Elijah recently had one of his friends over to the house. As is probably common at most two-year-old play-dates, there were moments of frustration regarding whose turn it was to play with a given toy, who hit who first, who hit who last, and so on. I am sure this is all very normal to a veteran mom, but it’s crazy stuff for me who is used to spending my day wrestling with only one child who can inflict harm. There is a whole new level of energy that enters the room when there are two children standing in equal footings with equal strength. Add in the “boy” factor and I’m in w-a-y over my head.
For the duration of the play-date I was more referee than mom, but after Elijah’s friend went home and Noah was down for a nap, I decided to try my hand at helping Elijah decipher the events of the morning. I figured he would be upset, maybe even hurt that he and his friend experienced conflict, albeit on a two-year-old-level. I asked him if he had fun with his friend. Yep. If he was upset. Nope. I tried to see if he would talk more (not sure what I was hoping for in hindsight, he is only two). To my surprise he was pretty ok and seemingly at peace with the events of the day. I kind of got the impression from him that I was making a big deal out of nothing.
Not feeling like my mothering duties were over, I sensed the need to make a teaching moment out of something from the morning and proceeded to explain to him that he didn’t need to hit, but that if someone hit him he could come and tell mommy (yikes, did I really just tell him to be a tattle-tail?). I gave him a kiss, put him down for his nap and left wondering if I had said the right thing (probably not).
The whole scenario really bothered me because I didn’t feel like I knew what to tell him. This obviously wouldn’t be the only moment of conflict he needed to weather in his life. The answer was clearly not that I would handle everything for him for all of eternity. I couldn’t understand why I felt so clueless and so inept, so I prayed about it. I asked God to teach me how to be a better mom, how to know what to say, how to direct my kids in good choices, and how to teach them how to handle conflict.
And as if God spoke back directly to my prayer, He revealed almost immediately that I don’t know how to handle conflict, and that when relationships get a little messy, I almost always withdraw. As if I were watching a highlight reel from my life, I had picture after picture of experiences and instances that I withdrew from a relationship, even if only for a time, because there was some element of conflict involved. I had always thought I was just taking a step back so as not to speak in anger or without thought. I thought I was just heading the conflict off before it started by not attending, or steering the conversation in a new direction. I always thought that I was taking the high road by not letting things bother me or by letting things go like “water under a bridge.” But I realized that for many of those instances it really did bother me, I hadn’t let it go, and that I hadn’t eliminated the conflict, only avoided it temporarily. What happened instead was a breaking point in the relationship. Like a tiny wedge, my inability to stand in the face of conflict drove something in the middle of those relationships that made them less effective and less alive. Some passed away almost entirely, while others were far less than what they could be.
Talk about a hard truth to be faced with. I have always known that I don’t like conflict and others are certainly better at dealing with it than I am. But I never attributed the state of my relationships with myself withdrawing from them because of conflict until today. I always just assumed the relationship had run it’s course, or it wasn’t meant to be more. I could not have been more far from the truth.
I am currently preparing myself for lots of conflict in the coming days, because that’s what usually happens when you ask God to teach you something specific (kind of like when you ask for more patience?). But I am also praying that I would be able to stick around, figuratively, literally, emotionally, when things get a little messy, to walk conflict through to a healthy resolution. Conflict itself is not bad. How we handle it can be. That ranges from the moments of insanity where we say things we don’t mean and do things we wish we hadn’t, all the way to letting a relationship go, or die altogether, because we would rather not fight about it. I pray God gives me grace to figure out the difference.
Some things really are worth fighting for.