Ten-year-old Todd looked like an old soul. He was clearly worried about something.
“I don’t like to talk about it,” he whispered. “It just bothers me.”
After a short period of silence, I said, “Sometimes it’s hard to talk about what’s bothering you.” Todd kept his eyes glued to the floor. Though he was large for his age, at this moment, he looked small and helpless.
“I just wish my parents would stop fighting. I hate it and I’m afraid they’re going to get divorced.”
“What do they fight about?” I asked.
“Who usually wins the fight?”
“Is it Mom or Dad?”
“It’s nobody. Mom calls Dad an idiot. Dad yells back about how she thinks she knows everything. After awhile, Dad slams the door and says he’s out of here. Then Mom goes crazy, calling him a coward and some other really bad names. Sometimes she throws stuff at him.”
“Do they ever fight about you?”
Todd nodded. “Yeah, they’re always fighting about me or my brother. Mom thinks Dad should do more things with us and be stricter with us. Dad says he already does plenty.”
Todd’s parents admit that they not only fight in front of the kids, they also fight about them. At times the fighting is a big blowout altercation; other times it’s an ill-mannered squabble. How can a kid deal with that without being stressed?
Now, I’m not suggesting that parents be conflict-free. Kids can handle parents disagreeing. They know that Mom is a stickler for the rules while Dad is a pushover. They know that Mom stresses the importance of getting top grades while Dad shrugs off a low grade here and there. Parents do not have to be clones of each other. In fact, it’s better if they’re not. That way kids get to know that reasonable people can view a situation differently.
Kids don’t get stressed out because their parents disagree but they do get stressed out when the intensity, frequency and nastiness of the disagreements are severe. Here are five ways that parents fight that kids hate (for good reason):
- Kids hate when parents fight like kids, unable to control their emotions. Calling each other stupid, crazy, out of your mind, don’t know what you’re talking about and cursing each other out is a terrible model for teaching kids how to deal with conflict.
- Kids hate when one parent wins all the time. While they may side with the underdog, they may also be furious with him or her for being so powerless. When parents vie for their children’s loyalty, a no-win situation is created for their children.
- Kids hate when parents fight about them – their behavior, their grades, their friends, their attitudes. They think they are the cause of their parents’ conflict and feel guilty that they will be the reason for their divorce.
- Kids hate when parents expand their fighting from one topic to almost anything. An argument might begin with what to eat for dinner, expand to how mom or dad is a control freak, and end up with a disdainful remark about how the kids are turning out just like you.
- Kids hate when their parents’ conflicts remain unresolved. When disagreements from the past are brought up again and again, kids try to distance themselves from the fighting by distancing themselves from their parents or shutting down emotionally.
How parents handle conflict is the blueprint for how their children will handle conflict. Hence, if this article is hitting home, make it a priority to learn more constructive ways to disagree. If you can’t summon up the will to do it for yourself, please – do it for your children.
** If you or someone you know is struggling with conflict resolution, or anxiety due to arguments, contact Aspen Counseling Services to schedule an Initial Assessment.