Conflict isn't easy to deal with. When a couple is parenting, they may intend to do their best, but
when things get heated they may make mistakes that carry a high price.
One mistake in particular is pulling your child into your arguments An example of this tactic is to share your side of the story with your child, saying something like, "You see, I've told you your mom can be so unreasonable."
Believe me, I understand the temptation. We want to feel validated. We want to "win" the argument.
Here's the reality, by putting your child in the middle, you and your child are paying a big price.
When you involve your kids in your adult disagreements, you're essentially asking him to take on an adult role. He can't do that, he's not ready for it.
He is not intellectually able to sort through the facts from an adult perspective. The part of the brain that sorts through and makes mature decisions on things is not completely formed until the age of 24. It isn't that your child doesn't have an opinion, but the one he shares will be that of a child, with the knowledge and experience of a child. He has nothing to go by other than his 12 years of life experience...which does not have him ready for adult decisions!
Then there is the emotional side of things. I'll share the "cost" of involving your child in things in a bit. For now, let's focus on things from your child's point of view.
When parents involve kids in their fights, they are asking them to deal with adult emotions. Your child is still figuring out what emotions feel like and what to do with them. He may be a preteen or teen who is experiencing new emotions (like love, jealousy, anger, depression, anxiety) for the first time and is overwhelmed and unsure about those. The last thing he needs is to also try to figure out your adult level emotions. Their teen emotions are too much some days!
I mentioned there is a price to pay...everyone pays when kids are brought into adult conversations. Yes, even the adults lose something.
Kids may feel they have to side with one parent against the other. How are they supposed to choose? Do they side with the parent who is the maddest to avoid their wrath? Is it better to side with the parent who they see is the victim in this?
Will your child withdraw completely because "it's easier to shrink into myself than get involved"?
Perhaps he is worried about siding with one parent at the risk of losing the other parent's love.
He may feel he has to take a side or agree with the blaming parent so that parent will feel validated and then calm down. It may even feel like a way to "win" that parent's love if the child feels he doesn't have the parent's love otherwise.
Then he may feel that by gaining one parent's love, he may lose the other's.
So you see, this is a losing situation for your child no matter what decision he makes.
Parents, you're losing as well when you suck your kids into your drama. Trust me on this. I have had more than one kid tell me it's easier to just stay quiet, lay low, and get out of the house as often as possible. "Avoiding my parents is easier than dealing with their fighting," one preteen shared.
Your child may agree with you because he feels he has no choice or he just wants the conversation to end. He may grow to resent you for putting him in the middle. In the end, you'll lose your child's respect and love because he was tired of pretending to be an adult friend to you.
So, what can you do to make things better? Here's a few tips:
1. Ask yourself if you've ever put your child in the role of friend or confidant. We have to be aware of our behaviors before we can change them.
2. Be aware of your tendencies. When you're angry with your partner, do you share the details of the argument with your child? If so, what are you trying to gain? What do the kids lose?
3. Have a talk with your parenting partner about setting agreed upon boundaries regarding disagreements. Work through how you'll deal with your feelings and how you'll know when it's time to talk. Agree that under no circumstances will the kids be pulled into adult arguments.
I want to share how I learned this tactic:
My parents were married 65 tears before Mom passed. I remember chatting with her one day and I asked how she and Dad dealt with disagreements because I didn't remember them ever fighting.
Mom laughed and said they were very careful to not argue in front of us. They could read each other so well, they'd just know when someone had crossed a line and there was a conversation to be had, but it was never in front of us kids. Dad said the same thing. Yes, they argued. Yes, they had their moments, but they had agreed that no matter how mad they were, it was between them.
Mom did confess to slamming cabinet doors (I remember that! haha) and using the silent treatment. Dad said he would work in the yard or fix something while he cooled down. They both said it could sometimes take a few days to let the dust settle. Eventually, they'd sit down to hash things out.
While I am all about teaching kids to respectfully express their thoughts and feelings in certain family situations, I will always recommend disagreements between the parents is to be kept between the adults.
Your child has no control over the situation. doesn't have the maturity to make appropriate, well-informed choices and shouldn't be asked to.
4. If you can calmly work through a disagreement, it's great for kids to see how to problem solve in a loving, kind respectful way. Be aware of how your body feels, this will indicate if you are calm and able to hold that discussion in a compassionate way or not. If you are using calm voices and kind words (without any snarky comments or insinuations) then you might be okay to resolve the issue in front of the kids. (Each couple and each situation is different...these are only suggestions!)
One last point, remember that disagreeing is part of the process of two individuals coming together for a common purpose, to raise great kids. (For help in seeing the bigger picture, check out this blog on finding each other's strengths. Coming from a more positive perspective can change things immensely. )
Learning to co-parent in any situation can be hard at times, but help is available. If you'd like additional tips and strategies regarding co-parenting, click here to sign up for the Dare to Parent weekly newsletter.