuff you can’t or aren’t able to.  These people can be coaches or directors, church leaders or mentors.  They can be the mechanic who works on your car, or the neighbor who has that amazing yard.  Find quality, well-respected, mature, good people, and help your kids connect to them.  Church, school, neighborhood, sports field, neighborhood theatre.  They can be found everywhere.  They can encourage and cheer on your kids in ways that you never can.  Your kids will have other influences–why not be intentional about who those influences are?

Kids Need Experiences More Than Things.  We place a high value on things in our culture.  Having what is new, owning what is now–it’s very important.  Trouble is, things don’t last.  That great new TV you just bought has already been made obsolete.  Your phone is out of date, and you’re still in a contract for two more years.  And don’t even talk about that computer.  Sure, you will probably hold on to your house for a long time, but the furniture in it–it’s already dated, right?

It’s not new to hear that memories are the only things you can hold on to, but it’s true.  If you have a house full of all the newest and nicest things, but never spend your money creating memories, you’re teaching your kids the wrong thing.  Possessions come and go, but memories last forever.  The National Parks I visited with my family growing up?  The road trips I’ve taken my kids on?  Those are shared experiences that we will never forget.  I don’t even remember the color of the last two couches I had.  Things are great, but they don’t last.  Doing things with your kids and creating memories together?  That lasts forever.

Kids Need Grace.  Your children hear all the time about how they’ve messed up, how they don’t measure up, where they have gone wrong.  As parents, it is our job to correct and train our children to make wise choices as they grow up.  But when they don’t, what is the response?  Parents, disappointed in their own failures, often maximize or blow out of proportion a child’s failure.  I know–the response I’ve given to my youngest son over his lack of appetite when my wife has made an amazing dinner far outweighs the actual circumstance.

But what do I want most when I screw up?  I want grace.  And yet, I can’t show grace to a kid who thinks anything with green in it is poison?  You get it–if we want to have grace-filled children, who are quick to forgive, slow to anger, and generally awesome, we need to be grace-filled parents.  When your kids gets a less than perfect report card, it’s fine to have consequences–but measure them with grace.  When your child spills that glass of wine all over the carpet, remember the grace you received for a much greater slight.  When kids see grace lived out, they will live out grace as well.

 

3 Things Every Kid Needs

 

There are three things every kid needs.

I’ll assume you know the obvious ones.  (Clothes, food, a place to sleep, the occasional bath.)  But if we want our kids to grow up to be more than just clean and groomed, there are less obvious things they need–the things they need to help them grow up to be nice, genuine, and responsible people.  Those are the ones we as parents need to spend more time focusing on.  Here are three things I think every kid needs:

Kids Need a Job to Do.  Nothing will instill a work ethic better in your child than earning money.  Allowances are not a good idea.  You don’t get paid just for existing, and neither should a child.  Just getting something because you were born creates an attitude of entitlement: “I deserve this.”  Sorry, Junior, but that’s not the way the world works, and an allowance gives your kids a false expectation of what things will be like when they grow up.  So, once you feel your kids are ready to have some pocket change, have them earn it.  Whatever the age, there is an appropriate job for them to do in your family.  Washing clothes, doing dishes, feeding pets, making beds, dusting.  Menial jobs are great for kids, not because they are your servants (even though they may say this while cleaning up dog poop in the backyard), but because it helps them realize there is value in any kind of work.  Make chore lists, have them keep track of the tasks they have completed.  At the end of the week, pay them for their work.  And if they don’t work, don’t pay them.  If they didn’t complete everything you asked them to do, don’t give them their full agreed upon amount.  If they complain, remind them that if you don’t do your job each week, you don’t get paid, either.  It’s a great way to prepare them for future employment (and their future employers will thank you).  It also helps them grow as responsible, contributing members of your family.  Really surprise them by paying them for unexpected things: a piece of artwork, climbing a tree to pick cherries, or beating you at your family’s favorite board game.  This helps them learn that they can also get paid for things they enjoy, things that are fun, or artistic–great lessons before they choose a career.

Kids Need Something to Celebrate.  One of the joys of the many random holidays we have throughout the year is that kids love them.  They love St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, and all the rest.  What has happened, though, thanks to Pinterest, is that every parent believes they have to do some kind of huge extravagant thing every holiday.  When we were kids, our moms didn’t have the internet to teach them that their kids’ birthdays or school holidays had to be super creative examples of awesomeness.  They used an article out of Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens and kind of winged it.  Were our birthdays pretty and perfectly themed?  No.  Party stores didn’t exist, and you couldn’t fill an entire house with matching plates, cups, hats, games, and the rest.  We still had a great time, we still had fun.  Because kids don’t care how much it cost or how much time you spent being creative.  That’s your thing.  That’s your attempt to prove something to the other Pinterest parents and the last birthday party your child went to.  To misquote Cindi Lauper: “Kids just want to have fun.”  The Valentines from the grocery store are perfect acceptable.  The Betty Crocker cake is fine.  Adding green food coloring to the milk on St. Patrick’s Day is a great start to the morning.  Celebrating doesn’t need to be expensive.  Don’t try to be Pinterest perfect.  Just doing something fun every once in awhile.  Celebrate Arbor Day by planting a tree, Mother’s Day with flowers or homemade cards.  So don’t break the bank, don’t sweat it, but celebrate the dumb holidays, even in small ways.  It’s always “National ________ Day.”  Get the free ice cream on National Ice Cream Cone Day.  Eat Hot Dogs on National Hot Dog Day.  Go to a National Park during National Park Week.  Celebrate May the Fourth with Star Wars or the first game of whatever your family’s favorite sport is.  Create reasons to celebrate or have a party for no reason.  What your kids will appreciate and remember is that you did something to break the routine and give them a reason to celebrate!

Kids Need to Say Thank You.  Gratitude is defined as a “feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive.”  But when was the last time you actually saw someone show gratitude?  Sure, we celebrate Thanksgiving every November, but how often do we pause to say thank you to those around us?  Not often, which teaches kids to think that they deserve everything.  Kids already think that, because society, television, the internet all work together to create an attitude of entitlement.  Kids think they deserve that stuff you bought them, that vacation you took them on, and maybe that’s because that’s your attitude, too.  But we don’t.  Nothing we have or get to do is something that is due us.  We are blessed to have any good thing in our lives.  Teaching your kids to say thank you, for presents, for dinner, for help, for anything helps them learn to be grateful.  I like to stop and say thank you to my children’s teachers, just for putting up with them.  At a restaurant, my kids have to look the server in the eye and say thank you when their food is delivered.  When another member of the family helps them with something, they have to stop, pause, and say thanks.  It’s good to even make lists once in awhile of all the things you are grateful for–that attitude of gratitude starts with you, after all.  When you think of all that you have to be thankful for, you’ll be more likely to say thank you–and your kids will see that in you, too.  When I say thank you, I’m making a point: what I am receiving is undeserved, I understand I don’t deserve it, and I am grateful for what I have been given.

Kids need jobs.  They need fun.  And they need to say thanks.  Help them with these three things, and not only will they grow up well-groomed and well-fed, they’ll be genuinely nice people.  And that’s something the world needs.

Next week, I’ll share three things every parent needs.