Conflict with a baby momma - Resolved!

In June, we launched the 4th iteration of Conflict Resolution | Being Peace, led by the fabulous and deeply experienced (30+ years!) Cynthia. Here she is to share just one of her memories…

About a year ago, during a session continuing our study of feelings and needs, our own and those of others, the prison residents and I worked with lists of needs and feelings created by the New York Center for Nonviolent Communication. As a group, we practiced:

  • Identifying and distinguishing feelings from needs

  • Recognizing our feelings

  • Holding them, separately, from our search for ways to meet our needs

We also talked about the possibility that by simply acknowledging, to the person we’re in conflict with, that we understand they may have needs, we might be able to move past our old intractable arguments. We identified this simple step as one way to reduce actual conflict and address a possible cause of conflict.

Then, to practice these skills, Stu, one of the program participants, volunteered a recent, personal conflict he had had with the mother of his child. Stu wanted to talk to and see his daughter, but the child’s mother refused to discuss the matter with him. Whenever the parents spoke on the phone, they were soon caught up in a loud argument and Stu got no closer to interacting with his daughter.

We went to work understanding and analyzing the interactions between Stu and his daughter’s mother. Clustered around Stu, sitting on stools bolted to the Culinary tables, through conversation and brainstorming, the men began identifying Stu’s possible feelings and needs, as well as those of his daughter’s mother. We compared the two lists the men had created and it was obvious that several needs - for example, for dignity, belonging, understanding, and connection - were shared by both Stu and his daughter’s mother.

Empowered by this new knowledge, the group discussed the types of statements Stu might make when talking to his daughter’s mother to acknowledge her pain and need, and to help her hear him talk about his need and desire to interact with his daughter. Their conversation and ideas were thoughtful, useful and appropriate. We all felt hopeful and comfortable with these new insights and capacities that folks in the group were displaying. The session ended on a high note!

Fast-forward to earlier this month. While on my way to gather with the new group of program participants, I met Stu. He greeted me and, with a big smile on his face, told me that we had really made a difference for him and how he talked with his child’s mother. Stu said he no longer had a relationship with her but he didn’t care, because he now was in regular contact with his daughter and that was what was important to him.

More about Conflict Resolution | Being Peace: This interactive program offers Donovan residents training, analysis and practicums on understanding and resolving inter-personal and inter-group conflict. It also exposes them to yoga postures, Qi gong movements, silent meditation with affirmations and poetry. Almost weekly, participants and I amaze ourselves as we experience revelations of connections between our innermost feelings and the outermost behaviors of others.

Jonathan Martin