The Conflict Built into Family Life

The purpose of this chapter is to show that, while we always seek and try our utmost to achieve harmony in our family life, this endeavor, though admirable, is actually an unrealistic goal. Rather than charge up inappropriate optimism in our attitude, it is most sane, reasonable and realistic to think of harmony as an impossible goal because of the natural friction between family members that is built into every human being through their natural inborn instincts. This is to say that in the natural state of affairs, every family is destined to be in conflict. We should bear in mind that there will always be conflict regardless of what people say, regardless of what you may believe when you see them from the outside, and regardless of how they may choose to present themselves to the outside world! It is simply the way of human life, that is, the way it was meant to be by whoever made it so, and who you believe to be your Maker!

On the upside, the conclusion of this work is that once we are aware of our natural human inclination to be in conflict with those who are closest to us, we can work actively, or proactively, to counteract these tendencies by being pre-warned and pre-armed, as per the recommendations of DOLF theory, rather than getting caught up in the emotional pitfalls that await us. Unless we are unable or unwilling to do so, we are bound to be disappointed. These then are the instructions we should try our best to take into account.

(1) TWO PARENTING STYLES – WHICH ONE IS BETTER?

DOLF theory tells us that every nuclear family functions according to a standard and universal pattern of Distribution Of Love. First, there will be a division among parents such that each one functions according to a distinct role. One parent, the Prime Love Giver or PLG, will tend to be more gentle, understanding, have a more laissez-faire attitude and stronger connection with the children. The other parent, the Additional Love Giver, or ALG, will be either more organized, disciplinarian, socially oriented and less tolerant of the children’s antics, or alternatively, more detached, work-oriented or somehow distant or alienated from the family group.

In view of this primary premise in DOLF theory, there is bound to be an inherent conflict among the parents, since these are 2 distinctly different parenting styles that are operating simultaneously in one household. (In case of a single parent, this parent will always, of necessity, be the Prime Love Giver to the children, and must act alone as their PLG.)

In fact, in real family life and actual day-to-day living, the difference in parenting styles between two parents is far more stark and extreme than just a simple split in philosophies, orientations and attitudes between two people over how to treat their children. Strange as it might sound, close observation of family dynamics clearly shows that this split in roles is not only actual and concrete, but that the process of parents diverging in their parenting styles begins very early in the life of the family. Though it might be much less obvious, the division in personalities and behavior among parents begins to take shape even before the first child is born! So when we closely observe couples at the dating stage, early in marriage or during a first pregnancy, we can note even at this point that one partner is the care-giver (PLG) and the other the care-taker (ALG). Peering into their lives and interactions we swiftly perceive that our future PLG seems more approachable while the ALG is more distant and detached, the ALG is more rigid while the PLG is more relaxed and flexible, the ALG is either more active and the social leader in the relationship while the PLG more is more passive and the follower, and so on.

Now once the first child is born, the basis for this division only becomes more confirmed, so that the first child merely acts as an agent or catalyst. Rather than inducing the division, the new family member only helps clarify and solidify the split by bringing to light the inherent differences between the two parents, making these discrepancies more open, tangible and visible, and in effect assigning a definable social “role” to each parent. The final division is then confirmed and completed by the spouses themselves, who soon fall ever deeper into their own respective roles, and increasingly behave in a tandem or complementary way, each assuming her/his own area of commitment and defining duties. These two diverging roles are simultaneously supported and fixed by the responses of the first child to the way each parent behaves. The family pattern is finally entrenched, solidified and the lines of division more clearly drawn by the second child, and of course resists change with the arrival of any later children.

With the passage of time we find that parents, rather than compromising and becoming more similar in their approaches to their job of parenting, each take an increasingly firm stance in their chosen direction, and insist on carrying their own parenting methods to their respective extremes. The softer PLG becomes ever more indulgent with the children, taking a more protective posture toward them, while the parent who is more socially aware and responsive to external demands on behalf of the family, such as financial issues and propriety, the ALG, becomes increasingly more stringent and demanding, asking more and more compliance with the social requirements, pressures and restrictions that s/he feels coming both from within her/himself and from outside the family. Each partner reaches for their chosen extreme position partly because of their belief in their own view, and at least partially as well, in an effort to demonstrate and prove to the other parent the error of the other’s ways. At the same time, by way of retaliation, the other takes an ever more extreme stance as well.

