I am smiling to myself (well, inside my head, since that would just be weird) thinking of some very special women in my life. They are special to me because our friendships were forged in the fires of controversy, disagreement, and in some cases, anger.
What I mean is that some of my closest female friends, with whom I feel some of the strongest bonds, are those with whom I have argued, disagreed, and fought—only to get through it with the bond even stronger than before.
So every time I find myself in the middle of some conflict, I question whether the fact that it’s happening means that I’m going to come out with a stronger friendship on the other side. And as uncomfortable as it may be to throw down and air our disputes out in the open, I know that this is much more preferable to the alternative of keeping it all in and stewing in our bad feelings in private. Even if the friendship ends as a result, instead of being salvaged, the silent suffering of that quiet alternative is a much, much worse fate.
In the world of parenting, the irksome little things about your friends that rub you the wrong way tend to become intensified once kids—and the inevitable differences in parenting practices and philosophies—come on the scene. If you can come to a place where you set aside your mom-related differences for the sake of the friendship, you should be proud of yourself for accomplishing a very difficult thing.
When it’s not ME who is caught up in the conflict, and I’m simply observing as a bystander or from the outside, I can be dispassionate to a fault. Neutral, like Switzerland, baby. I sometimes wonder if others think I’m cold, or that I don’t care. Or maybe they think I’m a moron, because if I just “got it” then I would pick a side. Call me cool-headed, call me dumb, but if I come to the realization that I just don’t have all the facts needed to form a logical conclusion as to the truth or “rightness” of one side versus another, then I simply accept that it would be unwise (and probably unnecessary) for me to attempt to form any conclusion. It’s kind of like being a kid caught up in her parents’ divorce … don’t make me choose!
Case in point: Cry-It-Out debates on Facebook. This was once an issue I was fairly passionate about, but over time, I came to realize that I probably just didn’t know all there was to know about the very complex subject of what exactly constitutes crying it out, whether there is a safe way to do it, whether it all depends on the child or whether there are blanket rules that apply to all babies … so on and so forth. So my early passion for weighing in on the issue just sort of waned, and the next time I saw two moms go at it, I just said … have at it, girls. Some fights are just not worth straying into the middle.
When it comes to conflict resolution, I can’t claim to have all the answers, but here are some tips and tidbits I have gathered from going through the process myself over time:
• Recognize that as objective as you may think you are being, there is always SOME subjectivity at play, however subtle. Absolutely NOTHING is black or white, cut and dry.
• Ask whether you can agree to disagree—and if not, whether the friendship is more important than the disagreement.
• Some people are going to hate you, be offended, or be inexplicably upset with you … for reasons that make no sense to you, or for no reason at all. You can’t worry about this. I used to spend a large portion of my life wanting EVERYONE to like me and being SERIOUSLY TROUBLED when it came to light that someone didn’t like me. As I have grown over the years, I have realized that if I run around trying to please everyone, solely for the sake of pleasing them, I am losing myself in the process. Now, instead of worrying what everyone thinks of me, I focus on self-improvement and being the best possible person I can be.
• Remember that not every ending can be a happy ending. To be sure, some of my friendships were under so much pressure that they collapsed on themselves, permanently. But one thing I notice, looking back on these relatively few instances, is that we didn’t have a huge fight, blow up, and then resolve never to speak again. Quite to the contrary, we simply let passive-aggressive differences kind of sidle in between us, to the point where we just drifted, and one day I woke up and realized the friendship was over.
Yesterday, amidst the national distress over the government shutdown (which happens to be impacting my family personally, so I am following the story with great interest), a distraught woman drove herself and her one-year-old daughter into a White House barricade, resisted apprehension by the authorities, and was killed when the Secret Service open-fired on her. We are now hearing that this woman likely suffered from post-partum depression. I am absolutely crestfallen over this tragedy. When I remember that horrors like this are happening with the mentally ill, I remember how much more important it is to be supportive and kind toward my fellow mom. Maybe with different support, not to mention society-wide recognition and support for treatment for PPD and related conditions, this tragedy would not have happened. You just never know what a person is going through. So I’m trying to do my best to be a good friend and citizen, and to celebrate my friendships with the moms and women in general who are a part of my community. And when faced with conflict, whether my own or someone else’s, I will try not to lose sight of this goal.
2 thoughts on “Mom Friendships and Conflict Resolution”
Very thoughtful post, Melanie. Being a human being is hard, especially being a feeling, caring, passionate human being. It would be so much easier to be bland and unopinionated, wouldn’t it? But certainly not as interesting or fun.
My favorite part of what you wrote was about objectivity/subjectivity. There IS no objectivity. I often tell the parable about the blind men and the elephant. We each perceive reality based on our past experiences, traumas, memories, family influences and teachings, etc. An event that doesn’t affect me at all may put another person into the fetal position. The anger people feel when others don’t agree with them is so unfair. Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree, as you so wisely said.
I also loved the part about trying to please everyone. I think it takes a lot of confidence to say, “This is who I am — love me or don’t.” It took me until my mid-40s to get to that point. Prior to that, I did NOT try to please everyone but yet I was still devastated when people disapproved or advised me to act in a different way than my natural way. Sometimes being true to yourself and choosing to avoid the people who don’t cherish you is the best path. For me, doing that was liberating and life-changing but it took years of therapy to give myself permission to be me. Sometimes I falter and my doubts come creeping back in, because of someone’s ability to get into my vulnerable spot. But ultimately, being your genuine self is the ONLY way to live a happy life. And some people won’t like that and will try to bring you down. And to them I say, “See ya!”
Thanks for expressing these thoughtful observations.
I’m so glad you liked the post Randi! I mentioned this post to my husband this morning. He laughed and said, “of course you want people to think you’re right, and of course you want people to like you.” I laughed too, because he’s right. Everyone wants that. I’m still working on ACCEPTANCE, when these things are just not possible. No more spinning my wheels worrying and fretting over how to get people to understand or like me.
I also thought back to the government shutdown and realized how symbolic that situation is to the subject of this post. Sometimes conflict is a necessary growing pain that makes us stronger for having gone through it. Other times, it’s childishness that just hurts innocent bystanders. Not having my husband’s paycheck right now definitely hurts. But I also suppose that most conflicts are a combination of these two situations: sure, people can have moments of lashing out and anger that, upon reflecting later, were probably best left to a cooling off period, to avoid regret over words too harshly spoken, and with little helpful effect. But on the other hand, those expressions of anger and bad feeling serve the purpose of allowing a much-needed release, and even though it smarts in the short-term, sometimes the long-term effects of those outbursts prove to be beneficial. Only time will tell.