Fighting in Front of the Kids: Never, or Sometimes Needed?

My husband and I were raised completely differently. Not just because I was raised in Chicago and he in the South, but our family dynamics were pretty much polar opposites. His parents were married before they graduated high school, and are still married today.  My parents were married in their mid-twenties and by the time I was 13 they were divorced. Josh’s family dynamic is generally a very healthy one… And I come from a broken home. Shattered is a better term for it, really. I will write more about that in a later post.

Joshua once told me that growing up, he never heard nor saw his parents fight. If they had an issue with something, they hashed it out behind closed doors where their children didn’t witness the conflict. My parents? Screaming. Shouting. Name-calling. Door-slamming. My brother, who is 6 years older than I am, would let me into his bedroom (which almost never happened otherwise) when my parents would start fighting because he knew that it scared me.

I got to thinking about the different ways Josh and I were raised, and started wondering: what is the right way to go about handling things when you and your spouse/partner disagree and have children? Is it better to present a united front – a team – in front of your kids and save even a small argument for when you are alone, or is showing a little bit of disagreement every now and again okay…. And even healthy? The one thing I am absolutely sure of is that the type of fighting my parents did is unacceptable and unhealthy. It’s scary for a child to witness the two people who are the biggest influences in their lives screaming at each other, and it’s emotionally damaging to hear your mother tell your father (and vice versa) that she hates him. As a child of parents who raged at one another, I can tell you that it teaches you to be afraid because you don’t know if they’re going to turn that anger on you and it’s hard to see two people who are supposed to love one another act so hatefully.

Clearly the raging and angry fighting is a no-no, but is keeping your children ignorant and deaf to any sort of marital conflict whatsoever just as damaging? As parents, you definitely want to be on the same page when it comes to how you raise your children. You want to show a strong foundation of stability and love to them because it makes them feel safe and secure. That is undeniably the healthiest way to parent, but is teaching your children that married people never fight detrimental to their future relationships? We often mimic our parents’ relationships, and learn how to build our own from the way they work. If you grow up your entire life never seeing your parents argue, I wonder if one may enter into a relationship with rose-colored glasses thinking that it’s going to be easy street all the way through… And anyone who has ever been, or is in a long-term relationship knows, that is most certainly not the case,  especially when children enter the picture. Children add joy and happiness but they also add stress. You find new things to disagree on, even if it’s something as simple as whether or not to give your kid organic milk. If you find yourself in the middle of an argument you may feel like your entire relationship is failing or crumbling because after all, your parents never argued like this and they are in a happy and successful relationship.

Coming from a family full of yelling and anger I can say that I used to feel that hiding any and all conflict from your children was the way to go but now that I’m a mom, I think that I may have changed my mind. I feel that you most certainly need to be a team when it comes to parenting; no undermining your partner’s authority in front of the children (this goes for BOTH parents BOTH ways), do not demean or degrade your significant other in front of your kids (or any time, really) and as far as discipline goes, you both need to be on the same page. But I think that arguing a little about some things in front of your children can be good for them. It shows them that it’s okay to disagree, that even though you and your partner are a little angry with one another, that doesn’t mean that you don’t love and respect each other. I think that calmly and respectfully hashing out a conflict in the presence of your children can teach them how to work through differences not just with their future partners, but just in everyday life as well. If you show them that it’s okay to disagree and how to get through an argument in a healthy way, that is what they will learn and take with them. If you yell at each other, they will model that behavior. But if you do all of your disagreeing behind closed doors, how will they learn how to cope when they are put into the same situation down the road?

What do you think? Should parents do their arguing in private all of the time, or is showing a little bit of conflict in front of the kids necessary and healthy?




  1. I think letting them see that mariage isn't all sunshine and lollipops is a good thing. My husband and I are both strong willed and make good arguments (though I'm pretty much always right). Sometimes we'll start debating/aruging/getting a little more heated or louder than a friendly disagreement and our Kindergartener will come over and say something like "why are you fighting?" or "Mommy why is Daddy mad?". We tell him that we're disagreeing and that we're not mad at each other, but we're trying to work something out.
    What is important to me, is that this ensures we always fight fair AND our kids don't feel so scared by our arguments that they run and hide. Because in the end? We always work it out and go back to Life.
    In my mind, we're modeling an partnership in which both voices are heard, the partners are safe to express their feelings, and can always come back to each other when it is over. If the kids end up in marriages thinking that disagreements don't happen? Those marriages will suffer.

