My Union is in the middle of negotiations with our non-profit organization’s management, trying to get a wee salary increase after 5 years of stagnant wages (plus huge salary give-backs along the way, to avoid layoffs). I have served many times on the Negotiations Committee, but no more. The last time (2012) was just too frustrating. It’s maddening when the Union asks for permanent raises (built into the salary structure) and management offers one-time payments. They dangle money in front of the poor working people, and dare them to say no, to hold out for something the Negotiations Committee THINKS management can afford, but really, who knows for sure? Year after year, the membership votes for the cash in hand, and who can blame them? We have been living in terror of layoffs these past 5 years, so just having a job seems miraculous at this point.

Well, it occurs to me that the relationship between parents and their children is a lot like that between management and labor. Parents make seemingly arbitrary decisions, and are unmovable: No, you can’t have candy before dinner. No, you can’t stand on the coffee table. These things are non-negotiable, and we, as parents, think our decisions make complete sense and have no inclination to listen to opposing viewpoints.

Kids do not see that sense. If I am hungry for candy, what difference does it make if dinner is in an hour? If I don’t eat my dinner, I can have it tomorrow. Standing on the coffee table seems dangerous to you, parents, but to me it seems like big fun. What is your problem? YOU don’t have to stand on the coffee table, but why must you stop me?

These polarized positions lead to anger, mistrust and resentment. It FEELS like Management (parents) unreasonably wields its power just for the fun of it. How do you KNOW I’ll get hurt standing on the coffee table? You are just guessing. Let me try it, and if I break my leg, then I’ll admit you were right and I won’t ask again. If I don’t break my leg, though, will you stop being so protective and controlling?

Parents feel that they have the obligation to keep kids safe. They use years of experience and painful memories of unfortunate consequences to lay down the law. Let’s say coffee-table standing has a 75% chance of causing bodily harm. Yes, that means 25% of the time, nothing will happen, but the risk isn’t worth it to me, as a parent. As the adult, I have to think of all possible consequences that could flow from this one act: pain, broken limbs, blood, rushing to the emergency room, traumatized siblings, leg or arm casts, and lots of extra work for me, the parent. It’s easier to just say NO.

Children, on the other hand, are hard-wired to take risks, experiment, stretch the limits of their physical abilities, and act impulsively without any thought of consequences. It’s how they learn. It’s how they figure out their own set of rules for what is safe and what is likely not to be safe. Just because we are Nervous Nellies doesn’t mean they have to be controlled at all times, does it?

The common thread I see between the power struggle of parents vs. children and management vs. Union is this: lack of communication. Perhaps if parents explained to the children why they fear imminent injury from a proposed act, the child would hear it as CONCERN rather than CONTROL. Perhaps it wouldn’t seem so irrational and arbitrary to the child.

If such reasoning was used, maybe the child and the parent could reach a compromise: I will let you stand on the coffee table, but only with pillows on the floor beneath it and only when I am here in the room with you. That way, you get to experiment and I get to increase your chances of being safe. Unfortunately, in our busy world, we don’t take the time to work out such solutions. We don’t have the patience to indulge what seems to us to be a stupid whim, and we don’t want to stop our important adult tasks to spend 15 minutes with the coffee-table exploring child. Does this sound familiar?

The temptation to say “NO” just because we are bigger and stronger and in charge and too tired to explain is hard to overcome. I don’t know whether, if management explained to the Union exactly why they need to have $750K sitting in the bank instead of giving us a raise that costs about $150K per year, the Union would understand and agree. It may be different philosophies of how to run a non-profit at work here, so different that they can’t be reconciled. But I do believe that having a thoughtful conversation, with logic and reason applied to the explanations, might make the Union members feel less powerless, less resentful, and more inclined to hear what management is saying. Sometimes it’s not the actual statement that is so bad – it’s the way it makes us feel.

So parents, next time think about taking a moment to patiently share your thinking with your child instead of just saying NO.

But I still need a raise.

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