My husband and I got into a fight today. It’s not unusual. We’ve been together for over 10 years, and married for over 8. It’s bound to happen. It happens every time I’m PMS-ing (which is now), and every time one of us comes back from a trip (also now).
I honestly can’t remember the exact reason we were fighting, and it really doesn’t matter. It simply matters that we were fighting – yelling and screaming at each other, saying hurtful things, swearing; and we did this in front of our children. I know E was very upset over this, and asked us to stop. L simply cried while clinging to my leg. I remember peeling him off before I dramatically stomped into the bedroom and carefully closed the door so I wouldn’t smush any tiny fingers. P yelled one more hurtful thing at the closed door before walking away. I thought 15 hurtful things in my head and cried for a while.
But while we think and say hurtful things to each other, we really don’t mean it. We love each other and would go to the ends of the earth for each other. The trouble is, how do you reassure your children of this, when they have born witness to the slaughter of your feelings?
I’ve heard people say you should never fight in front of the children, and I remember having friends in high school who were blindsided by their parents’ divorce because they never saw it coming. By the same token, I’ve also heard friends wonder why their parents weren’t divorced, since all they did was fight. When we got engaged, P told me that we would end up hating each other, but that it would all work out in the end, because that’s what happened to his parents.
My parents divorced when I was one, so I have no idea how parents are supposed to handle stress and disagreement in front of their children. I knew my parents didn’t like each other from the moment I remember, and the divorce papers were proof. They did eventually allow time and physical distance move that water under the bridge, and a couple years before my dad passed away, they were cordial with each other (they became Facebook friends, and may have even sent each other letters. In the mail).
I certainly don’t want my children to think that we hate each other. At the same time, I don’t want them to think that everything is coming up roses when a family of moles has moved in. So we fight, scream, yell, say hurtful things in front of our children. The children do the same thing to each other in front of us. They probably have some empathy in that regard. We live in a 950 square foot condo. There really isn’t much room to escape, especially when the Pacific Northwest Winter is bearing down and your road has become the new off-shoot of the local creek.
One thing we do, however, that I think is hard to do in front of other people, is that we make up in front of our children. It could be the fact that we live in a shoebox, so they are subjected to the good, bad and ugly in our marriage. It could be the fact that we don’t want them to think that we actually hate each other, because we don’t. We all have bad days. We all lose it, and we all say things we don’t mean. We’re human. Our children should be witness to that. They should know that everyone, even parents make mistakes. And what’s more, they should be witness to the make-ups, not just to be reassured that their world will not be falling apart any time soon, but to learn that crucial part of making relationships last: Saying “I’m Sorry.”