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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Conflict is inevitable, but combat is not. (Max Lucado)

I believe that babies arrive in this world good. And, yet I also believe in the concept of original sin—as in babies show up self-focused because that’s what’s developmentally appropriate for a new creature who must figure out how to stay alive and well in the outside world. A baby isn’t worried about the self-preservation of anyone else yet—and that makes sense. To them it really is all about them when they first arrive. Babies don’t care if parents want to sleep or eat or whatever. They want what they want (need?) right now—no conflict in their minds.

However, as we grow, we begin to understand that others matter, too. But, boy is it hard sometimes to get ourselves to do for others and/or to be aware enough to realize that sometimes what might be right for us isn’t necessarily right for others or what they want. How we resolve those conflicts between our desires and those of others is really, really tough. Talk about conflicted, right?

I grew up in a home where my father tended to think my mother would want what he wanted, even if she expressed otherwise—which to be fair to him, she did not do often enough. By the time she started stating more of what she thought—after over twenty-five years of marriage—he didn’t really hear her. Sure she said she didn’t want to go to the football game, but who doesn’t want to go to the football game? Of course she would be tired from staying at the cast party but isn’t everyone tired?

I confess I am more like my father than my mother. As much as I try to figure out what others might want, sometimes I’m really into what I want. If there is only one chocolate left in the cabinet, am I going to save it for my husband (who also loves chocolate) or eat it? I’m fairly certain I fall more on the selfish line with that sort of thing, but I try to be a person who hears when someone expresses a direct request. (So, Sherman, if you’re reading, give me some direction on this chocolate thing!)

And sometimes we have to learn the lesson of awareness of others the hard way—by being told when we’ve been steamrolling over someone else. I am still embarrassed that my friend/employee had to tell me that you don’t joke about firing someone. Talk about insensitive—pointing out power differences and making light of someone else’s livelihood. I blush every time I think of that. But I changed. Thank goodness she was willing to say something to me and yet still remain my friend. She likely protected me from alienating others in my life in my days since then.

Then I also remember times I have stated my boundaries and/or my reasoning behind any boundary, but not felt heard. The other person continued to do what I asked him/her not to do or flat-out told me he/she wouldn’t change just because I wanted that change. I don’t want to be like my mother with my father and leave others guessing as to what I really think, but if the response I receive is not sufficient for my self-preservation, I either keep others at a distance or no longer invite them in my circle at all.

Some behaviors are considered universally objectionable and others are personally objectionable. If my request seems unreasonable to you, then maybe we have to agree to disagree.

Truth? I hate conflict—I want to get along with everyone and believe the best of everyone. But that is as unrealistic as thinking that those who don’t agree with me are horrible people from the get-go. We are all individuals who are likely to think differently in many ways from one another. Conflict is inevitable but there is some choice as to how we handle that conflict together and how often we are in conflict.

Back to that chocolate thing—I’m certain my husband probably recognizes that I’m a bigger boundary encroacher than he is. However, he is the epitome of that still waters running deep expression. If a boundary matters to him, it has mattered to him for a long time and when he finally mentions it, he’s going to mean it. Unlike my father, though, I think I realize that maybe that also means I’m going to have to listen harder and consider what I wasn’t hearing before.

But when someone else is bringing that spirit of conflict into our home, we are united in our desire to reduce that conflict’s effect on us. While we believe that living in the midst of constant conflict is a hard way to live, we especially stand firm in the belief that engaging in constant conflict is no way to treat people in your inner circle. Conflict itself is not a sin, but just part of living in this world and in relationship with others. Nonetheless, when it happens too often, it’s time to ask why.

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(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

When I was the same age my kids are now, my parents knew so much less about my social connections. For one, in my case, college and young adulthood happened away from my family. They were not part of those worlds for me, partially because of the distance.

But also, that’s just the way things were in those days. Did I feel alone sometimes? You bet I did. Did I wish for my parents’ advice? I can’t even remember but I don’t think that was how my generation operated.

Times change—so now most of us remain so much closer to our growing and grown children, even more so because of this trend for young adults to continue living in our homes.

Because of all this closeness, we experience our kids’ relationships with friends and partners in a much different manner than our parents did. All that drama of sorting out connections in our teens and 20s was somewhat removed from our parents, even though it most certainly happened.

My only children are twins so we in our family are always firmly in one particular developmental phase at a time. And maybe because my kids have no other siblings, they make the mistake of presuming other relationships will mimic the give and take of that twin relationship without having to set up boundaries or without having to articulate what they need from others because so often in their own relationship, they have known how far to push and when to give.

