Picking Your Battles or “Sometimes Winning is the Booby Prize”

By Barbara Wilkov

Over the years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with children of varying ages, including teaching 3rd grade for 7 years, and spending time with my niece and nephew and the kids of some of my close friends. My babysitting “career” started in middle school and has continued into adulthood.

My one girlfriend and I have had many conversations about the rearing of her two children. I have always thought she is a great disciplinarian and very consistent with her kids. They have always had choices…but also knew that there were consequences (good or bad) for any choice they made. I remember her once telling me that she had decided to pick her battles. She might let them “get away” with something small now because she knew that she might need to “battle” with them over something larger later. Everything couldn’t be a battle or no one (neither she nor her children) would survive!

So, for instance, she might say nothing about the crazy shoes or outfit they were determined to wear out in public knowing that she might need to wage a battle with them later in the day over homework or bedtime. Why use up that all too important “good will capital” on something small when there would be bigger fish to fry later on???

I had never really given much thought to this philosophy before as it might apply to other relationships as well. After all, we were talking about kids here. But since starting this website, and thinking about different strategies for improving my relationship with my mother, I’ve given a lot of thought to the simple idea of just biting my tongue once in a while…not reacting to every little thing and turning it into an argument. Hmmm…if this idea of picking your battles can be applied to dealing with children, could it work just as well with a spouse or boyfriend or even a mother??? Well, why not?

There are times, certainly, when winning a battle over something doesn’t seem like winning at all. In fact, sometimes winning actually ends up being the booby prize. Ok, so I was right and I win the point, but where does that get me? Nowhere and now we’re in a big fight. So, I may have won, but the relationship itself has lost. That’s no good if your goal is to have a better and more harmonious relationship.

I’ve started to try this “pick your battles” strategy in my relationship with my mother. She might say something to me that in the past I would have argued about to try to get her to see my point (or to admit that I’m, indeed, right), but now I’m trying to consciously decide before responding if this is something that’s really worth battling about. Sometimes I just take a cleansing breath and swallow the words that are about to come out of my mouth in order to avert a potential conflict before it fully develops. I figure that making a conscious decision to “let something go” doesn’t seem like an unreasonable thing to try. Some battles will need to be fought, for sure, but some are probably just the small stuff we’re always told not to sweat anyway.