Nourishing the family
If you want to know how many items come up when you enter “manure” in the search box on the Penn State Extension home page, the answer is 61. That is just between the various agricultural programs that provide education to farmers and growers. Really, there should be more. Manure is a “nice” word or technical term for something else we also call fertilizer. But let’s face it — even in family relationships, sometimes things can get pretty ... well, you know.
While this is a gross (pardon the pun) comparison, fertilizer is something not so pleasant that, when used properly, promotes growth. So does conflict, and in families, there will inevitably be conflict. In strong families that communicate well, it is the exception rather than the rule, yet even in the best of situations, sometimes the stuff hits the fan. Rather than letting it tear people apart, these can be opportunities for increased self-awareness and growth.
When teaching communication, the focus tends to be on pre-emptive strategies that keep things from ever getting to this point. But what about those times when conflict has already begun to happen? When emotions are already running high and the stench is in the air?
This happened in my own family a few weeks ago, and I must admit — I was pretty clueless as to how to manage with a John Deere spreader coming at me like a freight train.
Without going into much detail, I will jump ahead and say we all did emerge stronger as individuals and as a family, but initially as we dealt with the issues, things were quite messy.
The first thing we had to do was to retreat to our corners and deal with our own feelings. We agreed not to talk more about it until the proverbial dust settled. We also agreed to keep the problem among ourselves and treat each other respectfully.
Second, we each thought about what we wanted and what we were willing to give up.
Next, we had to reflect on what each of us brought to the situation. What could each of us have done differently? What did each person not take into consideration? How were we going to keep this from happening in the future?
We then came together to talk about what could we agree upon as a win-win for everyone involved (refer to step 2).
We concluded by promising to take time to communicate better and consider impacts of our decisions on everyone.
It is safe to say, through the conflict, we were indeed provided with nourishment for our family, and we grew healthier and more robust as a result. Conflict can be thought of as a soil test kit for families. You subject it to conditions, see what it needs and then address those needs.
While putting down fertilizer is anything but pleasurable, an increased yield in family cohesion happens — and that’s worth spreading.
Continenza is the family and consumer sciences educator with Penn State Extension — Lehigh and Northampton counties.