Not only do my partner and I argue in front of our kids, we believe that arguing in front of the kids is an essential responsibility of parenting.
Now, here are my caveats:
I am not talking about intense arguments about grown up issues like money and sex and whether we ever should have had children in the first place. I am not talking about knock-down, drag-out fighting; no screaming, no door-slamming, no throwing things or stomping off.
I am talking about the routine disagreements that arise almost daily and call for little attention between adults themselves but present an excellent opportunity to give children a lesson in "emotional intelligence."
My partner and I actually don't argue very much. It just isn't our style to turn a disagreement into a discussion--heated or otherwise. And we rarely disagree in the first place. Both of us prefer the "just drop it and move on" approach to relationship maintenance when "it" isn't something either of us considers to be a vital issue.
But our older daughter has an almost uncanny ability to pick up on the emotions of those around her. When her parents are irritated with each other, she notices. To us, these irritations may be small and insignificant and require nothing but a small attitude adjustment on either or both our parts. But even if we have judged them minor and not worth a conversation, our daughter, when she notices, will say "are you angry?" to one or both of us.
Her empathy can be disconcerting. More than once I've wondered if my daughter didn't know something about me that I didn't. But rather than handing my psyche to my kid for diagnosis, I decided that I could simply own my feelings--however small they might seem to me, and explain what such feelings mean in the adult world.
So now when we hit these little daily speed bumps in family life, my partner and I will stop and rehearse an "argument." It might look something like this:
"I didn't like the way you left your shoes in the floor. I tripped over them and it scared me. I wish you would put your shoes away."
"You're right, I should have put those shoes away. I'm sorry you tripped. I'll try to put my shoes away from now on."
"That's okay, I love you."
"I love you too."
Silly as it feels to write it out, I am convinced that this sort of thing is absolutely critical to helping children learn the right place of anger and arguing and apologizing in human life and relationships. Too many of us--women especially--grew up feeling that anger was a "bad" emotion or that it would damage a relationship beyond repair. Too many of us were never told how to really kiss and make up. Sensitive as my daughter is to the smallest emotional blips in the people she is closest to, I think she needs more than the average kid, to learn that people who love each other can get mad and disagree with each other and not just survive, but grow stronger through the work of reconciliation.
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