What About Fighting in Front of the Kids?
Growing up, I can never remember my parents arguing with each other. If they did fight, it was in private. Then, when I was 13, both my parents sat my brothers down and told us that they were getting divorced! My brothers and I were shocked. We just never saw it coming.
My wife and I weren’t afraid to disagree with each other. Most of our arguments were about the kids—we never fought about money. We were raised very differently, and so we had very different ideas about discipline and expectations. I do have to admit that we could get pretty loud—but we always resolved tension before bedtime. And we always made up with each other. Now that our kids are grown, we don’t have much to disagree about!
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (“The Family that Fights Together), September 23, 2013 revisits this question. The article cites research by Dr. Davies at the University of Rochester who studied 235 children, ages 5 to 7, and found that “constructive” marital conflict was associated with an increase in emotional security in kids.
But what kind of arguing is constructive and what kind is destructive to children? When should parents retreat to their bedrooms to quarrel? What kinds of heated discussions should be aired in front of children?
Here are some important points to consider.
How high are tensions running? Obviously, when Moms and Dads are hitting 10, on a scale of 1-10, young children may become frightened. They may worry that their parents will lose control of their temper. Loss of control in front of children is never a good thing. Name-calling or “below the belt” comments are bad business too.
The degree of tension and anger may be more relevant than volume. Kids are very sensitive to hostility between their parents. They are like emotional sponges when it comes to this kind of strain.
Is alcohol in the mix? Alcohol and strife don’t mix. Partners are more liable to reach critical mass and have a nuclear detonation. If you are drinking at all, don’t discuss heated subjects and don’t do it in front of the kids. Make that a rule.
Are you discussing a “hot button” issue? Some subjects can become explosive in a relationship. You know what they are. These are conflicts better addressed in private.
Are either of you likely to lose your temper? If you have a short fuse that is easily lit, you may be better off keeping your disagreements out of the public eye (Remember, those kids have big ears.). So what is a “constructive” argument?
When you model resolving conflict. This is big. Conflict is a natural part of living together. To a large degree, children learn skills from observing their parents. Mom and Dad disagree, but then they find a compromise that they both can live with.
When you are respectful to each other. Mom and Dad are arguing about housework, but each one is listening to the other. They are kind, respectful, and polite—even though they disagree strongly with each other’s position.
When you take responsibility for your behavior. This is huge. If my temper gets the best of me, it’s not my wife’s fault—it’s mine. I am responsible for my behavior no matter what she does. And remember this!
None of us are perfect. There will be times that we raise our voices, say things we wish we hadn’t said, or do things that we look back on with embarrassment. That’s just human nature. We are all in the same boat, trying to be the best adults we can be, and we are going to fall short from time to time. Stand up, take responsibility for your actions, and take the high road.
What do you think?