“Everyone’s going to be there. You have to let me go to the sleepover. Jack’s one of my friends…I can’t skip his party. You guys are the worst parents ever.”

If you’re still getting your kids through the early years, you probably haven’t heard words like these. Some parents may never hear these words, and I’m grateful for that.  But for the rest of us—how on earth do you respond when this happens?

One of the best ways to start is by looking at what happens inside you before you figure out how to respond to your kids.

So…when your child says something that cuts to the heart—like “you guys are the worst parents ever”—how do you feel?  Angry?  Hurt?  Filled with self-pity?  Maybe, if you’re honest, some of each.

How you feel can determine how you respond. You may feel like your default off-the-cuff response is the only viable one, and so you might scream: “You’re not going! That’s final. I can’t believe how rude you are! If you continue to argue with me about this, you’ll lose your phone for a month!”

On the one hand, it makes complete sense. You want to protect your child from the risk of an unsupervised environment. Understandable. And the decision might be right. But there’s so much more at stake than being right.

In the process, most of us lose control. And whenever you lose control of how you respond, however justified your decision may be, you’re far more likely to damage your relationship with your child. You’re probably also going to shut down communication.

As a result, conflict ends up being toxic, not healthy. I see it all the time in my work as a family attorney. Sadly, much of the conflict I witness happens after the breakdown becomes permanent.

With so much at stake, how do you steer your family conflict toward being healthy, not toxic?

An honest, transparent conversation about values, beliefs and faith—even in the midst of a struggle to be loving, not angry, or open, not controlling—is actually possible. And while it might be difficult, it’s worth fighting for.  

A healthy, high-stakes conversation is never easy, but it is possible. And it doesn’t have to be toxic.

So what’s the key? To get you under control before you try to get the situation under control.  Anytime you’re out of control, you potentially lose control of everything, including the situation and the relationships at stake.

How do you avoid losing control? There’s one key to it all: self-awareness. Pay attention to how you’re feeling. You may need to take a time out before you do anything. In all seriousness, wise parents do this all the time.

If you are upset to the point where you cannot avoid saying things you’ll regret later, then delay the conversation until you feel more in control.  It is okay to take a break if you need to.

If you think you have a dysfunctional family, just look at the Old Testament figure of Joseph. His eleven brothers had sneered at him as a child when he had a dream foreshadowing his rise to power. They were jealous enough of him to sell him into slavery—after they decided not to kill him. Years later, when Joseph’s brothers travelled to Egypt to buy grain for their starving families, they didn’t realize that this powerful leader of a foreign land they just met was their brother.  

Notice, though, that Joseph didn’t reveal himself to his brothers right away. Ever wonder why?

Maybe he was processing the years of slavery, abuse and imprisonment in Egypt caused by the treachery of his brothers.

Seeing the people who sold you into slavery must have been an unimaginably emotionally- charged moment.

Look at what Joseph did.  First of all, he cleared the room. He created some private space with his brothers.  Then, the account says “he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him…”  

Joseph released the emotion first. He didn’t speak. He just wept.

Then Joseph went on to beautifully encourage his brothers not to be distressed or angry with themselves, for God had sent Joseph ahead of them to save them from devastation. Once Joseph had his emotions under control—for surely this would be an emotionally-charged moment for any family—then he could ‘speak the truth in love’.

Raising kids is not for the faint of heart. The next time you find yourself in a stand-off, remember what Joseph did, and give yourself the time to get your emotions under control.  

Even cry out to God for wisdom and for the words to speak.  

Then have a meaningful conversation with your child about how your family’s values and faith apply to the issue at hand. You’ll be surprised at how much grief this saves you and everyone around you.