    • Big Daddy Cutler says:

      I disagree. I came from a family where arguments and disagreements happened. Not a lot but some. If there is an issue, its best left for private quarters. Children don’t need to see their parents on opposite ends. Its not a healthy environment. It leaves them feeling awkward and awful. It creates unnecessary tension for the children. The whole issue about children knowing its ok to have differences….that’s what “life talks” are for. Let them know we as parents don’t always agree, but that our disagreements are kept separate from parenting because we love each other and our kids and respect each other and our little ones enough to keep those conflicts private and separate. Children are super smart and extremely perceptive. Its ok to have different opinions and express those different opinions, but when it turns to conflict that is NOT for children’s ears. Just my opinion …

  2. I think there definitely needs to be a healthy balance. Even more than that though, there just needs to be effective communication being demonstrated. Avoiding the sarcastic and hurtful remarks, and calmly discussing the issue at hand is what needs to be done – in front of kids or out of sight. If it's done in front of the kids, make sure they know that Mommy and Daddy are trying to talk an issue out, & that just because they are disagreeing doesn't mean they don't love each other (a common misconception I know I had as a child). Obviously that won't always happen, but I agree with you that either is extreme could be detrimental to a child's view of relationships.

  3. I think this is a great post! My parents had small disagreements in front of us, but never anything big. They both came from difficult homes with lots of screaming and never wanted to model that for us. Not to say they never screamed at each other, but they never did it in front of us. It definitely taught me that it takes work to be in a marriage, but that it's still ok to disagree. my husband and I are trying to do the same. If we ever feel we are getting too heated in front of our girls, we have an agreement that we'll take a timeout for us to cool off and we'll resume the discussion at a later time. But I definitely agree that some conflict is ok, and even beneficial for the to see.

  4. lilyalayne says:

    I completely agree with your position on this. I too saw a lot of rage growing up. Not healthy, not productive. What we do is usually like this: 1. disagreement starts 2. either one of us deescalates the situation (meaning no need for further action, problem resolved) OR we start to get upset. 3. if it seems that the topic is heated enough to be inappropriate for child viewing, we take it elsewhere (send them out to play, go to the garage, etc) 4. we hash out anything unedited in private. fights don't always come out perfect and we don't want the kids emulating that imperfect fighting so we try to keep that to ourselves. 5. we take space. the kids may or may not see this. 6. we reconcile in front of them. Repair efforts (look up John Gottman's work) are essential to healthy marriages and i want my kids to learn how to do them! (And that it is a good idea to use them!) so i like the kids to see me give my husband a hug right after we have been arguing. And i like them to see him volunteer a favor for me when we are mad. It shows them a way out of the fight. And when we have resolved it, they see that even when you are angry at someone, you love them, and want to come to resolution as soon as you can. :)

  5. I think it's wrong to argue in front of kids. Disagreement where no one is upset and needs time apart after wards is ok. But an argument where you are upset has NO place in front of kids. What can watching parents fight teach us? It's watching our parents work through things calmly with no hurt feelings and be a strong united front that truly help kids. I grew up in a home like yours and Rob grew up in a home where his mom rages at EVERYONE anytime she feels like it. Even non family members, with no regard to any children who may be around. Hence why they are not allowed to be near my son. I do not see any good coming from a child witnessing arguments.

  6. I enjoyed reading all the comments on this post. A lot of good points. I think I have to come down on the side of not arguing in front of kids. Having *discussions* (i.e. "Let's go to IHOP for breakfast" / "Well I'd really rather go to Perkins") is fine. But as soon as it crosses the line into argument, it has to stop. I grew up in a house where mom was ALWAYS right. Period. Even if she wasn't right, she'd scream at my dad (who I've never heard lift his voice or defend himself, ever) until he just said do whatever you want. I think I grew up with a skewed sense of male roles in relationships. And as a teenager, though I'm a daddy's-girl through and through, I'd sometimes catch myself "talking down" to my dad and I've had to make a point to be extra patient and never do that, and I feel like it was a direct result of it being "OK" to talk to him that way growing up (from the example I watched). I don't think I gained a single positive thing from seeing or hearing my parents fight. I think I could have learned the same lessons when I came home from being with friends and said to my mother "Suzy wouldn't share her doll and we argued about it." — I would have gotten more positivity by talking that situation OUT than observing the arguments of others.

