Fireworks Overhead, But Not in Front of the Kids

Divorce and the Marital Home
April 16, 2023
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July 18, 2023

Spousal Fights Can Be Damaging to the Children

by Michael Heath

Mid-summer is a time of outdoor activities that include Independence Day celebrations. Fourth of July festivities involve night skies erupting with bursts of bright colors and loud noises. All the sparkles, explosions and thunderous bangs are welcome entertainment for adults and children alike. Fireworks between Mom and Dad, however, can cause the kids anything from some stress that fades quickly to long-term psychological damage.

Arguing Upsets The Children

 One day when we were married my wife and I were in the living room having a heated argument. Face-to-face, the two of us screamed at each other until I looked down to see my two-and-a-half-year-old son Justin between us with hands spread out like a referee holding two boxers apart. He did not want us fighting and it was his way of keeping things from getting worse. I promised myself at that very moment there would never be an intense argument in front of the children again. The marriage was not saved but the pledge was kept.

According to Pamela Li, writing for the “Parenting for Brain” website, parents arguing is quite unavoidable and is often mostly harmless. It depends on the frequency, intensity, and context of the fights that determine whether or not they have lasting effects.

  • Frequency—a squabble here and there is not harmful but constant, angry interchanges can cause behavioral problems such as oppositional defiant disorder and other negative relational patterns
  • Intensity—children easily tune into the negative emotions and severe tension. Kids who are exposed to violence or the threat of violence often mimic the same behaviors, seeing them as normal
  • Context—if the issue of the fight is about the child, they are likely to experience shame, worry and could even feel threatened

Li points out that parental fights involving a child that end with no resolution may cause the youngster to believe that they are to blame for the discord. This is especially true in young boys. In addition, children learn and often copy what their parents do. Does any mom or dad want their children to grow up to act out their worst behaviors?

 Not Their Fight

 Parents who are breaking up should always remember that it is their divorce and not the children’s. The same can be said about arguments: it is not their kid’s fight. Children adore both mom and dad and never want to witness hostility between them. Parents can do better by realizing that harsh and frequent conflicts have devastating effects on the entire family. Moms and dads who would never want to bring harm to their children should remember that fighting hurts the very ones they love. Couples can seek out the services of a qualified therapist to learn how to resolve issues while keeping exchanges respectful. This is also true for divorced parents. Speaking with their own specialist on how to reduce clashes with the other parent can be beneficial for both them and the kids.

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