Most parents disagree with their spouses on one or the other issues on various occasions. No one agrees on everything. Disagreeing with each other is natural and normal. But how you, as parents, handle conflicts with one another has a lasting impact on your children, their emotional health, and the decisions they will make about relationships later in life.
If both the spouses are normal in their behavior, mature enough to understand the issues in the right perspective, and sensitive towards each other, they know how to deal with their differences in peaceful and respectful manner.
But, that happens rarely.
Most of the times, either one or both of the parents deal with their differences in unpleasant manner and this is how parents’ fighting begins.
Even if one spouse is normal, mature and sensitive enough, the other fighting spouse does not let this one settle the differences peacefully.
Children not only need both parents but they need both happy parents.
Parents Fighting—It’s a Scary Time For Kids
It starts out as a simple disagreement or misunderstanding, but soon it escalates into harsh words and yelling or screaming. In some homes there will be tears and even physical pushing, shoving, or hitting. No, it’s not the children who are out of control. It’s the parents. They’re fighting . . . again.
As hard as fighting is on you and your spouse, and as emotionally draining as it is on the two of you, parents fighting is even harder on the children. When parents are out of control, it totally rocks a child’s world. Because if the parents—who are essentially the center of the universe for a small child—aren’t solid and stable and reasonable, then it seems absolutely nothing in their world is. And the child’s security is destroyed.
When parents fight, children feel the tension and the hostility. They become physically and emotionally upset themselves. You can see it in their faces and their body language, even if they don’t say it with words. They may cringe, cower, or hide. Some children hold their breath, start to hyperventilate, or get nauseous. Others will cry. All of them—regardless of how they do or do not show it or say it—are scared stiff.
Parents Fighting—“It’s not my fault, is it?”
Because children have little frame of reference and the world they live in is small, centering on themselves and their families and their limited exposure in life, they think everything that happens is directly related to them. And it is, of course, but not in the way that children think.
When parents fight, regardless of what parents are fighting about, many children blame themselves, thinking that somehow they might have been able to prevent the blow up, even when it wasn’t triggered by anything the child did or did not do.
If it is pre-empted by a situation involving the child or even a discussion about the child, they think that if only they had been “good,” their parents fighting wouldn’t be happening. Children internalize the problem and develop anxiety when parents fight.
Even though there is absolutely nothing they can do to change the circumstances, the fear eats at them from the inside out, doubts and insecurities fill their world, and they begin to suffer from low self-esteem.
Lasting Images of Parents Fighting
Many children carry lasting images of their parents fighting from their childhoods, long into adulthood. Memories of particular fights can traumatize children and stay with them forever.
In particular, if there is physical abuse in the home, the images of parents fighting will remain, never to be erased. For children, living in a home where parents are fighting and violence is a part of “everyday” life, it’s like living in a war zone. Children in these circumstances can suffer all sorts of dysfunctions too numerous to list—from bed wetting to learning disabilities to recurrent nightmares or headaches or stomach aches to ulcers. Children who must learn to survive in this kind of environment are suffering from incredible stress.
If You Watched Your Parents Fighting, You Learn Fighting—Or Peace Keeping.
Children learn behaviors and norms from the people closest to them—their parents. But if a family is dysfunctional, they will also learn that dysfunctional behavior. When a child grows up with parents fighting all the time, they either come to think of that as “normal” and become fighters themselves—frequently bullying other children or needing to have control in their other relationships—or they recognize that it is not normal and will do anything to avoid it. In the latter case, they become children who are altogether unassertive, giving in whenever there is a conflict or disagreement about anything, because they would rather keep the peace at all costs than risk an argument.
Neither of these approaches is healthy or effective in the long term. Children—and all people really—need to learn how to resolve conflicts in a calm, peaceful manner through effective communication techniques. But the children of battling adults have no role model to teach them this necessary skill. Children learn by example—and the children of parents who are always fighting—will struggle with relationship issues all their lives because they never learned how to communicate, compromise, and get along with others. They had no positive example to follow.
The Long-Term Effects of Parents Fighting
Most parents—especially those who don’t physically brawl with each other or consider their relationship abusive—don’t realize how much of an effect their fighting has on their children. While they can easily see how the extreme circumstances in other people’s homes could traumatize children, they fail to see that their own arguments and disagreements may be impacting their own children.
When children grow up in a home where the parents fighting is out of control, the child’s security is snatched away, and the child feels out of control of anything in his or her young life. The child doesn’t learn effective discipline techniques—not even how to exercise self-discipline. The trauma from the memories of the fighting can cause the children of fighting parents to avoid relationships or marriage because they fear repeating the cycle. In other cases, the children do grow up, enter into relationships, and repeat the cycle.
Even in families where parents fighting is not an extreme problem, parents should remember that what they do and say, and more importantly, how they act toward one another, influences their child, their child’s self-esteem, and their child’s short- and long-term emotional health, as well as their future relationships. One of the best things parents can do for their children is to set a healthy example when they do not see eye to eye and to seek counseling, if necessary, to develop more effective communication and conflict resolution techniques if fighting is an issue in their home.