Building Your Family Through Compromise


You can’t always have it your way, even if you are the parent, says Yvonne Walus. In these moments, you and your family must work as a team and compromise.

Picture a typical Sunday afternoon in a typical Kiwi family home. Mum browsing through dinner recipes on her iPad, Dad upgrading Windows, youngest child killing zombies on the Xbox, middle child watching how to peel an orange the Crazy Russian Hacker way on YouTube, oldest child texting her friends. When it’s time for the Sunday night family movie, it’s all too easy for each member of the family to watch something different on their personal device – just because we can. Everybody in their own world… Is this a family unit or a family of individuals?

Technology is only partly to blame. Somewhere along the line we lost sight of how important it is to spend time together: Not just in one room, but actually aware of one another, doing the same thing, sharing the same experiences.

Parenting experts tell us we should all sit down to dinner as a family. Good one. But because we’re so busy working and driving the children around, family meals often mean fast food, eaten in the car or in front of the TV. Even when we go out to a restaurant, the children disappear into the Kids’ Room even before they order their meal, while the adults take the opportunity to update their Facebook status and catch up on email. Suddenly, the Holy Grail of a family meal spent together at the same table at the same time seems hopelessly out of reach.

Scientists who study happiness claim that working together on a shared project builds happy families. And yet, when was the last time we cooked with our children? Built a treehouse? Weeded the garden?

So how do we change our ways? How do we find the opportunity to eat together, and make stuff together, and talk to one another? What can we do as parents to help children become true members of the family and learn to be a team? One solution is to teach them the art of compromise: Let’s all go to the beach even if some of us prefer to read a book; let’s all agree on one movie to watch as a family; let’s all eat chicken pie for dinner even though someone would rather have pizza.

Teaching our children to compromise has other benefits, over and above learning to be good team mates and family members. It helps them understand and articulate what they want. It encourages them to be straightforward, rather than manipulative. It can also make them try new things – and hopefully discover they do like chicken pie, after all.

Before we embrace compromise as the new way forward, here are a few points to ponder.

The dictionary definition of compromise is “a way of reaching agreement in which each person gives up something that was wanted in order to end an argument or dispute.” That’s the difference between a compromise and a sacrifice: Everybody – not just one person – must give up something.

Compromise is not the same as giving in. To compromise means to accommodate the needs of others, while being mindful of our own needs. In other words, it’s important to find similarities between what each party wants, and to come up with win-win outcomes.

Be prepared to stretch your imagination. At its core, compromise is about being inventive and resourceful. Start by thinking of a way in which everybody could get what they want. Could we have hot dogs and pasta for dinner? Could we play Monopoly and then go for a walk? Could we spend Saturday morning doing the chores together so that we can go see a movie after lunch?

Sometimes a win-win result is not possible, because what people want may be contradictory and mutually exclusive; for example, we can either go to the beach or to the pool, but not both. The trick there could be suggesting a third option (say, rollerblading), but be aware that the third option might not actually be anybody’s favourite or even second-favourite, and by introducing other choices you might end up with everybody feeling mildly dissatisfied instead of reasonably happy. It may be a better idea to agree to go to the beach this time, and to go to the pool next time.

But is it okay for parents to compromise, or should we always stick to our guns? Should we be strong, consistent, and firm? Would changing our minds be bad for the children? Being firm and consistent is still good advice, but to compromise is not the same as being soft or indecisive. The needs of the parents and the needs of the children can be reconciled. We can negotiate without losing face or authority. We can compromise without battles, winners, or losers.

At the end of the day, we don’t want to make enemies of our children; we simply want what’s best for them. Our job is to show them that this is what they want, too.

 Signs your child needs to learn to compromise

  • They want their way, or “no way”.
  • They aren’t happy with what they have. If they see someone with a different toy, they want that instead.
  • They refuse to obey your instruction unless you threaten or bribe them.
  • They don’t want to share toys or snacks.
  • They only think of their own desires without considering other people’s needs.

Stuff you shouldn’t compromise on

What aspects of your parenting are so important to you that you can’t and won’t compromise? That depends on what values you’d like to uphold in your family. Generally, being uncompromising on ethical matters makes you a good role model and parent, while sweating the small stuff may be less admirable. Let’s admit it: Some rules we make as parents (bedtime by 8pm, no loud music, tidy your room) may have more to do with our own levels of comfort than with our concern for the children’s beauty sleep, the state of their eardrums, or whether they tread on Lego pieces. On the other hand, rules such as “Include your sister”, “Share the chocolates”, “Tell the truth”, and “Don’t take what’s not yours” may form a useful framework on which your kids can build a successful future.

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