When I was in junior high school, I wore my hair long and straight like most of the girls. My mother thought it would look better short and curly. This was a constant source of tension between us—but when we got angry, we didn’t talk about it. We stopped speaking. Sometimes for days.
Then, the atmosphere would slowly thaw and we’d pretend nothing happened. This was how we did “conflict resolution” in my family. No conflict and no resolution. Instead, we had denial and discomfort and seething resentment—underneath our polite exchanges.
No wonder I grew up being afraid of conflict! My friends described conflicts in their homes that were noisier but not healthier. So, none of us learned how to handle anger and we carried this ignorance into adulthood—into jobs and marriages and parenting.
It was many years before I learned anything about how to negotiate differences. How to trade silence for listening, fear for trust. Because if I could really hear the other person and they could hear me, the problem often solved itself—and almost always dissolved the anger.
I wish I’d asked my mom why she cared so much about my hair. I’m guessing it wasn’t about my hair, but about wanting me to be pretty, to be happy. We should have talked about it.