Chanelmama blogger Ouiam Charkani El Hassani shares her thoughts on the effects of marital conflict on children.
Growing up, I never recall seeing my parents argue or fight. They have been married for almost 55 years and still are deeply and profoundly in love. I don’t even remember them mad or upset with each other — either they were really good at faking it or they are just unbelievably good at this marriage thing. The level of understanding and compassion they showed each other was something almost magical, something that, at the time, I hardly grasped, but admire greatly now.
On the other hand, it did trouble me for some time when I first got married. You see, because I grew up with parents who were the exception in this crazy world, I assumed that all married couples should be like them. I thought arguing and having heated conversations with your partner shouldn’t happen. So when I found myself with a partner at my side 24/7, sharing my room, bathroom, kitchen and every aspect of my life, I simply couldn’t understand why my life was so much more complicated and harder than the one my parents had.
Once two people start a life and a family together, things get serious, and just having children creates more conflicts, even for couples who were doing well before they became parents. When kids show up, there is less time to get more done. All of a sudden you’re not as patient, not as flexible, and it feels like there is more at stake. Yet we somehow feel obliged to cover up, and to make sure we spare our little ones the drama we face each day, so the circle is never interrupted. Our kids don’t grasp the normality of marital quarrelling. They will never know it’s an inevitable aspect of life and therefore they will also spend a good chunk of their early marital life wondering and questioning their choices, their decisions and their life with the partner they chose.
There has to be a better way to handle conflict than the one most of us grew up with. You can’t resolve to never fight in front of kids, just as you can’t constantly include them in your daily fights.
Conflict is normal, so it’s not whether parents fight that is important, it’s how the conflict is expressed and resolved, and especially how it makes children feel, that has important consequences for them. What’s very important here is to show kids that parents are human too — they argue and disagree, yet in a very respectful manner. And what’s even more important is how you end the scene. Does each go their way without solving the issue? Or do they use their communication skills, sharing feelings and emotions in an honest and kind way? Speaking the truth to children no matter how young they are helps them enormously in their problem-solving skills. It helps them normalise the fact that people can have different opinions yet still love, appreciate and respect each other.
Children even as young as six months can register their parents’ distress. It can have a negative effect on them their whole life, from insecurity to anger management. And while faking that life is perfect might seem like a great option, it is not. It can harm your children greatly.
As a parent you are always setting an example to your children, so even in the darkest moments, it’s your responsibility to do it right. One of the best tactics to follow is opening the dialogue by first letting your partner know that you see them, you get them, and you can put yourself in their shoes. Empathy is a skill that is very hard to acquire, so exposing children to it is very helpful. It is also vital to always remember that you and your partner are on the same team, so, no matter what, you only have the best intentions in mind. You need to show your kids that you are both on the same page even if there is a conflict. You also need to keep in mind that anything that needs to be said can be said with kindness. Finally, there should always be an end to conflicts when children are in sight. No silent tactics like avoidance, walking out, sulking or withdrawing.
Give your children an example to follow when they start their own marital life. Remember you are raising future adults — so do it right.