The Art of Compromise


“compromise is the refuge of the unprincipled” David Didau, Learning Spy


I wasn’t quite sure what to think when I read this statement.  David is, like me, a teacher, and, as such, I think I understand what he means.  If, as a teacher, I compromise on matters of neat handwriting, spelling, numbers in squares, behaviour, stopping when I say when we are doing PE or at the swimming pool, I am doomed.  But, the thing is, as I am not just a teacher, as my life is littered with compromise, I’m not so sure I agree.

I never had to compromise, really, before I had my Sam, if you don’t count the sort of compromises that all married couples make, but his birth ushered me into a whole new world.  Nothing went to plan when he arrived.  It seemed to be going that way, but when push came to shove, the birth plan went out of the window.  No music, no water birth, intervention galore.  Without compromise I’d probably be dead.

And then there was the baby.  So small, so weak.  So floppy and helpless.  So many blood tests and scans and worries when all I wanted was to go home and get on with it.  And everyone else had an opinion on what I should be doing.  Blood transfusion.  Drinking.  Eating.  How I should be feeling, reacting.  And feeding.  Feeding the baby.

What I wanted, more than anything, was to breast feed my baby myself.  I didn’t know about the special benefits for a baby with Down Syndrome; you know, increased immunity for someone with a depressed system, a workout for facial and mouth muscles that had the same lack of tone as the rest of his body.  A well-excercised mouth for a child who may have difficulties in expressing himself through speech.  I didn’t really know anything about that.  All I was, was the girl who thought that human milk was for human babies and cow milk was for cow babies.

But Sam couldn’t do it.  Not right away.  One midwife would say one thing, another another.  One would help me to get started, another shoved a bottle in his mouth.  I was devastated by that, but, and it didn’t take me long to figure out, without it, Sam would never have had the strength to start breast feeding in the first place.  So compromise we did.

Before I had him, back when I sailed through the days like a stately galleon, calmly awaiting the birth of my first child, I bought a pack of nappies.  Not the sort that you wrap in little plastic bins, no.  Not for this bicycle riding recycler, not me.  I didn’t even buy those shaped ones.  I bought terry nappy squares, someone gave me a leaflet on how to fold them and I was sorted.  I’d love to say that I only ever used them, but that wouldn’t be true.  When Sam was born I lost enough blood to make me a funny greeny colour and lose my ability to walk up the stairs without feeling somewhat breathless.  It took considerably longer than I thought to regain something like my previous strength.  Terry nappies are an awful lot of hard work to add to the wobbles, the broken nights, the general soreness of early parenthood.

And when he came home, when they all came home, sleep, once the punch-drunk period wore off, seemed to elude him.  Until we put him between us, and then he slept like a log, and so did we; sort of.  And I may have read the books about teaching your child to fall asleep on their own, but I found that it didn’t necessarily translate into reality.  You see, when Sam was two he broke his leg.  He fell off my lap and his tibia snapped like a twig. (It hurts to write this even, so I’ll stop with the description.)  We had got to the stage where he was in a big boy bed (with removable side) (removable side we lost him down one memorable evening), and all of a sudden he wasn’t in it.  He might have been in a bed, but he was in it all day as well as all night.

When I was a child in hospital (I spent four months there when I was 6) there was a very strict Sister who insisted that all of the lights were off by early evening and that the ward was quiet because, as she rightly pointed out, there were some very sick children in there.  It wasn’t quite like that during Sam’s stay.  He was hooked up to machines that beeped (one day I’ll write about sleep apnoea), trolleys crashed, lights were on constantly, voices chatted in nothing like hushed tones.  It took us months to get back to where we were when he came home.

He wouldn’t be left alone.  He would lie down and look all comfy and sleepy looking and the moment we stepped out of the door he would jump out of bed and follow us wherever we went.  So we compromised.  In the interests of everyone getting some sleep and a little boy reassured enough to get what he needed so that he could recover from the experience, we stayed with him.  And we stayed for a long time.

