By Stacy Notaras Murphy
Many of us make it to adulthood with the belief that a perfect relationship means zero conflict, and we often funnel this belief into our parenting style. But disputes are inevitable, and so we cling to the mantra, “Never fight in front of the kids.” This usually results in one of two recurring scenarios: we hold all disagreement until afterhours, or we restrain our frustrations so severely that they bubble up into spurts of anger, unleashed without control.
My theory is that we are doing it all wrong.
In trying to protect our kids from seeing our conflict, we are unwittingly giving them a skewed impression of what adult relationships actually look like. Pretending that you don’t disagree about anything actually can set your kids up for extreme disappointment when they face their own inevitable power struggles: in school, at work, and in their own relationships.
Let your kids witness their parents having a healthy, respectful disagreement every once in a while. Let me be clear: I’m not advocating that you give your kids a big-show-blowout, complete with name-calling and hair-pulling (if this is the way you argue normally, please give me a call…). But offering your children a preview of how conscious adults can have disagreements and work through them can be a tremendous gift. Better to practice this modeling around disagreements that steer clear of anything too intimate or scary in any way. Create a “safe word” that one of you can utter when the topic is a bit too loaded, asking your partner to take this conversation off-site at a later date. Parents who never argue in front of their kids may be handing them the expectation that conflict does not, or should never, happen between loving adults. Meanwhile, those who take their yelling fits behind closed doors actually are letting their kids hear those muffled arguments, minus the understanding and reconciliation that usually comes next. As a result, kids are saddled with the belief that their parents scream and yell and then all is forgotten – not a great framework for future relationships either.
Modeling healthy disagreement – incorporating the hallmarks of mirroring, validation, empathy – is a tremendous gift to your relationship, obviously. But it has the added benefit of helping your kids form a realistic idea of healthy connection.