This situation gradually escalates and as time passes, we find both parties digging in their heels, becoming more stubborn and fixed in their attitudes, as well as more certain and insistent that their way is the right way, and refusing to give in. They become stuck in their chosen mode and slowly but surely move from mild, general disagreements, to continual arguing. This is usually followed by open verbal altercations, and escalation to fighting that intensifies over time. Eventually, one partner may acquiesce and the dispute can be resolved calmly by becoming an unspoken battle, or going ‘underground’. In this case it is usually the ALG who wins the day, while the PLG succumbs to the pressure and carries on her/his loving functions toward the children in silence, leaving the discipline and other socially demanding stipulations to the ALG without protest. In a “good” marriage, harmony usually results from this kind of tacit arrangement with the PLG’s either true “acceptance and respect”, for the leadership styles of the ALG, or their quiet succumbing to the dictates of the ALG.

IF the dispute, whether spoken or silent, is not resolved in some way over the space of 2-10 years, this area of disagreement over harsher vs. softer treatment of the children can evolve into a full-blown feud, inducing an emotional and moral separation between the two heads of the household. In this case, the negative atmosphere eventually becomes unbearable, dipping so deeply into the hearts and souls of the partners as to evolve into mutual dislike between them, and may verge on mutual hatred that may even entail the hidden need and desire to decimate each other. Such is the course of alienation and the reason why we hear people say they have “grown apart”. Physical separation is usually the next step, where there develops a distaste for closeness, sharing or touching the partner, which sets the stage for the final step of an actual legal separation or divorce. Needless to say, the love in the relationship has long since eroded and parents opt for divorce as the better option for the sake of their sanity and the sake of the children too. In some cases this process may be quite speedy, taking place in under 5 years, but in other cases it may take up to 10 years or more to unfold, with movement back and forth in the spousal relationship. and consideration of the children’s agony as well as the social and financial upheaval if the marriage should dissolve and the household become divided.

At this point we may consider the rhetorical question of which came first: Was it the differences in parental attitudes that the parents brought into the family with their more indulgent and less indulgent personalities to begin with? Or was it the attachment/detachment behavior of the children toward their parents coming from their instinctual drive to choose only one parent for warmth and the other for social guidance and direction, that spurred the split? The answer seems to lie in the initial differences between partners who chose to become married, that is, that before the arrival of children there was one who was more the caregiver, while the other was more the caretaker, which was the reason behind the division in the first place. Compounding this however, was the natural tendency of the children to gravitate to one of them over the other, as well as the two parents’ tendencies to choose separate emotional paths as part of their “convictions” or adamant belief in their own way of conducting their lives both inside and outside the marriage.

(2) WHICH PARENT WILL BE THE PLG?

But since we have so far failed to make parents aware that children will cling to the parent who is of a more indulgent nature, we find that in most cases parents, not realizing they are part of a competition to win this role or even that there is such a role to be played, do not actively, or consciously, compete for the position because they don’t know any better. However in the future when they find out about DOLF and the distribution of LOVE aspect of family life, they may begin to consciously seek to be that one compassionate parent, and actively engage in a battle to compete to win over their children’s affections. As things stand, this competitive behavior is much more evident and observable among parents during divorce when an ALG might suddenly begin to assume a more indulgent persona, such as by offering the children money, privileges or freedoms to win over their affection, with the main objective of taking revenge on the PLG. I am well familiar with many cases in which an ALG, usually a female, battles fiercely in court and is awarded custody of the children largely on the basis of current laws that favor women in such cases, and proceeds to entice them with indulgences such as gifts, or adopts an artificial and blatantly unreasonable laissez-faire attitude at home to win over the children’s allegiance. At the same time this parent conducts an ongoing vicious campaign of parental alienation or ‘brainwashing” to discredit the PLG spouse, often the male, with accusations such as mental imbalance, physical abuse or sexual abuse. Later on when reality sets in, and the ALG becomes weary of the distress, discomfort and misbehavior of the children who mourn the loss of their Prime parent and become uncooperative, the ALG parent will resort to various tactics. They now seek the help of outside agencies to manage the child/ren or as in one case, even return the children to the PLG. In another case a young girl who was told her father had abused her found out much later that he actually had loved her and longed for her but was prevented from seeing her, at which point she became very disturbed and was cutting herself. Once her mother’s lying behavior was discussed in therapy and she came to terms with her anger for the deception, she began to trust her father again, and the self-destructive behavior stopped.

Equally important in cases of divorce are PLG’s who do not recognize the importance of continuing their contacts and interactions with the children, and the necessity of their ongoing involvement with the children for the sake of their mental health. This is partly because most PLG’s tend to be more passive and self-effacing, and generally less assertive within the marital relationship than their ALG counterpart, who tends take a more dominant role in the marriage. Finding themselves divorced and perhaps alone in a new home setting, they quietly mourn the loss of contact with their children, but at the same time undervalue their own unspoken importance to the children and their children’s dependence on their continued support on an emotional level. In this way everyone suffers in silence, while the ALG has little awareness or appreciation of the depth of the losses to all concerned, except perhaps to the ALG her/himself, who is usually proud of their accomplishment and feels very justified and vindicated.

