It started with a raised eyebrow over the state of the house (and the amount of dog hair in it.) It ended with a slammed door which left me standing in the street – my husband and daughter on one side, and my son and me on the other.
‘Is Daddy being unacceptable?’ My son asked.
‘The dogs are being unacceptable, darling. Daddy’s just… more accepting than me.’
The argument continued in the car and was getting pretty tense until I accused my husband of being a ‘big, dog-pandering, hair-ball, wuss-bag,’ because he let the dogs on the sofa. I couldn’t really keep a straight face after that and we all ended up laughing.
But should we have saved the disagreement for when the kids were out of earshot? Maybe. A study from Cardiff University says arguing in front of your children can be really damaging. We’re talking depression, anxiety, aggression and hostility according to Dr. Gordon Harold, a researcher at Cardiff University, which is a large price to pay for fluff on the sofa.
Still, I’m telling myself the odd healthy ‘debate’ can be good for children, as long as we play by the Cardiff experts rules:
- ‘Big dog-pandering, hair-ball wuss-bags,’ aside, it’s probably best to avoid serious name-calling. No need to play mean by getting nasty or critical.
- Empty threats are probably a boo-boo too – my kids are quivering believers in everything I say one minute, yet laugh in the face of my assertions the next. Neither makes me feel like a great parent.
- Lines should probably be drawn at rowing about the kids in front of the kids – which practically invites ‘divide and conquer’ syndrome.
- I definitely avoid ranting about other people within earshot of the kids. Damn, tell-tails. ‘Mummy says you’re always fishing for compliments and suck the joy out of everything,’ is hard to come back from in any friendship.
- Another thing; if I start an argument in front of the kids, I try my best to finish in front of them too. Making a show of calming down and hugging-it-out ought to make up for any bad feelings, right? Worst case scenario ‘let’s sort this out later when I’m less wound up,’ is better than an arctic silence.
- Talking of which – I can’t bear the silent treatment. So passive aggressive! Its awkward for everyone – innocent bystanders included – and I’d be kidding myself if I claimed the kids were oblivious. Give me shouting over just-sucked-a-lemon-face brooding any day.
- Holding a grudge is another no-no. Arguing about daddy’s inability to shut drawers or cupboards is is ok. Festering about it for the next three months is not. The kids need to know that despite the grumbling, fundamentally we’re very happy.
Baring that in mind, who knows, maybe the odd bit of ‘conflict resolution’ at home might be helpful for kids? It must be reassuring for them to see the whole thing go full circle. Yes people get angry, yell and say things they don’t mean. But they also apologise, take responsibility and admit when they are wrong.
I know I’m relieved when friends tell me they have the occasional disagreement at home; proof that it’s a normal part of life and needn’t be disastrous if we all play fair. Here’s hoping the kids feel it’s all part of being a normal family too.
In short, I’m all about setting an example that it’s ok to be human. Yes, parents make mistakes and get things wrong. But in all but the most serious of cases, that’s ok as long as we take responsibility and say sorry.
What about your family? Do you argue in front of the kids?