Watching children on a playground can be illuminating. They team up for games in a friendly fashion, or wind up choosing sides as a disagreement over turf breaks out. That disagreement may end in pushing and shoving, tears and shouting, or one group arguing with the other, and storming off the field of play.
We are as likely to take sides over a difference of opinion or matters of perceived right and wrong, though the way we respond may be metaphorical fisticuffs rather than coming to blows.
Who hasn’t seen groups of women take sides against each other over seemingly small issues?
Who hasn’t known of parents arguing over a child – one siding with the child and against her spouse?
In the politics of the workplace, don’t we see coalitions in which we choose sides for or against those we believe in, or for those who can help our careers?
We pick our battles and choose sides – all the time. And some of the time, we might do better not to choose – at least, if we can manage it.
Choosing Sides as a Parent
Any scenario in which you feel forced to choose sides or it’s in your best interest to choose sides – it’s about taking a stand – but there may be costs. The role of mediator may bear its price as well.
There are times as a parent when we watch our children fight with each other. We may believe one is right, both have valid grievances or claims, or that neither is right. We may also believe what they are fighting over is petty and irrelevant; it may be, but they’re flexing their muscles and learning to stand up for themselves – in a way, learning in a safe environment.
There are other times when a parent may side with a child against the other parent. This can be a prescription for conflict between the parents (to say the least), and I suggest that some of us should not assume that our way is the “right” way when it comes to a child’s best interest – or what a child may want.
And let’s not forget there are days when children behave badly, test limits, and twist the truth – as do adults.
Kids and Allegiances
Of course, we as parents don’t know the half of what may be going on behind the scenes. Sibling relationships are tricky; a brother may be cruel to a sister or vice versa; if we seem to take sides in favor of one of our kids, we may be responding unfairly without realizing it.
Or, a child may feel an allegiance to a friend who is teasing or even bullying a sibling. So the child chooses to support the friend – perhaps knowing all the time that “blood” is thicker than water, or at least, it should be.
As adults, we may come to see that the “blood is thicker than water” rule doesn’t always apply. Friends can be more stalwart allies than relatives have ever been, and we make them the family we wish we had.
Who Gets the Friends After Divorce?
Who gets the friends is one of those thorny post-divorce issues that we’ve all heard about. And it can be heaping salt on the wounds, depending on how allegiances play out.
Who hasn’t seen friends of a divorcing couple line up behind the husband or wife? It’s never as simple as the men sticking together or the women sticking together; as the reasons for the breakup are being aired (or campaigned) by one or the other, a tendency to feel more for one in the couple than the other can be the most natural inclination in the world.
At the same time, when you’re on the receiving end of long-time friends turning away – quite possibly because they’re hoping to remain neutral – it can be a bitter pill to swallow. We may assume that the friends we had before marriage will still be the friends we have after, but that assumption may not be true. Ideally, just as we shouldn’t put children in the middle, neither party should put friends in the position of feeling that they have to choose.
Sometimes choosing sides is about being there – for a friend, a neighbor, someone you love. You are choosing to be there as a shoulder, a steadying presence, a reminder that they are part of a family or other community – of caring.
It is possible to choose a side for that doesn’t mean you are choosing a side against. You can choose to be for compassion, necessary compromise, reason, unconditional love.
And an important reminder to women: Choosing to be for someone else doesn’t have to mean you shortchange your own needs or your own mental and physical health. For some of us, this is easier said than done, but we would be wise to remember it.
Staying Neutral, Staying Generous
Personally, I believe that the act of choosing sides helps to develop identity and reveals who we are. Likewise, we should learn to recognize when not to align oneself in arguments or fights that don’t concern us.
As an adult, I am not one to choose sides in personal disagreements among friends unless I see an injustice in process, and I have skin in the game. There are times when loyalty dictates that we choose to align ourselves with one group over another, and then I willingly support those I love and believe in. However, if loyalties conflict with our sense of right and wrong, we may be faced with tough decisions and consequences that are hard to live with, whatever we choose.
I have watched with interest (and dismay) over the years as I have seen women force battles of alliance more often than men, despite my offsetting experience of women as open-minded, tremendously generous, and willing to compromise. At times, reconciling those two extremes is a challenge for me.
What I also see: In times of trouble, good men and women are there for each other; a giving heart knows no gender, and issues of turf or ego simply fall away.
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