Both of them, though such different people, have very similar problems with others. Time and time again, when someone does not respect their boundaries or when others expect them to be the one whose wishes are subsidiary, they spend more time worrying about the other person’s pain and needs without realizing that their own concerns are not often reciprocated.

That is until they explode in the presence of those of us who are not the primary source of their anger, frustration, and hurt.

Whatever difficulties I may have experienced from my own growing-up years and despite whatever hang-ups I may have retained, I remain a somewhat naively-open and friendly person who presumes the best of people unless they show me otherwise. I expect to like my kids’ friends and partners and I want to believe that who each is is good and decent and worthy of my respect.

For a brief moment in my daughter’s life, when I was still in charge of driving her friends and her around, I forgot how complicated relationships in those years can be and just enjoyed spending time with various young people. But one-by-one, the self-interests rose to the surface. I did not like how my daughter was being treated, nor, how we parents were being treated. Somehow the clear boundaries between anyone’s parents and younger people that were present in my younger days made it easier for us to know that whatever we were experiencing with our friends, we should never, ever bring that into our dealings with their parents.

It’s as if by being friendly instead of formal, that we have invited ourselves into the disagreements of their age. Did one of the kids’ friends just use the passive-aggressive speech pattern he uses on them on me because he did not feel he received the proper attention from me? Did another young person get snippy around me because I did not concede on a casual matter? Perhaps there really was something to the Mr. and Mrs. titles we called our friends’ parents even years after we’d left our parents’ homes.

All I know is I’m tired of reaching out to people who respond to me with behaviors and attitudes we should only feel comfortable showing our own parents—if only because we are their own kids. It’s just good manners to be on better behavior in someone else’s family’s home or table or company.

And if this is how you are treating me or my family members when you presumably are tempering some of your behavior and words, I shudder to think how you are really treating my kids, who seem to continue to have soft hearts for people’s pains, even when said people cause a lot of pain to their hearts. No one said they or we were perfect, but it’s time for everyone—regardless of age—to figure out that none of us is. Barney was right when he sang that each of us is special, but he should have also explained that doesn’t mean some people get to be “more special” than others. Being in relationship means reasonable give and take, as well as forgiveness, comes from both parties.

As for me, just call me Mrs. Lambert and leave me out of your drama.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

On one hand, I’m still the kid who used to eat one—and only one—Lay’s potato chip every time the Lay’s ads taunted me that I couldn’t do that. Trust me, I liked potato chips but didn’t like being told what I should or should not do. Back to that other hand, I’m the kind of person who likes to get along with people. If it’s in my best interest to say “no” to you, I just want to get it done and move on. Trust me, if I’ve turned you down, I mean it, even if you think I don’t.

Sometimes I think I was given a child like my son Jackson so I would get to practice saying “no” again and again. This kid was good at advanced rhetoric from a young age—I used to say he was born a teenager, but I rather think he was born a lawyer. He instinctively knew to ask a question three different ways or how to try to destroy the opposition’s (in other words, my) logic. However, just because I don’t like conflict, doesn’t mean I was going to change my decision on the fly, especially since my decision-making style is fairly measured and consistent.

Before Jackson had reached 18 months, I realized that I had just signed up for a lifetime of practicing the “no” word. To which I thought, “Well, then so be it. Not as if I don’t need the practice”—especially since it’s so much harder for me to say “no” to real people than it is to some distant corporation on a television screen.

As a people-pleaser, despite the practice, I can still get pretty anxious about having to state my opinions, though it’s so much easier with unknown strangers who call me or arrive at my door unannounced. I’ve learned that it does me no good to argue with telemarketers. I now say, “Thank you, but I’m not interested” and hang up the phone without listening further. And when people come to my door, it is my policy to reject them as politely as possible before quickly shutting the door. I’m not going to use a rude tone, but I do not buy from cold calls. If I want something, I do research and seek out the companies with which I want to interact.

All this saying “no” business is one of the reasons traveling to Mexico can raise my frustration level. Upon arriving at a Mexican airport, visitors must first run the gauntlet of helpful people offering to show them presentations. And then there’s the upselling at the car rental counters and in lobbies of hotels, as well as the offers of not-so-free help in grocery markets, on beaches, and in restaurants—offers of free jet-skiing, car rental, or whatever else abound in exchange for “just” hearing a time-share presentation. If those promised prizes seem worthy enough to spend several hours practicing those “noes” again, hapless tourists better be really good at that nay-saying, especially since sometimes the salesperson even accuses them of taking advantage of the system.

