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?