Q: Now that everyone is returning to a normal schedule in our house, it’s back to regular fighting and our children’s all-too-frequent complaints of “It’s not fair!” I think I should have been trained as a lawyer or some type of mediator, because my children are very strong-minded and feel victorious when they win the weekly — or even daily — power struggle. The expression “my way or the highway” reflects the mentality of too many of our family members. I don’t think that my husband or I are so stubborn by nature, but I feel that our children live in a very competitive society, where winning is extremely important.
Do you have any thoughts on this?
A: One of the most precious lifetime tools a parent can give his child is an understanding of the benefits of compromise and the knowledge of how to achieve it. We see in the Gemara: “Hamaavir al middosav, ma’avirin lo al kol pesha’av — Loosely translated, that means that one who forgives another is forgiven for all his sins.” To compromise in the encounters of daily life is virtuous (except in the area of definitive ethical values). Being able to understand another person’s needs (even if it reflects their character flaws) reflects a higher expression of ahavas Yisrael. This is particularly helpful for obstinate children who find it very difficult to accept any opinion but their own.
Parents need to portray themselves as role models when working on compromising with family members, especially for children who seem to be very set in their ways.
In reality, human beings need to continually know how to compromise, as no two people think or behave exactly alike. The success of large organizations is due, in part, to the ability to allow all sides to be heard and validated, and then come up with ideas for problem solving. Different Gedolim with contrasting viewpoints are able to work together for Klal Yisrael.
Harav Yissocher Frand speaks of why a mezuzah is placed in a slanted position (rather than a horizontal or vertical one). It reflects how husband and wife need to compromise in order to maintain shalom bayis.
Teaching how to compromise effectively is also teaching children how to avoid power struggles with other human beings (besides their parents.) In this way, both parties involved can maintain their dignity and feel that their opinions are being validated to some degree. Neither side may receive it all, but each one’s self-respect is maintained.
To initially problem-solve, one needs to attempt to be nonjudgmental and open to new suggestions that were not “on their agenda.” Each person needs to either verbalize or write down his own “issue,” and the place where he is “stuck.” Then, each side writes down possible solutions to this challenging situation. One needs to listen respectfully to each solution suggested (not showing anger at “unworkable” suggestions), and then together problem-solve the possible solutions. When one’s ideas are written on paper, one feels more validated and less resentful when the final outcome is decided. A parent can actually create a written contract with both parties’ signatures, if the issues involved are of a serious nature. This technique is most helpful with teenagers and strong-willed children.
Though we live in a competitive society, individuals who live lives of greatness are able to be mevater, and help bring achdus and shalom among people. Our own children, too, can have this opportunity, in our own individual mikdash me’at.