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Arguing In Front of Children

weather: sunny
outside: 20°C
mood: pensive
I wanted to send this to someone who was arguing with her mother over childcare for their < 24 month old, but the e-mail address keeps bouncing and I didn't want to forget what I wanted to say.

My parents immigrated to Canada with me when I was 2. They left everything behind in China and literally started a life over from nothing. Just a few personal belongings, a few changes of clothes and a baby girl to raise.

Life was hard. And even at that age, I could tell. They had their moments of tension. It got minorly physical once (my Mom slapped my Dad on the arm), but more often than not, Nasty Verbal was as bad as it got.

They stayed together through it all and I have no doubt that their love for each other transcended anything that this world could throw at them. Those experiences and their example has made me what I am today. My husband and I have worked through issues that would have had other couples filing for divorce many times over.

The one thing that I wish happened differently though, is that they would have "debriefed" me directly, during or after their fights. I did get debriefing of sorts. When we were in our calmer, happier times, they would say things like, "yeah, we fight, but we always want what's best for the family/each other" and "we'll always make sure you're taken care of"... things like that.

I think it's true that kids know when something's wrong, even if you take precautions to not argue right in front of them. They can see the way you act around each other in the aftermath. They can see you ignoring each other or speaking in terse statements. So, if that's the case, I think they should be appraised of the situation, at a level that they can understand. Especially if the issue revolves around them (ie. you're arguing about after school care or extracurricular activity arrangements).

As they get older, you could tell them that "So&so and I both want to do what's best for you, but we just sort of disagree on what exactly 'best for you' means." Take this opportunity to explain the basics of discussion and debating to her - that if everybody takes turns saying what they think, then maybe someone will think of a really good idea that no one else thought of. And that way, you'll really find something that's the best idea.

That might take the edge off of the feeling that something bad is happening, she doesn't quite know what it is, but it's about her... I don't know if she's old enough to realize that, but as she gets older, she may start thinking that it's "her fault" that you guys are fighting.

BTW, I'm not a parent. But I've gathered a few things from my own experiences growing up, talking to people I know who are parents, and my Infant Psychology/Developmental Psychology courses. So whatever I say needs to be weighted as such =) No one else said anything about "keeping the kid in the loop", so I thought I'd bring it up. =)

ntang, if I'm completely off my rocker here, please let me know. =D


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 25th, 2004 01:25 pm (UTC)
I agree completely/ </useless comment>
Jul. 25th, 2004 01:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I really appreciate the vote of confidence =) Not being a parent, I'm always afraid that what I think is too off-base.
Jul. 25th, 2004 01:38 pm (UTC)
I think the commonsense, treat-your-kids-with-respect approach is usually the right one. Parents often say "That's not realistic," but it's my experience as a parent that they usually mean "It's not convenient/comfortable/expedient" or "I don't want to talk frankly about my fuck-ups." There are exceptions, but they're rarer than most parents make out.
Jul. 25th, 2004 03:39 pm (UTC)
I'm not a parent yet either, but I have learned in my experience that the more involved a child is in a decision, the better their reaction to the outcome.
Jul. 25th, 2004 03:44 pm (UTC)
Is that any surprise? What human being in their right mind would prefer a decision that is dictated upon them over one that was principally influenced by them?
Jul. 25th, 2004 03:46 pm (UTC)
No, but you'd be surprised at the number of adults that dictate all decisions onto children. As a future teacher, I think it's good to constantly remind myself that children need to be treated with respect at all times.
Jul. 25th, 2004 03:41 pm (UTC)
Although you have not explicitly mentioned it, you have hit upon a pet peeve of mine. It is a prevalent attitude in our (Western) society that children are too inexperienced to make absolutely any decision for themselves whatsoever. I don't know inhowfar the same applies to Chinese culture and how much if any of it you experienced when you were young, but... when parents argue over something that directly concerns the child without ever even asking the child what he thinks about it, that just makes me want to scream. Who do the parents think they are, thinking they know the child better than the child does himself? Who do the parents think their son is, completely devoid of own thoughts, own feelings, an own opinion?

You get the idea. Children should have more say over their own future, their destiny, their own self. Parents should have less say over them as if they were their property.
Jul. 25th, 2004 04:05 pm (UTC)
I agree, partially. =)

I do think that children should be asked about what they want and appraised of the situation. And I absolutely agree with you that a lot of people dictate rather than involve their children.