I could write about potty training, or eating, or drinking, or reading, or homework even, because I started out on all of those adventures with a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve and for every single one of them I have had to compromise.  Along the way I have liquidised for far longer than I thought, used pyjama pants after taking the nappy away at night, taken jarred food away on holiday, allowed them to have crisps for a snack.  But the thing is: I have learned to forgive myself.

I breast-fed all of my babies for a year, and Sam for 17 months.  By the time I had child number 3 I had got the hang of things a bit more, and I even took her on holiday, terries in tow (although, by that time I had discovered shaped ones, and ‘waterproofs’ that didn’t leak,most of the time).  We have no tellies in bedrooms.  Despite my compromised career, or maybe because of it, we have found a way for Sam to ride a bike to school.  All three of them go to bed, stay in bed, and, mostly, don’t wake us up at too much of an ungodly hour in the morning.  We eat breakfast, dinner and tea at the table, together.  I have compromised, but, even though faced with bigger challenges than I thought I would, I have not been compromised.

Keep your principles.  Keep hold of the destination, but accept that you might be travelling the country mile , the road less travelled, rather than supersonic, flashy first class.

Maybe I agree with David after all.


12 thoughts on “The Art of Compromise

  1. Yes, that’s it exactly! We compromise where it doesn’t matter so that we don’t have to where it does. Now all we have to do is to decide what really matters…

    1. Exactly my thoughts. A robust sense of our principles, a strong conviction of the heart, and we can weather the storms. Pretty much.

  2. Fully understand David’s point about not compromising on principles BUT I still think life is more complex than that and dealing with people especially so. Sometimes the important thing is that we find a way forward, and that necessitates compromise on both sides. I see that as a strength, not a weakness. I also think that, with experience, our principles and values sometimes evolve and, again, I think that flexibility and receptivity is a sign of strength.

    I grew up with Maggie Thatcher’s ‘no U-turn’ philosophy – as if any divergence from the stated path (whatever new evidence might emerge) was a weakness and I remember the danger of that.

    1. Yes, I agree with you Jill. The art of working with people is, at its very heart, one of give and take – and with adults especially so. This is not to say that it isn’t with children, but it is different, the dynamic is different. I think that teaching is, in essence, a relational ‘thing’, and, as those who have been married a long time are fond of saying, there is no success without compromise.
      When I was attempting to get my boys dry through the night, I got it into my head that, once the nappy came off there was no going back. I was resolute. They needed to be dry, there was no reason why they couldn’t, and so, I would take away the nappy, and they would learn. Only they didn’t. A year later I had washed two complete bed sets (everything) almost every day. I was frazzled. I stuck to it because I thought I was right, but I wasn’t. I was cross, they were anxious, nothing was getting better. So I caved. I turned around. I put them both back into ‘pyjama pants’ and within weeks the pair of them had made a start. It took a while to get to the stage where we are now (it’s been a long time since I had to change a bed in the middle of the night – it still happens, but not regularly), but we got there – and they did the taking, not me!
      Sometimes the thing that sticks you to your guns is a misplaced idea, and sometimes, more dangerously, it is pride.
      You’re right, as we grow older and life gives us more experiences, the principles we hold change subtly. We would be very brittle people if they didn’t, and that’s not who I want to be. 🙂
      Thank you, all of you, I appreciate your wisdom, and learning from your insights.

  3. In my long marriage, compromise has become a creative and wonderful thing and is often a revelation. With my adult children, with the demands of their lives in which I am not first priority, or even in the top five probably, it feels as though the compromise is mostly mine, but it’s a gift I continue to want to give them. My relationship with them is often not what I expect, although they are loving and wonderful people, but they have to put their responsibilities and other relationships first and I love to bend to their breezes. It’s how i express my love to them still and how I learn to be an older woman. It’s not a negative thing and I think of it as continuing to learn how to live.

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