This question came up at book club the other night and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’ll save you the suspense: Yes, Nick and I occasionally exchange heated words while Alex and Nora are in the room. I’m not proud of it, I don’t think it’s the best idea, but, at the same time, I can’t imagine ever finding the kind of restraint it would take to not have periodic and semi-public beef with my husband. Nick and I spend way too much time together not to get on each other’s nerves. We are both equally involved in the rearing—and disciplining—of the kids, which can lead to disagreements. And neither of us has the “just-walk-away-and-cool-down” gene. So perhaps we’re doomed, though I hope not.
My parents fought in front of us sometimes when my sisters and I were kids and I remember lying in bed every once in a while wondering if they were going to get a divorce, wondering if I’d be one of the kids going to Banana Splits support group after school like so many of my friends. I hated that anxious feeling and I do not want my kids to ever have a doubt in their minds that Nick and I love each other and will be together as a family forever. On the other hand, I don’t want to have one of those households where no one ever raises his or her voice and the parents only ever vent behind closed doors once their kids are asleep (how do they not have a coronary from holding it in all day?). That’s just not realistic to me. Plus, I would worry that if my kids grew up in a household with so much reserve and restraint and decorum, they might get the wrong idea about relationships. It’s OK to fight, it healthy, it’s normal. I want my kids to understand conflict (and, more importantly, conflict resolution).
And my kids do see plenty of love. Nick and I always say nice things about each other in front of our kids, we show affection (whenever we hug, Alex comes running over, wraps his arms around us and says, “I love you both SO much”). I like to think we have created a home where he feels completely secure (which, despite what I wrote above, I definitely felt as a kid). That said, Nick and I can definitely do better—e.g., we could rein in the four letter words and try to keep the arguments above the belt. And work on that walk-away gene. Alex seems unphased when we bicker in front of him, but I know as he gets older he may not be. Even now if it’s particularly venomous and Alex says, “Mom, why did you yell at Daddy?” or “Daddy, you shouldn’t say %$@!,” we try to explain that sometimes people lose their cool and that it’s not a good thing to do. And that we’ll try harder next time. Something to work on for the New Year!
Do you ever have strong words in front of your kids? How do you think it affects them? What’s your fighting policy?