Marriage Monday: Stop Fighting in Front of Your Children!

"The greatest gift a man can give his children is to love their mother. The greatest gift a woman can give her children is to love their father."
Rabbi Shmuley

Being a parent, your number one priority is to protect your children - whether it is preventing physical, emotional, or psychological harm.
Support your newborns neck... Never leave your child unattended on your bed... Don't start solids too soon... Make sure the car seat is installed properly... Bottle-propping is a no-no... Set the thermostat between 68-72 degrees at night!  
From day one, you are given lists of cautionary rules concerning your child's physical harm that are given to new parents to give your child the best chance of surviving and if you are anything like my husband and I, you find out what works as you go but you are deathly afraid of breaking any rules up front.  These rules are typically pretty black and white so they are fairly easy to follow.  However, when it comes to meeting your child's psychological needs, the rules tend to blur into the gray area.  To be fair, most parents aren't always properly equipped with how to meet those needs as there are far more guidelines given to parents concerning physical well-being over anything else.  So let's talk about the psychological health topic concerning family conflict - more primarily, the effects of fighting in front of your kids.

As you already know, marital conflict is inevitable.  You are not only dealing with the normal stresses of life, but on top of it you've now got first time parenting stresses as well.

Fact is:  Parenting can be DRAINING
It's very hard on a marriage when you don't always get the moments to recharge your batteries as husband and wife, especially in those early days.  {It's common knowledge in our household that the baby days - and most of the first year of parenting - is all about just surviving!}  Taking all this into consideration, it's likely that your emotions will get the best of you once in a while and you will make the mistake of arguing in front of your kids.  It happens!  Like I said before, it's not always common knowledge just how awful it is for parents to fight in front of the children.  While it's absolutely not a fun topic to write or read about - children deserve for their parents to preserve their innocence.  And this is precisely why writing on this topic is so important to me - if this reaches and educates another parent who can do better for their child, I will be supremely happy.

SIX "Stop Fighting in Front of your Kids" FACTS:
  • Children are NOT emotionally equipped to handle fights.  There is nothing within them to handle that kind of trauma.
  • When children are exposed to the tensions that accompany arguments and fighting, they begin to lose the belief in the underlying unity of the world.  At this point, they begin to believe the world is all about conflict.
  • Children LEARN what they LIVE.  {It doesn't matter how much you teach your kids about being peaceful, loving and respecting others - they won't believe a word you say if you aren't practicing what you preach.} 
  • Therefore, if your children seeing you bully one another, they learn to bully others.  This includes bullying you once they are in their teenage years!  Just don't condemn your children to a future with that unhealthy pattern.
  • When you and your spouse lose your temper in front of your kids, don't just sweep it under the rug.  Do take a moment to apologize separately to your children.  But know that if you do this too many times, your apology will not mean very much.
  • At all costs, AVOID arguing adult topics in front of your kids.  (Examples:  Your sex life, your husband's hangover, etc...)  Also, AVOID arguing about decisions concerning your kids in front of your kids.  Work out disagreements over rules for your children BEHIND closed doors.
Here is some great insight to focus on the next time you start to feel out of control for those of us who feel like we simply "can't" control our anger...
It's not that you can't... it's that you don't control your anger. Have you had fights at your boss's house? At church? At a restaurant with friends? You don't do it when you can't.
So, keep that in mind next time - you are CHOOSING to put your child in the middle of your argument.  In reality, YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON YOU CAN CONTROL.  Take a moment and let that sink in.

When it comes to occasional, respectful disagreements in front of your kids with your spouse, those can actually be helpful for your children to witness.  It is role modeling healthy ways to deal with conflict.  After all, if your children never see healthy techniques for dealing with conflict, they will be unprepared to handle their own conflict out in the real world.  
Healthy: Forward progress and problem solving in front of your children.   
Unhealthy: Venting Resentments, name-calling, and repeating the same points over and over in front of your kids.  
As a rule of thumb, remember what I shared from Dr. Frank's marriage tips? "Arguments are a natural part of any relationship, but cruelty is not. Above all, happily married partners see each other as allies, not as adversaries."   
No name calling.  No foul language.  No yelling.
These are GREAT tips for EVERY marriage - whether or not kids are involved or not.  If you are a faithful person, give yourself a moment before you engage in an argument with your spouse and pray... you would be surprised how calming this can be!

If you find that the arguing between you and your spouse is getting out of control, try not to isolate yourself.  Surround yourself with those who love you so they can support and encourage you.
Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."  (Acts 20:35)  But I also believe that in order to truly give, you must know what it is to truly receive.  When tragedy strikes... don't cut yourself off from the world.  Instead, reach out to your friends and family, and to God.  Then you will know what it is like to receive, and as a result you will know how to give to others. 

And finally, if all of these tips fail... call a time-out with your spouse!  You can pick this argument back up in a more remote place - away from your children's watchful eyes and listening ears.

I need support, where do I turn?
Oprah: Fighting in Front of Your Children
Dr. Phil: Stop Fighting in Front of the Kids

The Dangers of Arguing in Front of Your Kids -
Arguing in Front of Children -
Smart Marriages: The coalition for marriage, family, and couples education


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