Fighting in front of kids

Fights come in many shapes and forms, and your children will watch you perform every single kind.

First, there is ‘the nag’, which is a low-level and persistent demand by one parent on the other. Children know this mode like the backs of their hands. They are masters at tuning out your low-frequency hum.

The next level is ‘the sharp put-down’. This is exclusively the domain of the female competitor. This is not necessarily a verbal technique. Often, a single look across the dinner table speaks a thousand words. If the look is not understood, or is ignored, the follow-up is swift and brutal. Kids love this clever stuff. They will snort with laughter as their father flushes. It is good training for future relationships, where underhand sniping is expected in the arsenal.

Then there is ‘the civil disagreement’. That’s when his GPS takes you on the dirt road to the weekend farm and you arrive seven hours after the other guests. Healthy stuff. The civil disagreement teaches children to spar verbally and to knock out opponents with sharp-tongued blows. This is good early training. They charge a fortune for this stuff in Toastmasters.

Finally, following a good few hours of civil disagreement is ‘the all-out barney’. This is when all the messy relationship stuff spills out. This is the time to close the doors.

The general consensus is that it is never good to have a real relationship barney in front of your kids. For small children, a fight can be deeply distressing.

You don’t air your dirty linen in front of your friends, so treat your kids with the same level of respect. If you feel a real fight brewing in front of the children, give your partner a visual or verbal clue to postpone the discussion. Agree on some kind of code word, like ‘limp biscuit’, beforehand and stick to it. Chances are that hitting the pause button will enable you to approach the conflict more rationally at a later stage anyway.

Conflict is a part of life and children will learn that disagreements end. If you handle your relationship rows in a good way, kids will learn that fights do not have to ruin relationships.

If you can’t manage to control yourself, and your children do end up witnessing a really dirty row, take them aside later to explain that conflict is natural and that parents will fight from time to time. Research has shown that some children feel that fighting in a marriage is somehow their fault (especially if you’re arguing about something like school lifts or different modes of parenting), so it’s also important to stress that they are in no way responsible for the conflict.

Become a crack negotiator
Failing to deal with your partner sensitively as a human being prone to pride, anger and other normal reactions can have disastrous results when you are discussing money.

No matter what you say, they are hearing, ‘You’re spending too much money.’ Worse, they are hearing all sorts of other things that never even crossed your mind. Like: ‘You are not trustworthy.’ Or: ‘You don’t deserve to spend that much money.’

Negotiators will tell you to be hard on the problem, soft on the people.

  This is an extract from Romance 101: How your relationship can survive your kids (Oshun), available from kalahari at R111,96.

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