Day 219: Choosing Your Battles

August 7th, 2010

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Over the years, and certainly throughout the positivity quest, there seems fewer and fewer things that are worth fighting about, both in my family, at work and in life. Even as the kids have moved into their teen years, one lesson from mothering that has held fast is the idea of choosing my battles. There are few things that deserve the consistency and vigilance that true discipline requires of both parent and child. Hygiene was never at question, but tidiness was open to interpretation. Disagreements were allowed but disrespect was not. Individuation was encouraged but not at the expense of maintaining relationships. Family needs and interrelating was always the trump card.

Today was consumed by the willpower needed to choose a battle with my oldest son. He is the most challenging one to disagree with in the family as he has as a mantle to never lose an argument. He has always known what he wanted and is more successful than most at achieving it. It is an admirable quality that has helped him excel in life. I have made more compromises than I would like to admit to avoid challenging this part of him, which although easier in the short term have had unanticipated consequences.

The battle today was about boundaries and values, all wrapped up in the form of thing. It was a small thing really, almost not worth the argument for the cost involved. We all knew we weren’t fighting over the thing, but rather the values of the individual over the collective, the space when disagreement turned to disrespect, the disregard for relationships. It would have been easier to avoid, but sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and limits have to be set, even if it takes the whole day’s energy.

There is no winning or losing in these arguments. There is grief and sadness on our part, indignation and disbelief on his. I try twenty different ways to explain the abyss that separates us, all the time trying to avoid judgment and find anything that looks like a bridge to a relationship. The process is exhausting. Then there is a small glimmer of recognition, a step towards each other.

After more than 20 years of raising children I know that there are few breakthroughs in maintaining relationships. Rather it is the slow progress of tiny steps towards each other that allows you to keep going. James Michener once wrote: “Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.” If your battles are over staying related, regardless of the thing you are using to reflect the fight, your character will be steadfast, patient and well, a little a positivity is good too.

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