Healthy Confrontation in Front of Your Children

A couple weeks ago, Alex and I were on the brink of a fight. You know–that feeling of tension and discomfort you get when a request isn’t granted by your spouse or there’s a frustrating misunderstanding that you’re trying to straighten out. We were probably one wrong comment away from getting into a fight. I think we both were beginning to sense it, so as a result, we took a few moments to just not be in the same room.

I went to change Joy’s diaper (she was in her Pack-N-Play during our pre-fight) and Alex began making dinner in the kitchen. Once she was all clean and freshly diapered, I took Joy into the kitchen to get her ready for her dinner, and Alex had finished making dinner for the both of us. Once we came back together we asked each other if we were in the right mindset to talk about what was bothering us.

The next day, I was reflecting on our “almost fight” and I thought about how we confronted and dealt with our frustration compared to how we did when we first got married — spoiler alert, it wasn’t healthy. It was so painful and awkward and silent. It almost felt like we had to passively drag the problem out of each other.

I also began to think of how our fights in the future would affect Joy. She was feet away from where Alex and I were standing and I couldn’t help but think, are we not supposed to fight in front of her? Should we keep talking but alter the tones we’re using? How can we engage and resolve this argument with a 9 month old pretty much in the same room?

All of these thoughts led me to this question, will she conduct herself in the same way that Alex and I do when faced with a situation that calls us to be assertive or confrontational? Will she be passive? Will she be too aggressive and stubborn? Both of these don’t sound healthy to me, but the best way that Alex and I can help her navigate (at least right now) is to set as best of an example as we can by trying to achieve healthy confrontation habits ourselves.

It hasn’t been until the past couple of years that I’ve had to actually manage conflict and confrontation with other people; it’s just something that was either covered up or avoided in my family as I got older. It wasn’t until I was in college that I was abruptly faced with my first fight, disagreement, whatever you want to call it. I quickly realized that I didn’t know how to navigate myself around problems or disagreements that had to be settled among my family, friends, and peers. I know, ‘Wow!’

Now fast forward to when Alex and I start dating, we’re mushy, and lovey…and then I go back to school and spend the next 9 months of our relationship long distance visiting each other whenever we could. We didn’t get a chance to really learn “how to fight with one another” so whenever something was bothering us like really cruddy WiFi during our FaceTime dates, we were quiet…painfully, uncomfortably silent. And from then on, that was how we conducted ourselves in an argument.

Now, we would eventually resolve things and talk about what was really bothering us, but over time it became such a frustrating habit that we had formed. We took this habit into our marriage and into our parenthood. I’m not saying that having a baby will make you straighten out your life and all of a sudden you’ll grow up and be a better person with better habits–it  just doesn’t work that way. But for Alex and I, having Joy helped us grow in being patient. We are learning how to really examine what we need as a family vs. what we want (and that goes for us as individuals too). But more than that, having Joy has helped us examine the examples we set and how things like misunderstandings and arguments will affect how she will handle conflict in the future.

I think that it’s fair to say that no parent is perfect; there are things I wish my parents had done or not done raising me as I’m sure they wished of their parents. There are probably going to be a number of things that Joy will do differently than we did if she raises a family one day. The one thing I truly hope she learns, even if not from Alex and I, is to handle and resolve conflict in a healthy and reasonable manner.

When you’re living under the same roof with the same people for so long, there are bound to be things that can get under your skin. This happens with spouses, siblings, even friends who become roommates or vice versa. So, it goes without saying that there will come moments with family fights, disagreements, and arguments WILL happen. It’s not so much that we’re at all concerned that we (me, Alex, Joy, and whoever else will grace us with their existence) won’t get along in our daily lives, as I said, we’re all bound to bump heads every now and then. It is more the idea of how those moments are worked through.

In a world where we’re surrounded by political, religious, and societal tension, I think that now more than ever it’s important to know how to navigate yourself in a conversation turned sour. Not just for the soul purpose of “winning”, but for the purpose of hearing perspective and expressing your own thoughts and feelings. For myself personally, it’s out of a desire for people to be heard that drives our desire for a “pro-confrontation” household.

When I was really young, I wanted so badly to tell my grandmother about something that I learned in Sunday school, but was instructed to keep it to myself for risk of opening up a long debate about different denominational practices. My grandmother is hard core Catholic and wasn’t really thrilled when my mom decided to practice her faith within the Pentecostal Denomination.

I grew up with a sheltered and very “walking on egg-shell” approach to confrontation, while I know my own parents did what they thought was best for my own growth, I don’t want my daughter to feel ashamed or sheepish when it comes to discussing her beliefs, feelings, or what have you. It’s harder to avoid conversations that clash with such topics like these anyway, why fight it?

Alex and I are new, so very new at raising a child and we’re also still really fresh in our marriage, so to say that we have everything figured out is a bold faced lie. I wish our daily life was more routine and predictable in some areas, but truth be told, it’s a series of surprises starting from 5:30 AM onward. I say that to let you in on how we’re learning what to do and not to do about having healthy clean fights ourselves. Sometimes it’s successful in that we both (Alex and I) hash out what’s going on in our own minds and hearts and come to a calm, clean close but sometimes we go back to our emotional charades until we burst. We might not know the perfect formula for confronting conflict for everyone, but we know somethings that have worked for us that we for sure want to pass down to our family.

  1. Make sure you are clear in articulating how you’re feeling in your argument, even if it takes forever to get the words out, communicating in a clear and understandable manner is of the utmost importance.
  2. Take a moment or moments to be out of the same room. It’s not a bad thing when you say you need some space to cool off or to get in the right head space. As long as you remember to come back and resolve, it’s okay and even healthy sometimes to separate yourself from the problem at hand.
  3. I say hash it out in front of the kids. I know it might be counter intuitive to do this, but if the goal is to expose your family to healthy ways of resolving conflict, don’t hide it or say things like, “Mommy and Daddy are just talking”, own it. Say things like, “Mommy and Daddy are fighting right now,” I know that it may seem ideal, but the idea is to not make it seem like arguments or conflict doesn’t exist.

These are the things that are working for us so far. What are some way that you address conflict in your home?

MARYGUNNELS

One comment

  1. I agree for the most part. After 30+ years of marriage there are some issues that I don’t think are best solved while kids are listening. Some things are just for grown ups. Some topics are not kid appropriate. So being sensitive to that is helpful.

    Like

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