Transforming Conflict into an Opportunity for Connection
When we are expectant parents, we are focusing on the pregnancy and the birth and the baby stuff.
That’s what everyone’s talking to us about. The co-parenting partnership, all that relationship stuff founding the whole family, is often there popping up unacknowledged, unheeded, unprocessed. Even the hardworking, well-intentioned, conscious parents find themselves down the road with a baby (or two or four) stuck in a hole of disharmony and disconnection.
This can happen around some everyday co-parenting challenges that I translate here into connected communication.
1. The laundry will not do itself.
Someone has to do the laundry at some point. The mountain will not throw itself in the wash. Silent or internal conversation about who will do the laundry is a breeding ground for resentment that grows along with the laundry pile. Saying “Hey, you didn’t do the laundry yet” or “When are you going to do the laundry” doesn’t usually end harmoniously with two hardworking, exhausted parents. How to even bring it up?
Tip: Start with an observation.
“This is our last clean diaper.”
“We are running out of pants for our “active” two year old.”
“We agreed I’d take the dish onslaught and you’d handle the clothes.”
Just the facts, now. Your 5 senses. No evaluation. No judgment. No interpretation or diagnosis.
2. There’s more than one way to do the dishes, and dishes in the sink mean less room.
Check the both/and perspective on that one. We live in a society constructed around either/or. This rigid either/or mentality makes the simplest conversation devolve into “me vs. you.” Either I’m right and you’re wrong, or if you are right, you’re saying I’m wrong….and I’m not thrilled about that. There’s only two possibilities, either this one or that one.
The truth is that the universe is infinite and mysterious and multitudinous. Our language can allow for life beyond an either/or, right/wrong perspective, one that is full and whole. When we work to maintain some space — that field beyond right and wrong — we find ourselves there looking at a third possibility and then some.
Tip: Share how you are feeling.
“I am feeling overwhelmed with the kids hungry, needing clean dishes for cooking and the dishes taking up room in the sink.”
“I feel disgusted looking at moldy containers and slimy pots.”
“I am feeling agitated with all the dishes on the counter and in the sink and no clean pots.”
3. When is the laundry finished?
See the question on that one? Doesn’t it seem obvious that there should be a clear end point on the laundry that everyone knows already? (Didn’t this lady already say something about laundry?)
Here’s the point on this one….
Laundry and life are ongoing process. Some folks think they “did the laundry” when the clothes are hot and clean in the dryer. Others think the laundry is “finished” when there are folded clothes the next morning when the drawer opens.
We each have unique perspectives, beliefs and needs. And, everyone’s needs can be met. How? By first holding honest, open, compassionate space to hear the needs.
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), says the following about disputes between two people/parties:
“I predict that we will be able to resolve the problem 20 minutes from the point at which it is clear what the needs are that are not being met, from both sides.”
Seems crazy, doesn’t it? I know my partner and I had the same hard feelings for years around the same conflicted discussion. In one story, Dr. Rosenberg solved a conflict in 20 minutes that had started 6 months into a marriage and continued for 39 years. In fact, the resolution came less than 20 minutes from the time each could clearly state the needs of their partner out loud, without judgment. I know my life, parenting and relationship have transformed since integrating NVC…
Tip: State your need, vulnerably clear.
“I need some ease in the mornings when we are rushing about to get out the door.”
“I need some understanding and clarity around wanting the kids to have clean clothes in their bins/drawers to pick out in the morning.”
4. What does clean mean?
Another question. Gray area. You know how “Can you clean the kitchen?” will yield different results depending on who is cleaning? To one person that may mean “pick up” where for another it means “wipe down.” Or maybe it’s a full on mop session.
It’s communication pitfalls like this that get couples and co-parents stuck in ruts and unable to find a groove that feels good despite a lot of effort.
No one is a mindreader. Even assuming someone hears your observation without evaluation, expressing your needs with the feelings behind it may incite some painful, unwanted response from your partner, if they can’t hear a clear request for something that would help. Folks can get flustered and frustrated feeling a “Yes” to your request even if they feel some call to compassion or clear path towards successful support. It can help to pay attention to whether you are truly requesting or whether you are making a demand. The difference? Your willingness to hear no…
Tip: Make a clear request, plain and simple.
“Are you willing to clean that pot and load the dishwasher while I prep dinner?”
“I prefer to have the clothes folded in the drawers for the kids. Are you willing to do that after the dryer is done?”
“We all have an easier time with breakfast in the morning when the counters are cleared and cleaned. Are you willing to help me clean up after dinner or when the kids are asleep?”
5. You can only live and love in the present.
The present is all we have. The only space of action. The space of experience.
We think our partners know that we appreciate that they take out the trash, shovel the snow, cleaned up the puke. We assume appreciation for our partner who packs the snacks, change of clothes and organizes the travel details. We fall into expectation and role playing that isn’t fun or freeing. We feel unappreciated, unacknowledged. Stuck.
We start wondering: Will it always be like this? Will we never figure this out? How can we consider having another child? How can I start shifting this, us, towards a better life? Overwhelm, powerlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness flood in. We feel alone and against all the odds.
Tip: You can only live and love in the present, so start now.
Stop and breathe.
Connect with your feelings and needs first.
Then think, act and live from that place.
You ever hear this quote? “At any given moment, you have the power to say ‘This is not how the story ends.’”
1. Start with an observation.
2. Share how you are feeling.
3. State what you need.
4. Make a request…open to the no.
5. Stay in the present, and breathe as necessary.
Changing these patterns is simple, yet not easy because takes a committed effort, practice and support. I know it’s possible because this tool of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and others has changed my life. My passion for supporting people doing exactly that arises directly out of my own experiences birthing and raising my two kids, my own relationship firmly rooted in its second decade, and my own parenting and personal transformation from a girl who was spanked and shamed to a thriving and vibrant woman, partner and mother who loves and lives fully. My purpose is to nurture connection and sprout peace, one heart at a time, by helping folks like you take doable, inspired steps to make the real changes for yourself, your relationship, your family and your life.
You get to plant your own thriving garden of abundant goodness. You get to create your own partnership and parenting relationships. You live and communicate from a place that is uniquely and powerfully you.
Remember: You are enough, exactly as you are right now. You can do this, for yourself and for your family. Every effort matters. Every ounce of connection counts — connection to yourself, to what you are feeling and needing, towards compassion and empathy and appreciation and gratitude for others and for life. With every repaired mistake you root the seeds of connection deeper into your heart and sprout more peace in your family. This is not about perfection. It’s about nurturing life: A Living Family…
And yes, it’s as simple and profound as the dishes, the laundry and a clean counter in the morning.
Sheila Pai, founder of A Living Family, offers parenting and relationship coaching as well as guided support for life and personal transformation. Called a “Life Doula,” Sheila’s tools include Birth Story Listening and Nonviolent Communication (NVC). She has designed a comprehensive, unique and powerful coaching program called Nurturing You (http://www.sheilapai.com/nurturing-you-coaching-program/) based on her upcoming book for mothers experiencing overwhelm, imbalance, anger, disconnection or disharmony. (Free Q&A Call March 25!) Find out more about Sheila, upcoming local and online opportunities, and A Living Family community at her website: http://www.SheilaPai.com.
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