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Happy Families Fight Fair

All families fight. But, there are still happy families out there. The question is: “Do they fight fair?” Children fight for increased autonomy; parents fight for more respect. Families fight over ideas, values, how to spend money, curfews, who can drive the car, and the list goes on. There are winners and losers and sometimes there’s even compromise.

Happy families fight, too — they just do it fairly. In happy families:

  • Parents and children fight “for” rather than “against” things. It’s one thing if a child fights for what he considers a more reasonable curfew — it’s quite another if he simply defies his parents at every turn, even when they’re trying to be reasonable.

  • Parents use nonphysical means of discipline. This includes things such as grounding, time-outs, restriction of privileges like driving the family car, and extra chores.

  • Conflicts are more often managed in noncompetitive ways. This includes: compromise (each person giving up something), accommodation (going along with what the other person wants to avoid further conflict), and collaboration (reaching a mutually agreed upon resolution to the conflict). Happy families don’t often compete with one another, nor do they go out of their way to avoid conflicts, both of which end up leaving family members angry.

  • Family members don’t treat each other with contempt. They don’t belittle, cuss, or demean each other — all of which are meant to inflict maximum damage on the other person, a person they supposedly love.

  • Family members show emotional and behavioral restraint. In short, there are self-imposed limits to how emotions — like anger — are expressed. A mother may think about wringing her daughter’s neck, but she doesn’t. Family members allow themselves to be irritated or angry, but they stop short of rage called toxic anger.

  • Fighting is just one thing family members do — it’s not the only thing they do. There are far more positive interactions than negative ones.

A happy family is one characterized by mutual support, interdependence, shared power, and at least one time a day when everyone gets together for a meal. All these ingredients are captured in a family’s mantra (a sacred word, phrase, or formula that has magical power):

We are all in this together.

Family members are encouraged to silently recite this mantra throughout the day — in good times and bad. And, occasionally, actually repeat the phrase out loud. When your children are upset because you won’t let them have something they want, look them in the eye and say, “Hey, remember: We’re all in this together.” This will go a long way to defusing family conflicts and supporting the importance of family unity.

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