But I also think that their feedback can only be taken into consideration, not taken literally at face value and must be veto'ed if it's truly not workable. Children don't always know what's best for them. Given free reign, I'm willing to bet that a good majority of children would not be going to school. Learning is not always fun, there is hard work involved.

Children are not just small adults. They cannot be expected to have the same understanding and logical processes of adults. It's not even that they have a "more primitive" understanding of things than adults. There is evidence that their brains are wired up completely differently, there are things that they are physically incapable of comprehending. They go through stages of development where the wiring changes.

It's a matter of interacting with them in a way that's appropriate to their age and stage of development.
Jul. 25th, 2004 04:54 pm (UTC)
Just because I condemn the extreme view that children should have absolutely no say over themselves, doesn't mean I advocate the opposite extreme view that they should have "free reign". It is pretty obvious that most of them would quit school if they had "free reign", and it is obvious that they shouldn't be allowed to do so.

However, this sentence, "Children don't always know what's best for them" is exactly at the core of my pet peeve. I absolutely totally HATE it when people say that. Why? For two reasons. Firstly, it is used as a universal general excuse for any decision of any kind that is dictated upon the child. Secondly, because it has become so prevalent that when people say it, they actually mean "Children never ever know what's best for them" and they don't realise it. This way, children gradually lose more and more of their rights, and today it is pretty much accepted in our society that parents should be allowed to be total dictators over the lives of their children.

If something is truly not workable, it should be possible to explain to the child why. I admit there are exceptions to this — I wouldn't know how to explain why children need to go to school — but what really bothers me is that most parents don't even try, again under this protective umbrella that is the belief that the child obviously doesn't know what's best for him. If people think they're so much more experienced than their children, then they should have no trouble communicating their experience! For all you know, the child might understand and retract the suggestion that is "truly not workable".

"There is evidence that their brains are wired up completely differently" — I hear that a lot. Such ideas like to spread like memes. In reality we don't know anything about the way the brain works, other than that it changes with every new piece of knowledge and experience. It is no surprise that children's brains, which have to take in so much information, change structurally over time. We have no real idea how its structure influences our thinking, and much less do we have any real basis upon which to say "there are things that they are physically incapable of comprehending". That's prejudicial.

"It's a matter of interacting with them in a way that's appropriate to their age and stage of development." — I agree completely. Unfortunately, however, people tend to overestimate their own knowledge of what is "appropriate to their age".

(By the way: I'm not trying to be sexist by using "he" and pretending there are only sons. I just like it better than singular they.)
Jul. 25th, 2004 05:15 pm (UTC)
Just because I condemn the extreme view that children should have absolutely no say over themselves, doesn't mean I advocate the opposite extreme view that they should have "free reign".

I didn't say you did, I was just offering another perspective.

"There is evidence that their brains are wired up completely differently" — I hear that a lot. Such ideas like to spread like memes.

I would tend to put research results at least notch or two above memes. But we can agree to disagree. =)
Jul. 25th, 2004 06:48 pm (UTC)
Well, how reliable is your source of those "research results"? :-p
Jul. 25th, 2004 07:13 pm (UTC)
Well, when it's presented as a part of a University course curriculum, there has to be some credibility in the Psychology community, I think. No, it isn't absolute, nor is it gospel, but you have to start somewhere.
Jul. 26th, 2004 07:18 am (UTC)
Right. Of course, that source does lend it a bit of credibility. :)
Jul. 26th, 2004 06:23 am (UTC)
You know, this is very interesting. When I was young, my mom and my grandmother (we all lived together) argued a lot. I don't really remember it affecting me (it was really a long time ago, and I don't think about it anymore), but a while ago, I found a drawing that I did when I was that age. It had two figures (my mom and my grandmother) with speech bubbles coming from them. I was actually drawing a fight between them. I even wrote out the words they were saying to each other (in Chinese!!!)Then it had me in the corner crying. I think things like this affect children more than the parents, or even the children know.
Jul. 27th, 2004 01:55 pm (UTC)
I agree.

When my husband and I argue, my daughter sides with me. I don't understand why because I don't tell her I'm right and he's wrong or anything. She just cuddles me.
Jul. 27th, 2004 02:12 pm (UTC)
It all depends on the personality/temperament, how the child reasons, what they think is more "correct". When my parents argued, I always thought my father was right. He and I think in veryvery similar ways so what he said always sounded more right to me.

Your daughter might identify more with you or feel more in tune with you and therefore tend sympathize with you.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


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