Avoiding Friendly Fire
Team Daugherty took a hit the other day. Our family didn’t lose an athletic competition, come under attack, or suffer some outside catastrophe. This was an internal defeat – the fallout from parent/child conflict that was poorly managed.
It started with my concern over a pattern of behavior I had been seeing in one of my children. I felt it was necessary to address the issue and explain the negative consequences that could follow.
In preparation for the conversation, I mentally laid out the points I needed to make. It seemed clear that I had valid concerns and had my child’s best interest in mind. Surely he would understand my perspective, and would then be open to making a change. (it's okay if you're laughing!)
In reality it played out very differently. Once I sensed resistance in my child, the reasonable tone I began with gave way to intensity. I did no listening, but plenty of lecturing. Soon it became clear that his heart and mind had closed. By that point, I had backed myself into a corner where there was no option but using parental power to discipline.
I left the encounter feeling angry – with both my child and with myself. I didn’t like who I became in that interaction, and my child almost certainly walked away with the feeling that I didn’t like him.
The net result – no improvement in the heart issue and behavior I was concerned about, and a weakening of our relationship.
These interpersonal disasters aren’t reserved for parents and children. Many of us have had similar showdowns with coworkers, our spouse, or extended family members. If we’re not careful, these confrontations can become relational quicksand we keep falling into. None of us wants to be stuck in a cycle like that with someone we care about or work closely with. How do we break free?
As I thought and prayed about the failed conversation with my son, I felt God asking me if I was fighting for my child, or fighting with my child. And, perhaps more importantly, how would my son answer that question?
For the sake of our relationship, it is absolutely essential for my son to know that I am for him. He needs me to be on his side, not in his face. As we read the gospels, this is the way Jesus interacted with people.
We see Jesus’ love and understanding in a memorable scene in the book of John where a woman caught in adultery is brought to him. With a few quiet words he clears the area of those who would accuse and attack her. Then he does two key things: He assures her that he has no interest in condemning her, and he charges her to make use of the clean slate she has been given.
Jesus had similar empathy for the rich young ruler too controlled by his possessions to truly become a follower. We are told that Jesus “looked at him and loved him.” He was honest about the issue that prevented the young man from becoming a disciple, but he did not scold or nag.
As followers of Jesus, how do we love people well, when we are convinced they are moving in a harmful direction?
First, we must be absolutely clear about our goals in the situation. In my case, it is important to be specific about what I want for my son in the long term. I need to be able to describe more than just the change I want from him, but also how he will be better off if he makes that change.
Next, it is often crucial to hit the pause button. If there is no clear, immediate danger, it is wise to wait before tackling a sensitive subject. In that interlude there is a wonderful opportunity to wait on God for direction and wisdom. It also allows us to choose optimal timing, rather than when or one or both of the parties is already defensive.
Finally, we need to learn from Jesus how to come alongside people. When we have to share some painful truth, it must be clear that we are coming from a position of acceptance and care. The closer the relationship, the more important this is. A person may be able to handle correction from a boss, teacher, or coach that would be devastating if it came from a family member.
In other words, healthy connection has be in place before correction can be well received. Those we feel obligated to counsel have to believe without a doubt that we are rooting for them to succeed. The underlying message must be “I believe in you, and the two of us can take on this issue together”.
I’m still processing how to be a better team member – how to make sure my people know without a doubt that I am in their corner. When we are together, my heart’s desire is that the people in my house feel boosted rather than blasted.
To make that happen, I need to do better myself at listening to the King of Kings. When words of correction for my kids continually come to mind, I am starting to tune in when I hear him cautioning me, “Hold your fire.” My role is not so much to “fix” them, as it is to respect and protect their hearts. If I become an expert at that, Team Daugherty stands a fighting chance.
(I am continuing to build a template for guiding my family in a more positive way. What I am learning will appear in Part 2 of this post next week .)