The use of guilt techniques at the presentation is just the final technique in the arsenal for trying to convince naysayers that they really meant to say “yes” to the very expensive proposal. As if sending out all those low level people who promise something in exchange for just listening isn’t the business model they have adopted. No, people you work very hard to receive the “free” gifts at those presentations.

That being said, if an encounter with a business or even with a friend or an acquaintance in my neighborhood starts to feel like a time-share presentation or a multi-level marketing promotion where my “yes” is more important than whether or not what is offered is what I need and/or want, then that encounter has already lost me. What right do you have to try to make me feel guilty for knowing my own mind? The fact you keep pushing for a different answer than I’ve given means you are not respecting my boundaries.

While I may have said “no” to extra potato chips because I was stubborn, over the years—especially thanks to my once toddler and now grown son—I have had many more opportunities to practice saying “no” for the right reasons. When I have made it clear that “no” is still my final answer, if you keep pushing me, I will likely go all Lay’s potato chips on you—and you’ll be lucky to get me to say “yes” to even one chip, no matter which hand you want to put it in.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

I watched my friends leave for lunchtime recess and heard the older kids rushing through the lunch line to sit down around me with their trays. My tray remained untouched, but the rules stated I couldn’t leave until I’d tried everything. So I sat day after day while the lunchroom supervisors tried to get me to eat. I promise I wasn’t disrespectful, but even I got tired of my hunger strike, finally putting a bite of coleslaw into my mouth—which I promptly threw up. My mother received a call and was told I could bring my own lunch from then on. After that I ate my sandwich, fruit, and cookies—in the proper order—and skipped out with my friends where we spent the rest of recess going from one form of movement to another.

My husband had two brothers who loved to eat almost anything his mother prepared. Finally he and his mother came to an agreement: he didn’t have to try everything and she wasn’t going to make him something special. He was happier to be the 100-pound kid in high school than the kid staring at a plate that never emptied.

Despite our own improved eating habits over the years, it was no surprise when our own two kids exhibited early signs of picky eating even though we had started them out on a whole rainbow of baby foods and progressed to a variety of vegetables and other foods when they ate at the table. We tried several strategies to keep their foods less limited, but finally decided to keep dinner more of a family-building time and less of the battleground it was becoming.

Though none of us has been tested for having supersensitive taste buds, differences in taste buds have been confirmed through several scientific studies. People in our family also have heightened senses for smells and textures. My dad had that, too, but in a way that made every kind of food a delight for him.

The crazy part is that when you’re eating in social situations, people are much more likely to praise the person who heaps the plate with food than the person who takes modest portions, regardless of whether it’s due to disliking the food in particular, being a sensitive eater in general, having food allergies, or just wanting to maintain a reasonable calorie intake.

My kids hate going to family and other group food get-togethers because of that. They’ve learned over the years to be polite in their “no thank yous” but it’s not enough for people who find potlucks and such to be an endless delight. Though everyone knows it’s rude to point out to people when they are eating too much or when they weigh too much, there seem to be no boundary considerations for pointing out people who are eating too little or who weigh too little. The topic of how much these people eat is fair game for everyone, as I remember from my own large family gatherings while growing up.

Not everyone who refuses to eat something is acting like a brat or being rude. I don’t think people who find most foods agreeable are even trying to understand how hard eating can be for someone who finds more foods disagreeable than not. Eating happens every day, so just try to imagine that your anxiety is so closely tied to being able to exist as eating is. In many cases, the inability to eat does border on a phobia but because eating is something we do together all the time, everyone else gets a chance to know about it. If I have a fear of heights or a fear of the dark, I can hide that from most people. With eating I have to confront my fears frequently and often do so in front of people who have never experienced what I have experienced and who don’t even try to imagine my difficulties.

If eating almost anything is enjoyable, or at least tolerable, for you, please try to understand that that is not always the case for others. Let’s make a pact that if we don’t insult your provisions and quietly abstain, you’ll abstain from making dinner time into judgment and ridicule.

However, if we cannot agree on the subject of breaking bread (gluten-free as needed by our family or otherwise as needed by you and yours) together, then let’s call a truce and stop meeting to eat. I won’t take you skiing and scorn your fear of heights if you won’t call me out for not trying more foods, OK?

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