Arguing - it's inevitable, right? But is it acceptable in front of our kids? Jill Lim gives us her own take on having a row with her husband...
When my daughter Lily was just a couple of weeks old, due to exhaustion, hormones and frustration, my husband and I had a screaming match while I was breastfeeding. The actual argument was settled within minutes, but it got me thinking – is it ok to argue in front of your kids?
Arguing in front of kids – yay or nay?
When debating this question, I first looked at my own parents and childhood experience. Growing up, if my parents weren’t pleased with each other, I’d definitely rather know about it! I remember watching ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, it was a show about a family, where the husband and wife were constantly yelling at each other. My mum turned to me one night and asked, “Do daddy and I fight that much?” Without hesitation, I said, “yup!”.
My parents bickered incessantly! They constantly argued about everything – what kind of padlock we should use, how the fridge should be organised, why did my dad give my grandmother a key to our house without consulting my mother. Ok, that one did become a big fight with lots of yelling. They did it at night when we were ‘asleep’. I remember because the stifling yells and tension all day made me uncomfortable, not to mention the breakfast the following day when they used us to speak to each other.
Things were always better when my mother would be upfront with us. “I’m not speaking to your father right now because he’s being an idiot”. That in itself reassured me. Just like how I didn’t want to talk to my sister sometimes because she was a “stupid head”. Mum and dad had their moments too, but they’d eventually speak again.
Arguing shows the child you can disagree often and respectfully
There are plenty of studies that talk about how you shouldn’t argue in front of your child. How doing so may lead to depression, anxiety and even aggressive behaviour. It builds an unstable environment, leading to the child not feeling safe.
Another camp, however, ‘argues’ that arguing is an art. When done right, it shows the child that in any normal relationship, fights occur, and it’s healthy! It also gives them realistic expectations and acceptable standards when they start relationships of their own. Never fighting in front of a child can cause more harm in the sense that you are displaying to your child; it is unacceptable to have conflicting opinions with your partner.
What the experts have to say about arguing in front of your kids…
John Gottman is a doctor who studies relationships. He coined the 5:1 ratio that can be used in apparently predicting divorce. For every one negative reaction, a happy couple usually compensates with five positive ones, knowing or unknowingly.
These interactions need not be anything big or dramatic. An eye roll or raised voice counts as a negative interaction. A quick joke to defuse tension, a squeeze of a partner’s hand, or listening closely when your partner vents about their day all constitute a positive interaction. The important thing isn’t the scale of the positive gesture. It’s their relative frequency.
As mentioned, non-verbal cues sometimes are more powerful than verbal ones. As much as I remember my parents’ bickering and occasional shouting matches, I also very clearly remembered them holding hands, doing small sweet things for each other even after a heated fight. We’d all still have dinner together and don’t even think about trying to play sides because they still stood as a united front even in the middle of their fights.
Three top tips if you end up arguing in front of your kids…
1. Think about the subject you’re arguing over
While fighting in front of the child has benefits, it’s also worth noting the topics you disagree about. Fighting about the child in front of them, regardless of age, makes them feel invisible and unimportant, leading them to feel they don’t have a say in matters or that their feelings don’t count. Not to mention it makes them feel that they are the cause of mum and dad fighting.
2. It’s not just words – non-verbal cues are important too
Be aware of your non-verbal cues; they can be a more significant stress trigger than words. Children tend to pick up on these more strongly. I’m talking about parents who don’t hold hands after a fight, or one parent pulling away for another. The child perhaps isn’t capable of comprehending the severity of a fight, but mum rejecting a hug from dad, that’s huge.
3. Kiss and makeup
Show them the fight is resolved. Perhaps most important is addressing that an argument was resolved. If they are of appropriate age, let them in on the details of why the fight happened and why it is now over. This teaches them resolution and gives them more stability rather than the impression that all unpleasantness is not spoken about and magically forgotten. Showing them the full process of anger, reflection, and forgiveness give them the tools to apply it to their own lives.
So back to my question – is it ok to argue in front of kids? Yes, overall, I think fighting is natural, and I wouldn’t have a problem doing it within earshot of Lily. But that’s just me, what do you think?
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