The other day we had one of those mornings where stress was high, and soon my wife and I were not only frustrated with one of our kids, but also with each other. Everything happened so fast that the two of us found ourselves somewhere in between the land of healthy conflict-resolution and disrespectful blaming and arguing.
All of this was happening in front of our kids. Later on, I wondered just what our children took away from what they had seen and heard.
Some say that parents should shelter their kids from any kind of conflict or arguments, that they should do that sort of thing behind closed doors. Others say the opposite, that it’s natural and healthy for children to observe their parents “working out the kinks.” This will prepare them for reality, they say.
So Which View Is Right?
The way I look at it, both are right at times. The question I would ask is this: When do we argue and resolve our conflict in front of the kids, and when do we show restraint until we’re behind closed doors?
The value of modeling healthy conflict resolution and problem solving skills can go a long way. Certainly these are skills we hope our kids will gain as they will need them in personal and professional relationships. In this regard, we need not be afraid of letting our kids see that Mom and Dad do not always agree, and sometimes we have our differences. At times we even behave inappropriately and need to call each other on it, taking ownership by offering apology and forgiveness.
On the other hand, there are times when our “arguments” will offer little of value to the kids, and may even threaten their sense of security and love in the family. These are the times when it may be best to find a safe time and place to work it out without the kids having to emotionally take on what’s happening between their parents.
Children do well when they believe and feel that their parents are on the same page, that there is no threat to the security of the family in which they live and depend. Younger children, especially, are not mature enough to understand that parents can disagree and even have healthy discussions or arguments, and still have a sound and committed relationship of love.
When To Take It Into The Room
As we think about all this, we need to ask the question “Where is the line? How do we know when it’s okay, and when it’s not okay to work it out in front of the kids?”
As parents, a simple question to ask ourselves in the heat of the moment is this: Is respect and love in the room? If the answer is no, even for just one of you, then it’s probably best to hold off. If the answer is yes, then your kids gain an opportunity to see healthy conflict resolution in action.
The hard part of this is objectively being able to assess if the two of you are operating in a manner of love and respect. Yes, it is possible to have emotionally charged and deep felt differences, but still able to talk and behave with respect and love. We also know that we can be emotionally calm and collected, yet still treat another person with deep disrespect.
The goal here is to remember that we are training our kids. They will likely handle conflict with much the same vocabulary and methodology that they see us use with each other, as well as that which we use when we handle our conflicts with them.
If you feel you’ve already blown it and have been a poor example to your children, make a point to go to them and take responsibility for your behavior. By apologizing and telling them that you’ve not been a very good model and you’d like to turn a new page, you’ll likely gain back some respect, as well as setting a great example of what to do when they make their own mistakes.
Remember that love is both heard and seen.