If you’re one of those couples that claims to never fight, sorry, but I really don’t believe you. Granted, some of us argue more than others, but I’ve yet to encounter a married couple that manages to perpetually keep the peace. On the other hand, I know plenty of people who make a point of not fighting in front of their children, and I can see why that’s a good practice. But I don’t believe in it.
To me, fighting is a normal part of being in a relationship. And to give our son the impression that my husband and I always agree and never argue, in my mind, sets up false expectations for him–not only about our relationship, but about relationships in general.
For the record, when I say “fighting,” I’m not talking about all-out screaming matches. While those are never ideal in general, if they’re going to happen, they should happen in private. Rather, I’m talking about disagreements, even heated ones–conversations during which you might raise your voice a little at times, but for the most part, you’re each maintaining a decent level of self-control.
When we do fight, my husband and I try our best to fight fairly–meaning, hear each other out, avoid yelling, and attempt to be reasonable even when we’re passionate about the conflict at hand. Sometimes we’re better at it than others. But my son is intuitive, and he’s also a little older now, which means he understands the difference between a regular conversation and an argument, even if our voices aren’t raised.
Rather than shield our son from the fact that we don’t always agree, we often actively choose to hash out our conflicts in his presence so that he sees the way we interact with one another and observes us working through things. I also think it’s important for him to see that even though we sometimes fight, my husband and I always manage to get over it.
Case in point: We recently got into a heated discussion while driving to an event. As soon as we pulled out of the driveway I started giving my husband a hard time over the fact that we had once again left the house late–a sore point for me in general, and one that this time I felt was attributable to him. I was clearly aggravated and emotional; my husband was defensive and insistent that I was overreacting, but to his credit, he was still willing to listen. In the end, he apologized, I accepted with the caveat that next time I’d yank the laptop out of his hands if that were what it took to get us out the door on time, and we moved on. All the while, our son sat silently in the backseat, watching and listening but not saying a word.
At several points during our argument, I glanced behind me to the back seat of the car, to see if my son was okay. From what I observed, he seemed fine. If anything, I think he found our argument entertaining, because normally when we go anywhere by car, he spends at least half the ride pointing out the various cars, trucks, and construction vehicles that pass us by, whereas this time he didn’t feel the need to constantly interrupt us with his observations.
Now I will say that as far as fights go, this one was pretty tame, and my husband and I have definitely had worse. In fact, when another recent argument started to get ugly, complete with voice-raising and all, we made a conscious decision to stick our son in front of the TV for 20 minutes while we retreated to our bedroom to have it out. When we emerged, we asked our son if he was okay, and he simply said “yes.” Maybe the TV show distracted him to the point where he’d forgotten that 20 minutes prior, his parents had marched upstairs in what was clearly anger at one another. Or maybe our fight had impacted him, and he just didn’t know how to express that. I honestly have no idea. But for the most part, here’s a summary of what I think he observes during a run-of-the-mill argument: Mommy and Daddy were angry at each other, but they talked, and then they stopped being angry and everything was fine.
I know I’m simplifying things, but my point is this: As long as my husband and I manage to stick to our usual pattern, I don’t think these types of arguments, fights, or whatever you want to call them are going to emotionally scar our son in the long run. If anything, I’m hoping he’ll come to learn that conflict is a normal part of his parents’ relationship (and any close relationship for that matter). Maybe seeing his parents fight won’t make him stronger or a better person, but I think it’ll help him understand and accept the reality of our marriage–that it isn’t always perfect, and it isn’t always pretty, but in the end, it’s solid, resilient, and rooted in respect and love.