Can We Fight In Front Of The Kids?

arguing coupleEver catch yourself smiling in a tense, distorted way at your spouse when you’re secretly ready to kill him–simply because the kids are in the room? Well, not that this is news, but you’ve got a lot of company. Many of us were taught early to put on a happy face in front of our kids and act like all’s well, even when it isn’t. “Don’t argue in front of the children” has been the mantra handed down to parents for generations.

But does anyone actually pull it off? And even if by some miracle they do, is it really good advice? Is it true that arguing in front of your kids will hurt them?

Well, it all depends. Think for a minute: does your idea of arguing include using a slightly raised voice coupled with an unhappy or angry expression on your face? Or are you more of the knock-down, drag-out, “I’ll see you in Hell” kind of gal? Makes a difference.

Whether or not it’s a bad thing depends largely on how you define it, how you do it, how often you do it, and whether you can stay conscious and aware of your words, tone of voice and actions while you’re doing it. Nobody wants to live in a war zone, on that we can all agree. Parents arguing in front of their kids should be the exception, not the rule, and children should never be made to feel unsafe or threatened in any way when their parents have a disagreement. DUH.

But given that you are able to express yourself without a lot of drama, it can actually be good for your kids to see that their parents can disagree or get angry without it turning into WWIII or the end of the relationship. Anger is simply one of many emotions that we all experience and learning how to express that feeling without causing damage is really important.

Besides, even if you think you’re putting on an academy-award-winning performance in the “Everything’s Peachy” category, your kids may be one step ahead of you. They are usually pretty quick to pick up on the mood in the house and very savvy when it comes to figuring out who’s mad at who. It’s a rare mother indeed whose child hasn’t looked her in the eye and asked, “Mommy, are you mad at Daddy?”

They have that amazing emotional-radar thing going. They don’t necessarily understand what it’s about and would be utterly clueless about how to solve it. But they know when something’s up and seeing you handle it in a timely and appropriate way may actually reduce their anxiety.

We all fight. Some of us more than others but in order for those disagreements to do no harm, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Keep the argument focused on the disagreement at hand. No fair throwing in stuff like, “You ALWAYS blah, blah, blah.” Unless you have been secretly documenting your relationship on tape and can produce the proof in the blink of an eye, don’t go there. It will simply distract you both from addressing the current problem. And anyway, how can anyone really respond to that?

2. Keep the argument between the two of you. No fair dragging anyone else (ESPECIALLY the kids) into it with statements like,”Well, Meghan and Henry think you are an _ _ _ too.” Spare them years of therapy by keeping them OUT of the argument.

3. If you or your mate have had a drink or two, table the argument until tomorrow. Alcohol and arguing are a toxic mix and should be avoided like the plague. If it’s really that important, wait until cooler heads prevail before trying to discuss it. Alcohol has a way of increasing the drama and exaggerating the situation and the emotions. Do everyone a favor and keep a lid on it if you’ve had a couple.

4. If you let them see you argue, then let them to see you make up, too. Show them that arguments have a beginning and an end, that you can back down when appropriate, say you’re sorry or accept an apology in a sincere and dignified way, and move on without holding a grudge or acting resentful. That will give them some important pointers on how to handle conflict themselves as they grow up.

5. Keep it clean. Name calling, swearing, hitting, pushing, shouting and any kind of verbal abuse or humiliation is bad, bad, bad. Bad for you, bad for your spouse and really, really bad for your kids. Period.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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One response to “Can We Fight In Front Of The Kids?”

  1. Chien-Wen

    I’m engaged right now and love my partner, and was reading Tara Parker-Pope’s recent article on marriage to get an idea of what my partner and I are getting ourselves into! It’s exciting because so far, I think we fight fair, but then what happens when there are kids?! Thanks so much for commenting and directing us to this helpful, practical article. Will have to keep it in mind when this eventually happens :)

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