Why Fighting is So Hard On the Kids

I didn’t feel a lot of guilt about our past fights until I realized it made a deeper impact on my kids than I previously thought.

I mean, I felt guilty during and right after the fights, but I also felt like it was just part of real life, and that we had it under control. Our fighting had dramatically decreased several years ago so for me, the past was in the past. I also thought I had been super helpful to my children in processing their emotions in general, and we had good times to balance out the hard times. In fact, I even thought they were wiser for their experiences; that they understood that fighting was normal and people can persevere through it. Maybe this is all still true, but my daughter gave me pause to re-think the sort-of “free pass” I gave myself.

My husband, A.J., had bought a “conversation starter” deck of cards off Amazon to keep at our kitchen table. (Nerd alert? He’s honestly not a nerd, but come on…this???)  Even though I felt like we were competent enough to come up with conversations organically, that didn’t stop him from pulling cards and asking questions like “If you could go back in time, what is the one football game you would want to see”?

Our youngest daughter- 17 years old- was sitting with us when he pulled the question “How have you changed in the last 10 years?”.

When it was my turn to answer, my daughter interjected “I think you changed a lot since you went to The Life Coach School”. She went on to say that I handle problems differently now, especially with AJ. She recalled that when my husband and I used to fight, it was loud and it was “all the time”. I didn’t think it was that frequent, but she did.  She said it made her uncomfortable and extremely anxious. She wasn’t trying to be dramatic and she stated it as a mere fact.

And even though I knew that it was true we fought loudly, I had always comforted, explained, reassured, and loved my kids through those times. 

I thought that was enough emotional balm to heal any wounds. Apparently it wasn’t, and her words resonated deep in my heart. It hurt to know that despite best intentions and efforts, our ego-driven fights still created an undesired, lasting impact. From my perspective, I knew that we fought, but I thought it was within a “normal range”. But what is “normal”, anyway? I thought my reassurances superseded any argument, but it did not completely do the trick. How about you? Can you relate?

The truth is we don’t know how much our behaviors impact our children’s peace of mind and sense of stability because it depends on the situation combined with the temperament/ personality/ maturity/ tendencies/ thought patterns of the child.

We think that because they see us working things out in the end, it’s all good; but perhaps the bigger impact is the emotional distress of the experience.

I yell. I get loud. I’ve told my kids I can be “crazy”, like people shouldn’t mess with me, like that was some kind of thing that was ingrained in my personality. Instead of accepting this as the default, I wish I would have thought more deeply about my children’s vulnerable perspective and learned how to solve problems differently back then. I don’t say this to beat myself up, because I definitely did my best, as we all do. I just wish I had known better at that time.

Children’s sense of security comes from stability provided by the people that make the decisions in their lives.

They can’t predict when or how fights will play out nor do they have any control in the matter. I think this makes a critical difference. You know you can leave. You know you can stay and fight.  You can try to get the last word or be right. You can break down into tears and storm off. All those actions impact the circumstance. Our kids don’t have any of those choices because they are merely witnesses, at the mercy of their circumstances, unable to direct it or make it better. When they perceive that the adults who are supposed to be in control are being erratic, it is very unsettling.

Sometimes the fights we had we about our criticisms of each other’s parenting.

It’s hard to admit this, but through talking to my marriage coaching clients, I know that it is a very common experience. When you’ve co-created this adversarial situation with your partner, your children will feel like they are being put in the awkward middle. I will tell you, even if you feel like you’re Mama Bear fighting for what is right, justified or honorable, children will see and feel the visceral effects of fighting and that makes the greater impact, not your logical explanation. It’s the difference between knowing something and feeling something. Despite being well-educated and well-versed on how to take care of your children, it’s so easy to let your emotions overrule your better judgement, fighting in the name of what’s “right”. There’s got to be a better way than fighting.

This isn’t an indictment on anyone, just building awareness for my passionate, loving, and fierce friends to take a look at what goes on in your home through your child’s eyes.

How do you want your children to feel at home and how can you and your spouse work together? And if your spouse isn’t agreeable, what alternatives can you create instead of fighting? How do you want your children to think and feel about you or their home life? These are all things that can help you form your guiding principles when it comes to handling disagreements.

One of the strategies I use is to tackle a problem is to identify every single thing we agree on first.

Listing all the things you agree on with any given issue helps distill the point of contention to a very succinct and contained point. And even within that very issue, can you find any more common thoughts or ideas? Thinking of everything that you agree on first creates a positive mindset, decreases stress and increases a sense of cohesiveness. 

Ten years from now, your children will say they witnessed civility, kindness and respect in the midst of disagreement. They’ll say they learned that you can stand your ground, make a point, or even concede with conviction, not drama. And you know, hopefully, they’ll thank you for the times you tried your best but didn’t quite avoid acting crazy. 🙂

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