The rules of engagment

by Carolyn on August 25, 2009

The good old fashioned argument
The good old fashioned argument

To fight or not to fight?  That is the question.  But don’t rush to answer because I’m adding another element.  To fight or not to fight….in front of your kids?  Yes?  Or would you go with no?

There seems to be two camps on the issue.  The ‘no way’ camp who believes that fighting in front of children is completely wrong.  Research has even helped their cause, showing that babies’ blood pressures go up when they witness their parents arguing.  And of course then there’s Oprah with one of her favorite quotes: “When you fight in front of your children, you change who they are.”.  I talked to a mother once who told me that when her and her husband argue in front of their infant, they use very happy voices despite the words they’re saying.  I couldn’t help but smile, wishing that I could witness such an undoubtedly amusing conversation!

Then there’s the ‘sure, as long as you fight fair’ camp who believes that children witnessing conflict isn’t harmful as long as the fighting is fair and they see their parents make up and resolve the issue at hand.  I tend to side with this camp.  I don’t remember ever seeing my parents argue and it lent an ambiguity to their divorce to me.  I couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to be together when I didn’t remember any drag out fighting.  It never made sense to me as a child and now I read that many children of divorce have the same experience and confusion.

It’s important to me that my kids know that relationships are no walk in the park.  Well, they can be for a while but at some point, two people will disagree.  I want them to see and learn what to do when that happens.  I want to teach them that disagreements don’t end relationships, but instead provide an opportunity to learn more about someone else and sometimes even ourselves.  I want them to feel like they don’t always have to agree with others to be friends or even to love them.  Differences can be respected, admired and disliked; all within the context of love.

And the only way I know how to teach all these things is by modeling it with my partner and hope that I set the example I’m trying to.  It’s challenging.  It takes a level of control that can be difficult to attain.  It’s hard to be mindful when emotions are charged and feelings are hurt.  We are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  But we try.

I find it’s best to have rules.  I guess you could call them our house rules for fighting.  These are our family’s Rules of Engagement:

(disclaimer: for when the kids are around, because when the kiddies are sleeping it’s all fair and love and war…to a point of course :))

No yelling: There’s no need.  Nobody is hard of hearing in our home and a point can be made just as effectively in a calm voice. Besides, our son isn’t intimidated by anybody’s yelling.  If you yell at him, he just figures that’s the preferred mode of communication for the moment and starts yelling back.  So that’s rule #1.

No interrupting: It’s just rude and we are struggling to teach our four year old not to do it.  If you spend the whole argument trying to reiterate your point instead of listening to the other point of view, how will anything get resolved?  I can see this one backfiring on us though as my son is already working on his filibustering skills.

No gesturing: No middle fingers, pretending to shoot ourselves or each other with our hands, tongues sticking out, slamming doors, slapping the backs of our hands, etc. This also includes no mocking or imitating sarcastically.  Just because the audience is four doesn’t mean we have to act like we are as well.

No physical contact: No hitting, slapping, shaking, pushing, pinching, hair pulling or grappling.  Fighting is something we do with our minds not our bodies.

No name calling: Ever.  Descriptions are okay though.  Here’s the distinction: you are acting selfish and not thinking of anyone but yourself VS You’re a selfish pig.  Or: what you just said makes no sense to me VS you’re an incoherent idiot who needs to learn how to string two thoughts together.

Take a break when you need it: When you feel like the rules can’t be adhered to, walk away.  But with a plan to return and finish properly.

Articulate the resolution: Whether it’s agreeing to disagree or one person saying ‘oh, you were right’.  Say how it’s ending and then end it.  Which brings me to the last one:

When it’s over, it’s over: Don’t keep bringing up an issue that’s already been resolved.  There’s no good that can come of bringing up the same thing over and over.  Whether someone conceded (which then can only serve to hurt) or a mutual agreement to disagree was made(which will only serve to reignite the argument), move on and be loving again.  Much like Supernanny’s time out technique where at the end you smootch and move on to something completely different.

Well, that’s all of them.  You can think I’m right or think I’m wrong.  But when we follow these rules I don’t feel bad about fighting and resolving conflicts in front of my kids.  I don’t think my little rules will make you switch camps but if you do belong to my camp, maybe you’ll think about what your own rules of engagement are.  How do your rules differ or do you have any to add?

