How to Make Peace When Generational Warfare Breaks Out

If the media can be believed, Generational Warfare has broken out.

In my mind, it looks like this: Baby Boomers – having engorged themselves on cheap housing and generous pensions before sparking a race-to-the-bottom trade war – now rule the wastelands.

Like poorly dressed terminators, they patrol the barrens in outsized 4WDs going really, really slowly.

Underground, Millennials are organising an uprising and planning for a new world where everyone will be appreciated for their uniqueness and creativity in an empowering and diversity-friendly way.

In the meantime, Generation X is staging a palace coup having lured away the Boomers by advertising the last remaining investment properties in Western Sydney.

Let the battle begin.

While this scenario is the product of an eager imagination, the thought of generational warfare also fires up the higher-reasoning part of my brain – the bit I use at work and for reverse parking.

As my army of regular readers will know (Hi mum, Aunty M), I work on conflict resolution and stabilisation in troubled countries.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this skill set has helped resolve conflict between Maggie and I (two Generation Xers) and our two Generation Z kids. Makes total sense that it would, right? Yes, of course it does. It makes lots and lots of sense. Hey, look over there, that dog’s riding a unicycle…

Yard Day: When the War Begun

I remember it well. The day the war began.

I stood by the cottage door admiring the shimmering leaves as the autumn sun creeped over the back fence. Suddenly, a panicked voice broke through the scene like a rock through a window.

“Mum, I can’t do Yard Day. I’m going to Tilly’s. I told you about this. I promised Tilly I’d go to her netball game. You’re ruining my life.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of movement as our other Generation Z child made a run for it. “He’s getting away,” I yelled over my shoulder as I raced after him, thrusting a rake in the air, “Get back here, it’s Yard Day.”

Generational Warfare. GIF John Connor running from the Terminator

Generational Warfare had begun.

The Making Of A Dictator

The first casualty of war is truth. The second is noble intentions. As our Gen Zers moped around the backyard tormenting leaves with their limply held rakes, my frustration grew. The day wore on and Yard Day – an annual ripping open of old scars – was looking like another total failure.

Drastic action was need.

I dropped the nuclear bomb, “You kids get this done or I’m taking your pocket money and your phones off you.”

Their jaws dropped in synchronicity upon the unraked leaves. A tense standoff followed. Even the birds dared not tweet lest they draw the wrath of the two gen Zers, whose faces were now a frightening – though oddly seasonal – shade of purple.

Then the leaves began to move as the kids sullenly swung their rakes.

I had won – Kim Jong Un style.

But I’d also made some powerful enemies.

The kids would organise against me throughout the year and wage a war of attrition. I had won the battle, but lost the war.

How To End Generational Warfare In The Family

The following year, I tried a different approach. One based on best practice for conflict resolution, stabilisation and peacekeeping. It had worked overseas in countries with long-running and complex conflicts, so surely it would work with one little suburban family. Makes perfect sense. Very, very perfect sense. Hey, look over there, a cat playing a piano…

Step 1: The Truce

When this year’s Yard Day rolled around the family had technically been in Generational Warfare all year. To adhere to best practices in conflict resolution, we’d need to end the fighting to create space for dialogue.

The first rule of Not Fight Club, is to stop fighting. Sounds easy, but someone has to stop first. After a long internal dispute with myself over who should swallow their pride and be the bigger person, I remembered I was the grown up. I know, it’s shocking.

So I raised the white flag.

I sheathed my cutting-comment sword, lowered my sniping gun and put away the F bombs.   

Step 2: Confidence Building Measures

We abandon the now toxic ‘Yard Day’ label. To build the kids’ confidence that the dictator was gone, we re-framed Yard Day into a shared problem that the family could solve together. We let the kids decide how they wanted to tackle it.

We framed the problem this way:

  1. The yard needs to be raked in autumn
  2. Pocket money is for doing jobs like raking the yard
  3. We can either rake the yard ourselves or we can hire someone to do it, who’ll we’ll pay using your pocket money.

The kids decided to do the raking themselves.  Funny that.

Step 3: Stabilisation Operations

Next, we needed a stabilisation operation to help create buy-in to the conflict resolution process and to address the drivers of conflict.

Operation Iron Rake would be a joint initiative. Jointly planned and executed.

I swallowed down hard on my dictatorial tendencies for this step and handed over control to the kids. They scheduled the operation, decided who did which job and determined what success would look like (Hint: It looks like a half-raked backyard with a forlorn-but-satisfied dad).

Step 4: Peacekeeping

My nerves were on edge on D-day of Operation Iron Rake. I had flashbacks to the years before when Yard Day brought tears and screaming and hissy fits – the kids were upset too…

As the sun rose over the leafy battlefield, I surveyed the sight of so much needless conflict and trauma.

I wondered if my kids would talk to their therapists about it in years to come. Would they awaken in the middle of the night, next to their spouses, sweat-drenched and screaming, “the horror, the horror”?

I woke the kids at the crack of 10am. To my surprise, they were in good spirits. They took up their rakes without threat or coercion and got to work.

Generational Warfare. GIF Man raking leaves

United under a common purpose, they worked as a team, instructing each other on where the piles of leaves should go and how many they should have. There was even a hint of job satisfaction in the crisp autumn air.

The Accidental Parent

You’d never mistake me for a role model parent. In fact, I’m the poster child for How Not To Parent a Poster Child. But I learned a few things through this experience about ending a family conflict:

  1. Stop fighting. Obvious, but really hard. This is the grown up’s job.
  2. Re-frame the source of conflict. Take the heat out.
  3. Start again, but this time create the solution together.
  4. Point yourselves at a common purpose.

So there you have it: International conflict resolution and stabilisation practices are the key to good parenting.

Yes, of course they are. They really, really are.

Look, a hamster juggling a chainsaw…