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Of Conflict and Control

By Mark Brandenburg

"Daddy, help me, I can't get up!"

I watched as my five-year-old son flopped around in the snow with no intention of trying to get himself up. All at once I felt compassion, disgust, understanding and anger. I was also in the middle of a campaign to let my son "take care of himself" and not depend on his dad to take care of him.

The makings of a classic father-child conflict were perfectly in place.

My daughter pleaded with me to pick him up so we could ski back to the park headquarters and get something to eat. "I know you can do it," I said for the tenth time that day. But he couldn't --that is, he wouldn't.

Battle of wills
In the battle of wills between father and son, there's an intense urge to hold your position and to be "the victor." It feels as though any kind of compromise is a loss. In this case, I was sure that if I helped my son again I'd be enabling him to be weak and incapable. Could there be anything worse for a father?

As my daughter's pleas became louder and my son's cries more dramatic, I quickly considered my options. It's difficult to think creatively when you're playing the role of Patton; now the screams were coming from both sides.

I was headed for anger and overwhelm in a hurry.

"I'll tell you what, Michael. If you give it one more good try and you can't get up, I'll help you. But you have to try." He gave it one more awkward flop and settled down into the snow.

For a reason I'm not aware of, I put a smile on my face.

"That was it? That's your effort?" He caught my smile and began to laugh. I toppled onto him to tickle him and trade playful punches. The anger, disgust and concerns of a few minutes before were completely gone.

Who’s it all about?
As we sipped hot chocolate later inside, Michael confessed, saying "the more you wanted me to get up, the more I wanted to stay down." He knew that I wanted him to get up as much for my sake as his. Kids are smart that way.

I hope there's a day soon when I'll be smarter that way, too.

© Mark Brandenburg.

NFO contributing author Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is the author of 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers and is a personal coach to parents. Read more about Mark.

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"The media have become the mainstream culture in children's lives. Parents have become the alternative. Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to it."
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