It may sound like a children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard type of post, but trust me, it’s not. Silence can be the one thing that keeps children going strong even amidst the emotional roller coaster that is parental relationships.
Recently, my husband made a comment that hurt me a lot. In the grand scheme of things, the topic and the comment are pretty insignificant, but how the comment made me feel was monumentally devastating. At the time, my children were still awake. At that moment, I calmly told him how that comment made me feel (I don’t like letting hurt fester), but I could tell he started getting defensive, and I didn’t push it.
Now, I have always been one to shy away from confrontation, which in turn makes it seem like I shy away from standing up for myself or sharing my feelings. However, after having been married for almost 20 years, being a parent for 13, and seeing how my parents conducted themselves when I was young, I feel that when there is a dispute or hurt feelings between parents, the best gift you can give your kids is situational silence.
This means that while they are awake and around, don’t get into a heated argument or start yelling at one another about feelings and blame. Even if you are able (and not many are) to speak cordially about the disagreement, it’s often not best to do this in front of your children. Keeping the peace temporarily and waiting until you can speak alone can be the best thing, so there is no danger of them seeing anger and yelling on display.
Some may say that seeing parents argue is a good thing because then children can see how to handle disputes or conversely how not to handle disputes. The problem is that the modeling tool tells us that children are like video recorders. They are always observing and then copying what we do. If you get into a fight or a heated argument with your fellow parent, how do you think the kids observing that argument will handle their own situations in the future? They will probably gravitate toward what they saw growing up.
This is not to say that a cordial discussion isn’t a good thing for kids to witness. It could be. But too many adults in our sensitive society can’t keep their emotions in check during a “cordial discussion,” and it can quickly turn into a full-on fight.
My husband and I have had maybe a couple of disagreements in front of our kids, but really more like around them. They knew something was off with mom and dad but never knew specifically what. I attribute this technique to my parents who would cool off and let their minds settle down before confronting the other person about how they felt. I do the same thing. My kids have never seen us fight, but we’ve had plenty of disagreements that were worked out behind closed doors.
The gift of silent dispute resolution is actually one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. Trust me, there is enough “dispute” out there in the world for them to observe without acutely demonstrating it in the home, a place that should be a safe emotional space. Sparing them from you and your partner’s emotional dirty laundry is a great way to prevent them from growing up too fast. Give them the gift of silence when you feel slighted by your parental partner, and take the other parent aside later to quietly hash out the problem.
When your kids are adults and can say to their married friends that they can’t remember ever seeing their parents fight, they will likely have better relationships themselves and be better equipped to handle conflict.