A Fighting Chance August 10th, 2011
I’m skeptical of any married person who claims that she doesn’t fight with her spouse. No two people are so perfectly aligned that they never disagree, never hurt each other’s feelings, or never sense friction of any kind. I think I’m even more skeptical of people who claim that they do disagree, hurt each other’s feelings, and sense friction and still don’t fight. Something about that just doesn’t feel genuine to me.
Of course there is a continuum here. What I call a fight you might call a discussion. What you call a fight I might call a hostile screaming match. What I call cooling off you might call the silent treatment. And so on. But the commonality here is that there is conflict, no matter how civilly or heatedly it is expressed.
When the two conflicted adults don’t have children, their fighting style is mostly a personal choice. Provided it’s not done publicly there’s not much place for anyone to say what is the “right” way to fight. If yelling and screaming gets the anger out of your system and the issues out on the table (and your partner is game for it), then who am I to claim right or wrong? If a calm conversation is both cathartic and productive, then more power to you.
The kicker, though, is when kids are in the picture.
Questions abound. Should our kids know that we fight? Should we let them see us argue? If they know we’ve had a fight should we put on a happy face when we’re in front of them, or is that disingenuous and stressful for them? A post yesterday on NYT’s Motherlode asks these very questions.
The social worker quoted in the article says just what you’d expect her to say – that what matters most is that kids learn how to manage their differences; that they learn how to do so in a loving fashion and with respect; and that they learn how to voice their own needs and opinions. This all sounds quite manageable in shrink-speak, but I wonder if it isn’t a great deal harder than that in real life.
GAP and I aren’t “fighters” per se. We disagree and argue often enough – we are both strong-willed and opinionated. But we don’t yell or scream. Ever. We don’t get huffy with each other in front of IEP, which for the moment I think is the right call. He’s too young to understand that conflict between Mommy and Daddy is normal and healthy and I don’t want any occasional tension between us to ever frighten him.
But what of the future? What about four or five years from now when he’s in elementary school, perhaps getting into playground spats with friends from time to time, has several siblings he has to get along with, and needs an example of how to settle an issue effectively? How then does our example affect him?
Like most parenting issues, as the mother of a two-year-old this one is new to me. So much of what I will learn about raising a child is out in the future still. And, like many other parenting issues I’m sure we will screw this one up, at least a couple of times, before we get the hang of it and figure out what works in our families. Nevertheless, I wonder if there is some path – whether wide or narrow – within the boundaries of which I can walk with some assurance of safety. Even though I know I’ll make mistakes in this realm, I hope that they will be minor.