  7. I say no fighting or arguing in front of the kids. Period.

    My mom (who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder) loves to scream at and belittle my dad in front of us, even now. When she does, I find myself retreating/hiding just like when I was little. No good. I never want my child to feel that way. Ever.
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  8. You are correct. My parents NEVER argued in front of us. However, we knew that it happened. If they needed to discuss things that they may argue about, they would do it in their bed room.
    I did not go into a marriage with rose colored glasses. I didn't, because my parents communicated with me and gave me problem solving/people skills.
    I will never have an argument in front of Rose. I see nothing that will benefit from it.

  9. Baby Dickey says:

    This is tough. My parents fought in front of me–and I agree, it was scary. My mom pretended to pack a suitcase many times, too. Like you said–that's definitely not the right way to do things. But I also think that completely hiding EVERY disagreement isn't right either…. hiding fights (yelling, etc.)? Yes. Disagreements? No. My mom grew up with parents that NEVER fought, never disagreed (in front of the kids, at least). And my mom grew up believing in this fairy tale marriage, ideas of the perfect husband, etc. – and BOY was she in for a freaking surprise. Steve and I kind of argue in front of Ryan right now (raised annoyed voices, kind of thing) and I know we really need to stop that.

  10. I would say no fighting or arguing infront of young children.
    A little arguing infront of bigger children might be okay.

  11. I haven't read all the comments, on limited time and wanted to get mine in :), so sorry if this is a repeat on what someone else said.

    I think it TOTALLY depends on what you are arguing about. I think in no way shape or form is it a good idea to argue about how you are raising your kids, or what rules you are setting, in front of your kids. If my husband creates a rule that I don't agree with we discuss it later – but while our son is there it's a rule, and it goes unquestioned. We've talked about it before and we both agree that creating ANY sense of doubt about if a rule needs to be followed absolutely cannot happen – so when the kids are around there is no discussion about what boundaries are set – if one of us sets a rule, it's a rule at least until we have a chance in private to discuss it.

    That being said, I think some arguments are OK to do in front of your children. I don't think a child will learn to fight fairly if they don't see it in action, so as long as both you and your spouse are able to keep the argument civil, calm, and "fair" I think it's appropriate to hash it out in front of the kids. If things start to get too heated, then cut it off and pick up later when the kids aren't around. I totally agree that screaming, name calling, etc. are totally wrong to do in front of the kids – especially when they are at an age where they don't fully grasp the difference between love and like (I always love my husband, but I don't always like him!) since it could be really frightening and damaging.

  12. As far as arguing in front of the kids I think that within reason it's okay. And I totally agree with Beth, if one parent sets a rule and the other doesn't agree talk about THAT behind closed doors it all goes along with creating a united parenting front! That's important for kids. You never want your children to think that they can get their way with one parent over the other!

    Side note: I'm totally weirded out when I hear about couples who NEVER fight. Freaks me out like how is that even possible?

  13. I agree with you, and I came from a household like your husband’s! I never once saw my parents fight or argue growing up, and that was a blessing on one hand. On the other hand, when I got married and we had our first major disagreement, I had no idea how to handle the situation. I didn’t have any frame of reference for “fighting fair” or watching a married couple work through their disagreements.

    On the other hand, my husband’s parents fought often. While they may have gotten loud, he has said that they generally always fought fair–didn’t resort to name calling, didn’t threaten divorce, etc. Additionally, he always saw them come together at the end of the day, forgive each other, and work through the problem together.

    We’ve talked about this extensively, and now I also think that it’s really important for kids to watch their parents disagree, fight fair, and work through it to find a solution. Are all fights kid appropriate? No. But I think that never letting your children see you work through the tough stuff in marriage also sets them up for an expectation of marriage that can never be attained.
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  14. My ex and I used to rol each others eyes and make snyde , sarcastic remarks at each other INSTEAD of arguing in front of the kids, which looking back I think was awful. My boyfriend and I now sometimes disagree in front of the kids, which I think is fine to an extent, but if it ever gets heated at all I put a stop to it so we can deal with it later. My parents used to fight behind closed doors and as a child that was horrible for me! Then they acted like nothing was wrong which I felt was deceitful.
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