Differences of (More Than) Opinion

Consider this an intermission in the “makeover” series for something different… to discuss differences… Differences in opinion, in temperament, in personality types — and how we deal with them.

I find it fascinating that family members can be so different from one another. Haven’t you observed the differences in siblings raised by the same mother and father? Haven’t you been stymied by the differences between parents and the kids they raise — at times, finding your own child to be a puzzle?

On that note… permit me a mention of my younger son who has been, for most of his life, my “mystery” kid.

Now, don’t get me wrong. He may have been a mystery but generally, he was easy — and easygoing — a distinct contrast to his gregarious but often argumentative brother. Still, my creative child lived in his head and volunteered little. To say the least, this is a serious challenge for a parent.

May we all join hands and sing a refrain of what to do when a kid won’t talk?

As our summer of living together progresses — and we haven’t spent this much time under the same roof in at least eight years — I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised. Let’s see… there’s the cooking, the cleaning up, the laundry he does without being nagged. There’s the extraordinary attentiveness to my moods and consideration for my need for quiet…

Then there is his unanticipated willingness to allow me to see who he is. It’s as if he’s morphed from adolescent to adult almost overnight.

Now, my head-in-the-clouds offspring still goes for long periods without saying much, and in this way, he and I are alike. But the moments of spontaneous debate are both numerous and illuminating. Topics range from contradictions in misogyny to race relations, and from Mad Men’s historical accuracy to marrying music with architectural theory.

That my once oh-so-silent son enjoys indulging in such thoughtful tte–ttes is an unexpected source of satisfaction.

And there’s more.

My previously maddeningly messy kid now opts for organizing. I’ve watched (in shock) as he enthusiastically empties drawers and diligently disassembles stacks of “stuff.” He asks what can be tossed, categorizes what remains, then arranges, stores and explains — to yours truly — in meticulous fashion.

Best of all — he consults me as he undertakes this process. This isn’t purely a matter of making the house look good; my son is trying to implement a policy of “functional space” so once organized, I can stay organized.

Go figure. I just may need to pen a thank you note to the Dean of his Architecture School.

And there’s still more.

One night last week, we had a rare moment of friction between us. Frankly, I was seriously pissed off by something he did, and all I was capable of was one exasperated parental look aimed his way.

Along with shooting him the aforementioned disapproving glare, he was the recipient of a brief, equally disapproving remark. Then I disappeared into my bedroom. For hours. I needed to gather my thoughts.

The minute I reappeared, he was right there.

“You’re upset with me,” he said.

I was caught off guard by the directness of his comment.

“Yes,” I answered.

As recently as a year ago, he wouldn’t have confronted me to deal with our disagreement. His mode of conflict management was conflict avoidance, much like mine. I was raised on the “no fighting” rule — not that things worked out that way — and to some degree, I passed along a similar approach to my children.

But “no fighting” isn’t necessarily a good thing.

So we hashed out a compromise quite quickly, right then. And I couldn’t help but admire the way he tackled our difference of opinion head-on.

Since that night, I’ve been chewing on the fact that conflict is a struggle for many of us, including me. While I manage it better as I get older, I understand that conflict avoidance has been my M. O. in the past, and if it continues for any amount of time, it’s counterproductive.

Two people who avoid conflict don’t actually deal with conflict. And when they finally do, it may be too late.

I’ve also learned the hard way that if only one person is willing to see his or her responsibility in a difference of opinion, you will never make headway in resolving that difference. And frequently, one or both parties involved in a dispute are not “wrong.” They simply have different ways of seeing and doing things.

As for where and how my son picked up these new-found communication skills, I can only hazard a guess. But I know this: As he and I come to appreciate each other as adults, we’re learning plenty — both of us — from airing our differences when they arise, and the openness of our exchange.


I hope you will enjoy this week’s guest posts coming up — on the subject of “differences.”