Duke It Out for Them: Why Kids Need to See Their Parents Fight
I stormed into the house, stopping only to shake the snow off my boots before hissing at my husband as he poured his coffee: "I cannot believe you didn't fill up the Yukon yesterday."
"You always take the Corolla when you drive the kids," he shrugged. "That has gas." He turned away to help our 5-year-old son pour his cereal.
Arg—true. But still: I stomped closer, maybe pointed a finger: "You knew we were going to get snow and that I'd take the truck! How many times do I have to remind you that gas-in-the-car is my love language?"
And so it went: Mr. "It's Not Empty Till It's Below The E" trying to avoid the argument, Ms. "It's Empty When It's On the E—Especially in a Gas-Guzzler" trying to press it, all within clear earshot and vision range of our son.
You tell me: Who was the better parent in this case? Who was the one more effectively showing our child how to navigate the rough waters of interpersonal communication in even the most loving relationships?
Me, naturally! (Would I be writing this if it were him?)
You think avoiding fights like certain people avoid the gas station is a good approach? Think again. Well, at least try to think like the 44 percent of us married folk who believe that arguing at least once a week is good for a marriage, who believe it "opens up the lines of communications," according to a recent survey.
That 44 percent has a number of marriage counselors backing up their beliefs, including Bernie Slutsky, who told the Chicago Sun Times that "all things being equal," he'd rather that "couples yell at each other than ignore each other."
"At least they're trying to reach the other person," he told Scripps Howards New Service. "Sometimes it's a case of 'You're not listening to me so I'm going to tell you louder,' and we have to tone that down. But it's still better than if they just sit there and stonewall each other. That's a lot more destructive."
Truth be told, this is nothing new. At least not to me. Back when I was managing editor of Marriage Partnership magazine, I read that fighting in front of kids wasn't the problem. Fighting nastily—calling names, belittling, outrageously accusing, picking fights—was the problem. That, and not letting kids see you resolve the argument.
My husband never fully believed this. He had grown up never seeing or hearing his parents fight, and as an only child, he didn't really have people to fight with. Not like siblings can. My husband equated fighting with hating.
I grew up in a fighting family. My parents fought (yes, they are divorced today. But they fought for 35 years before that happened!) and fought well. My brother and I would see them argue and storm off and come back to resolve—generally. I grew up with a good understanding that fighting and loving could go hand in hand. So, although my much-younger brother and I generally got along, we fought. And I fought with my parents. Though sometimes I'd overstep and my "tone" would get me in trouble, my parents didn't discourage my pushing back. They considered it growing and knew I loved them all the while.