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posted: 3/20/2013 8:36 AM

Household harmony can get a little ... loud

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By Becky Baudouin

We have several signs in our home with phrases and words that reflect our values around faith and family, except for the purely sarcastic sign in our laundry room that says, "Laundry: Loads and loads of fun."

I am drawn to these signs -- like the ones that say, "Always kiss me goodnight," and "All because two people fell in love…", and I know I'm not alone, based on the variety and volume of merchandise I see in stores.

I'm convinced that while some of these signs may be a bit idealistic, they appeal to our longings for connection, for building strong families and a home life that is warm and harmonious.

The sign in our family room says, "Love is spoken here." Recently, when some friends were visiting, I shared how our 7-year-old daughter said we should take the sign down, because there is too much fighting going on in our house. One of our friends said, "Well, you should tell your daughter that sometimes love is loud, even angry."

We laughed, but I have been thinking about the truth in his words. Conflict is unavoidable, and though often we fight because we are selfish and want our own way, sometimes we fight because we care so deeply about one another and want to be understood.

It seems like many adults my age either grew up in homes where conflict was not modeled in healthy ways, or where conflict seemed non-existent.

In my case, there was a lot of conflict in my home growing up, and my parents divorced when I was in college. Conflict has always scared me. So my dreams for the kind of family and home I want to create are sometimes met with frustration and disappointment when relationships aren't as harmonious as I would like.

We have minor, recurring conflicts in our home -- I like to use my grandma's word "bickering" -- that we may never resolve. For example, if one child is humming or singing in the car, and another child is annoyed by it, does the happy child need to stop or does the annoyed child need to be more tolerant? Clearly opinions change depending on whether the child is the annoyed party or the annoyer. Often after listening to the bickering, I am annoyed and order up several moments of what my mom liked to call "peace and quiet." My kids mostly hate peace and quiet.

Or how about this one: If it is one child's turn to take the dog out, but the dog doesn't go to the bathroom (possibly because the child was not patient enough), does that same child need to take the dog out again two minutes later when she rings the bell? One of my daughters thinks this is how it should go, unless of course the dog doesn't go when she took her out.

My daughters fight over borrowing and lending clothes, as well as over their "reserved" spots on the couch, just like my siblings and I did when we were kids. And if someone gets up to go to the bathroom, does she lose her spot?

Then there are conflicts that accumulate and become more serious when damaging words are spoken and feelings are hurt. More than 10 years ago, my husband and I went to a marriage workshop at our church because we were stuck in a cycle of conflict that we didn't know how to get out of. We were committed to figuring it out, but we couldn't do it on our own. The workshop was so helpful, and we met such amazing people, we ended up becoming volunteers and are still actively involved today. As we've learned how to communicate and resolve conflicts in healthier ways, we have tried to pass these skills on to our kids.

Learning to say how you feel, listening to the other person, avoiding words like "always" and "never," not getting defensive and forgiving one another are not easy tasks, but we get better at it the more we practice.

The sign in my living room is my favorite. It says, "Home is where your story begins." Because it reminds me that choices I make today will impact my family in the future, and that family is worth fighting for, even if our love does get a little loud.

• Becky Baudouin is a freelance writer and speaker. She lives in the Northwest suburbs with her husband, Bernie, and their three daughters.

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