An important factor to consider is that our social values suggest that females are necessarily warmer, more soft-hearted, gentler and hence more attachable, while in contrast the male is believed to be more hard-nosed, harsh and hard-hearted. This idea is reinforced by the dependence of newborns on breastfeeding with mother’s milk, and when it comes to caring for babies and delicate toddlers. However, close observation clearly contradicts this view too! In fact, daily observation through DOLF lenses informs us that the split between males and females in terms of who occupies the PLG position is at least 50-50, meaning that in about half of all families fathers tend to be PLG’s, while the other half of families mothers are PLG’s. Even more shockingly, long term observation by the author actually suggests that fathers are Prime Love Givers in a slightly greater proportion than mothers! Still, the bias in favor of women is evident in our court system that tends to give mothers priority in claiming custody over children. Through the DOLF lens however we now discover that to dissociate any child from the one PLG parent by any means to whom they initially become attached – whether physically, through emotional alienation, death, fostering or other means – is to entirely upset, and perhaps even ruin that child’s life! Additionally, this process starts from the very beginning of life and continues throughout the attachment period, ending at approximately 4-6 months of age. In other words, any separation from a Prime Love providing parent that occurs after 4-6 months of age which is the period of attachment that will be psychologically disruptive to the child, should be avoided at all costs.

(3) SIBLING RIVALRY: WHICH CHILD WILL WIN THE STRUGGLE TO BE FAVORED?

The third area of intrafamilial conflict under discussion here is that if we accept the premise that there will be Favored and Disfavored children in every family, then there is inherent conflict between the first two children. This is conflict based on what we know as sibling rivalry and whose aim is to attract and retain the attentions and LOVE of the PLG or Prime Loving parent. As mentioned previously children, spurred by their natural instincts, perceive the LOVE in their nuclear family as a precious and limited resource, and therefore compete desperately to claim the small quantity of that LOVE. If you ask whether this limitation is real or imagined, DOLF, which instructs us that parents do in fact favor some children over others in their hearts (that is, EITHER the first OR the second of the first two born) we should believe this perception is more actual and real than imagined!

(4) PARENTAL JEALOUSY OF CHILDREN

Difficult, distasteful, repulsive and unbelievable as it may sound, it is not unusual, and in fact in my experience very common, that parents harbour secret, hidden jealousies of their own children. Not of all, but of one child, commonly the Favored one.

Delving deeply into the psychological structures of many a family, I have witnessed these jealousies embedded deep into the emotional workings of many ‘normal’ families, unfortunately to the detriment and torment of the Favored child who, unaware of the reasons for the negativity of the ALG toward them, becomes plunged into a cycle of self-hatred and self-deprecation.

This conflict is usually a same-sex phenomenon. It happens when the Favored child is of the opposite sex to the PLG, such as a mother and son, in which the ALG father is likely to become jealous of his son. In the alternative, when a father is PLG and the Favored child is a girl, the mother often becomes jealous of her much loved daughter. ALG mothers tend to be jealous of their daughters, and fathers tend to be jealous of their sons. It is unsavory but real, and though not present in full force in every family, it is a topic that easily goes ignored, undiscussed and unexplored. Jealousy by a parent is usually not fully acknowledged or recognized by a child, and of course, never spoken or openly declared, as it is far too threatening for all parties concerned. The child usually suffers in silence, not knowing the source of their sadness and sense of betrayal, while at the same time the same sex parent takes secret joy and pride in their own personal accomplishments to the detriment of the child, who is naive, helpless, easily loses the competition, and feels systemically saddened and hurt. It should be emphasized that there is no insinuation of sexual love in this equation of a loving connection between a parent and an opposite sex child. In fact, this is the purest, most wholesome, and most desirable form of LOVE available in life.

The conclusion of all the discussions in this section is that, considering a family of 4 people, 2 parents and 2 children, every person in the family is potentially the opponent of some else. The sibling vs. sibling paradigm is certain and absolute, as is the parent vs. parent in terms of a) parenting styles, and b) who will be the more LOVED parent. Conflict that may occur between a parent and a same-sex child has also been covered.

(5) PARENTS VS THE DISFAVORED CHILD

Unaddressed as yet and perhaps most disruptive of all to family peace is the conflict that takes places between parents and the Disfavored child. As mentioned, in any family with 2 children, there will inevitably be one child who is Favored and another who is Disfavored, whether this is the older or younger.