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Arguing in Front of Children
A lot of people worry about what their children see on television and in the movies and so on — trying to protect their innocent hearts — and yet they neglect the damage that is done as these same children see their parents destructively arguing with each other right in front of them, or they hear the abusive behavior in the next room.
I have to confess that this is what happened to me as a child, and to this day, I still remember the confusion and the hurt it caused in my spirit. It modeled for me the opposite way that conflict should be handled. I also have to confess that in our earlier years of marriage, Steve and I did the same thing to our children. We yelled and screamed and displayed selfish and childish behavior as husband and wife right in front of our two sons. Now that we realize the damage this can cause to them emotionally, it hurts our hearts to think that we didn’t recognize it sooner than we did. We (and they) will always live with that regret. That is one of the reasons why we are addressing this subject in this Marriage Message– praying that it will cause couples to stop further destruction, and that they will then work together to find ways to solve their conflicts in healthier ways — especially for the sake of their children!
Last week we addressed the issue of arguing in front of others, which is important, because it’s destructive to your relationship and puts others in the very uncomfortable position of being an audience to your fights with each other. But worst of all, is when your children are subjected to this inconsiderate and neglectful behavior. Research has shown that fighting in front of your children is damaging in many ways. But even beyond the research, it only makes sense that when the two people these children love the most — the ones who are in charge of protecting them and helping them to grow into healthy responsible adults, are pitted against each other right in front of them (or within earshot) OF COURSE this will hurt them!
We watched a powerful television program a few years back that brought this point home to us all the more. It was shown on a national program here in the United States called "Dr Phil." Dr Phil McGraw had placed video cameras (with permission) in the home of a married couple that asked him to help them with the fights they were having with each other. On this particular program he had the husband and wife sitting together so they could see part of what was video-taped. It was one of the most emotional media scenes I’ve ever seen. Here, the husband and wife were yelling and screaming, saying vile and destructive things to each other, and the children were right there in the room watching and hearing everything that was going on. It was quite evident from the children’s behavior that they were EXTREMELY conflicted about all that was going on. At one point, the daughter was even crying and yelling at her parents to stop acting like they were. But still, this couple continued as if the children were invisible. And for the most part, the parents admitted later, that they were. The parents didn’t even notice the children. They were so caught up in their own agendas that they practically stepped over the children to assault each other.
When this couple watched this video, they both realized how horrible this was for everyone involved — especially the children. They resolved to find the help they needed to change this behavior from that day forward to resolve their conflicts in healthier ways and also to take their arguments away from their children. And from what we heard in a recent report, they have done this successfully. How impactful it would be if every married couple could watch their arguments on video tape — especially if they argue in front of children! I believe it would change the behavior of a multitude of couples in how they work through their conflicts.
One of the main "arguments" we’ve heard from others on letting children see them fight. is that children won’t "learn" that it’s normal for married couples to disagree with each other and they won’t "learn" how to resolve conflicts if they don’t see it modeled for them. And that can be a valid argument. But what kind of modeling are they learning when their parents are assassinating each other with words and behavior? What are they learning that is positive, when they are seeing their parents slander and berate and demean each other, as well as bringing up subjects that the children have no business knowing about?
Here are several quotes that might help you think and pray through concerning this situation:
~ "Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you" (H. Jackson Brown, Jr.). Does the way you and your spouse live with each other and disagree with each other model "fairness, caring and integrity"? If it doesn’t, then what are you really teaching your children? Even if you can’t find a way to convince your spouse to treat you in a way that appears fair and caring, what is your excuse? Does the Bible tell you that you are excused from acting as a person of integrity and care, just because your spouse is treating you in an opposite way? Wouldn’t it be better if that child had at least one parent who honored the Lord and others in how he or she treated everyone in their home?
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:17-18). "Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification" (Romans 14:19). "Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load" Galatians 6:4-5).
~ "It’s not just how you act when you know [your children] are watching, it’s how they see you when you’re not looking. We worry so much about what they see when they are flipping through the channels on television. Kids have another view of the world. It’s the things they see and hear everyday in and around the family. We can turn the television off, we can select the channels they can watch and for how long, but we forget that they’re more impacted by what they see everyday in their own lives. How you respond to them, how you live, what you do in a crisis and yes, how you love each other should be the real concern" (Bob Perks).
"Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful" (2 Timothy 2:23-24). "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and ready by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ… written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). The question is, concerning the letter you are displaying from Christ, what message are your children reading in how you treat each other as husband and wife?
We’re going to visit this subject again next week, but we’d like to leave you with one last thing to consider (written by Heather Long). She writes: "It’s hard to be married. It’s hard to be a parent. But the best thing you can do for your marriage and for your kids is to recognize that disagreements and quarrels are a private matter that need to be identified and resolved between you and your spouse without an audience. Don’t fall back on the silent treatment either, kids aren’t stupid — they recognize tension and hostility as easily as an animal does. Do your entire family a favor — figure out your problems on your own and provide your children with a positive example of conflict resolution that doesn’t involve screaming matches."
We pray this message (and the ones that follow) will minister to your marriage in a powerful way.
Cindy and Steve Wright