I remember being pregnant with my son and making my husband and I both promise that we would never raise our voices in front of our baby. I wanted to protect him from our fights as much as possible, as I remember all too well my parents’ blow-ups in front of me and my siblings. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was uncomfortable, anxiety provoking and downright ugly to be around. I was desperate to make things different for my son. Fast-forward to those tough times of dealing with a new baby, and my husband and I definitely made a mistake or two (maybe even three or four).
As a Bringing Baby Home Educator, I work with new parents in Fort Lauderdale who have had one too many slip of the tongues with one another in front of their children. They tell me they feel bad, guilty and defeated as parents. They come looking for help to curb their actions and find new ways of dealing with conflict in front of the kids.
If you’ve come from families where arguing in public was an everyday occurrence, you might be thinking, “I turned out fine. What’s the big deal?” But the truth is, it’s a very big deal. Research shows that a strong relationship between both parents is critical to the social, intellectual and physical development of a child. How you respond to one another sets the stage for their overall progress throughout their lives.
As parents, we make mistakes at times and can’t be perfect always. So if you’ve vowed to end heated arguments in the presence of your children only to turn around and blast your partner in the next breath, we’ve all been there and it’s ok. You can repair the damage and improve your communication style by “fighting fair” in front of your children. Here’s how:
1. Complain, don’t blame. Address an issue without attacking your partner or name-calling. They’ll be much more open to hearing you and responding appropriately.
2. Work on problem solving and accepting some responsibility for your actions. If you can get to a place of understanding- even if you don’t necessarily agree- you are in a much better position to tackle the issue at hand together. Holding yourself accountable and offering words of empathy and understanding will allow you both to be a part of the resolution.
3. Don’t raise your voice. If you feel yourself reverting back to old patterns and behaviors of yelling, blaming or hurting your partner’s feelings, then take a break. Come back to the discussion when you’ve calmed down.
If you follow these guidelines for fighting fair, it is possible to show your child that you can still have respect for someone even when you disagree, be able to approach conflict with maturity and calm, all while managing anger effectively by taking breaks if needed. When you handle arguments like this, you begin to show your child positive examples of emotion control, regulation of conflict and compromise. Remember too that making up is a critical component to any fight, so make sure your child sees both parents resolving the argument together.
As parents, you will have some things that you want to embrace about your upbringing and incorporate them into your own family; other things you might want to leave behind. If parental fighting was prevalent in your family of origin (as it was in mine), and you want to make the choice to learn how to argue effectively in yours, remember that you and your spouse have the control over how you interact in front of your children. Show love, respect, kindness and generosity. Your children will most definitely follow suit.