In an ideal world, parents would never argue in front of their kids. Losing your cool and yelling probably isn't really a lesson us parents want to pass down to our children, right? However, in the real world people get mad and sometimes they react without thinking about their audience. That's why there are certain things my partner and I do every time we fight to make sure our kid is OK. I know losing it in front of my son is an inevitability from time to time, so it's important that I find a way to explain what happened and how my partner and I are going to fix the problem.
My son doesn't necessarily understand that even though his father and I argue, we still love each other. So, honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if watching his parents loudly disagree is nothing short of scary. I also think it's important for my partner and I to show our son that we're human and we make mistakes. I want him to know that we're both flawed, as romantic partners and as individual humans, but that we work hard every day to behave in a way that will make our son proud.
In my opinion, it doesn't really matter whether or not you fight in front of your kids. Instead, what matters is that, as parents, you show your kids that you can repair your connection with your partner, nourish your relationship, and conduct yourselves in a healthy and productive way, even when you're upset. My partner and I try to show our son that behavior in the following ways:
We Fight Fair
My partner and I refuse to bring up old arguments as a way to "win" a current one. We don't say phrases like, "You never..." or, "You always..." as a way to establish some preexisting "rule." We also never call each other names or say anything that can't be repaired with an apology.
We Listen To Our Kid's Advice
Obviously we don't expect (or ask) our son to fix our relationship problems or end an argument between us. However, our son does have some awesome and very helpful advice, whenever he notices a little argument brewing. He'll tell me to, "Calm down, mommy" and, "Take some deep breaths." While this wouldn't necessarily help in a big argument, it can help with those silly daily disagreements about house cleaning and groceries.
We Reassure Our Kid
We always try to make sure that our son knows we are just disagreeing on a topic or having a debate. We'll often say "It's OK, mom and dad are just trying to work something out."
If we do lose it and yell at each other, we'll quickly give him a squeeze and explain that everything is going to be fine.
We Make Our Kid Part Of Our Resolution
When my partner and I come to a resolution at the end of a disagreement, we always make sure our son is there to witness our fight come to an end.
Most of our arguments seem to take place in the kitchen (go figure), so we often put some music on and dance around at the end of an argument. Our son calls it "kitchen dancing." It really clears any bad vibes in the atmosphere and makes us all laugh.
We Show Physical Affection
I think it's really important to be physically affectionate towards your partner after having an argument. It makes me feel closer to my husband and melts away any lingering tension.
I always involve our son in these post-fight cuddles and kisses, and I hope it helps show him that, despite any disagreements we may have, we all love each other deeply.
We Say Sorry
I'm a big fan of a sincere apology. I absolutely hate it when arguments just fizzle and people try to pretend they never happened. I need a clear resolution and some closure after I have a fight with someone I care about.
That doesn't always mean that my partner and I eventually agree on a topic of contention. In fact, we often just agree to disagree in order to end an argument. Still, at least we call a truce and apologize for any feelings that have been hurt in the process.
We Promise To Do Better
I want to equip my son with the interpersonal skills necessary to relate to other people and maintain strong, healthy relationships. This means that my husband and I need to model not only how to fight fair, but how to try to avoid similar disagreements in the future, too.
When my son has a tantrum, once the dust clears I always ask him what he could do next time if he find himself feeling out of control. I am so proud that, as a result, he now asks me how I'll plan not to lose my temper next time I get in an argument with his father, too.
My husband and I are not perfect and sometimes we make mistakes. That means, from time to time, we will have a big fight in front of our son and feel terribly guilty about it when it's all over. However, by making sure any serious arguments or topics are discussed in private, and by modeling how to resolve conflict, we are working on improving our emotional intelligence as a family.