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 La Bell Mere August 25, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Interesting topic today Carolyn. My parents never argued in front of me either but I’m not sure how it would have effected me if I did.

I agree I think it’s about HOW you argue. If you follow your rules of engagement above then it is more that two people are disagreeing with each other and working it out. My idea of an argument kinda is the whole yelling, interrupting thing. I think you are right – kids don’t need to be given the impression that relationships are a bed of roses and it’s wrong to argue. But they don’t need to be witnessessing full scale slanging matches either.

Oh, and thanks for my birthday message today!!

LBM xxx
.-= La Bell Mere´s last blog ..Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to meeeee……. =-.

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2 Carolyn August 25, 2009 at 8:39 pm

No problem LBM! Thanks for stopping by! Glad you liked the post.

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3 hayley August 25, 2009 at 10:34 pm

I totally agree with you. I also really didn’t see my parents fight while they were married – after they were married I saw them fight a lot. It would have been nice to see that people can fight, fairly, as you suggest, and make up. Andy and I sometimes fight – but I mean this in the most gentle way. They’re not real fights. They’re discussions gone a little haywire. But generally, we keep the serious disagreements away from the kids.

I would add one thing: don’t play the blame game. As in if he says, ” you did this.” And the response is, “oh, well you did THIS.” You either agree, or disagree with the accusation, but don’t respond with another fault.
.-= hayley´s last blog ..The Anti-Newsletter: My List for Increasing Intimacy =-.

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4 Kela August 26, 2009 at 12:14 am

Great post! I totally agree with you. I think we shelter our children too much sometimes. Disagreements and conflict is a natural part of life and our children need to experience that, too. If they see how (it’s all about how you argue) mom and dad argue, come to some sort of consensus, or agree to disagree and move on, then they will likely carry those same examples over to their own relationships (work, marriage, friends…). Thanks for this great post. This site really resonates with me as it provides insight as to how my children (bio and stepson) will feel as adult children of divorce. What a great resource!

Grace and Peace,

*Kela*
.-= Kela´s last blog ..Blended family or stepfamily? =-.

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5 Kitty August 27, 2009 at 6:35 am

I totally agree. Life is life. Conflict happens. It’s best that the kiddos learn how responsible adults handle it, so that they have the right tools to handle it themselves.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. :)
.-= Kitty´s last blog ..Style Tips: A Touch of Whimsy =-.

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6 Kelly August 27, 2009 at 9:26 am

I like your rules! Sometimes it’s easier said than done, though. :)

My parents never divorced, but they did fight in front of us, and I hated it. Even now, I’m almost 30 and feel paniced when my parents start to fight.
.-= Kelly´s last blog ..Work Husbands & Hair =-.

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7 Carolyn August 28, 2009 at 8:27 am

I know that feeling and it’s horrible. Funny how it can still affect us even when we’re all grown up, huh?

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8 Theta Mom August 27, 2009 at 10:21 am

Carolyn,
You impress me more and more with each post. Every parent can take something away from this post. You’re right, the camp that thinks ‘sure, as long as you fight fair’ can be done. I think speaking in a calm manner and disagreeing is totally fine as long as it doesn’t turn into a scream fest. I must admit, we fight in front of the kids and then stop ourselves mid-way when we see that it’s just not appropriate. The kids shouldn’t see parents fight. Bottom line. If I could just listen to my own advice!
.-= Theta Mom´s last blog ..Time Out for Theta Mom Thursday!!! =-.

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9 Carolyn August 28, 2009 at 8:24 am

It’s always easier said than done, isn’t it? We struggle sometimes too even with our own rules.

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10 Lindsay August 27, 2009 at 12:42 pm

I think it’s best to try not to fight in front of the kids, but sticking to that is almost impossible. And when it all boils down to it, it’s a part of life. Children are so much more resilient than this generation of parents wants to recognize. My parents fought when I was a child and I just figured that was part of being husband and wife. And when they divorced when I was six, I remember thinking, “Oh well, at least they won’t fight anymore and be unhappy.” And I was right! ;)
.-= Lindsay´s last blog ..A Post Guaranteed to Make Me EVEN MORE POPULAR at My Daughter’s School =-.

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11 Carolyn August 28, 2009 at 8:22 am

You and they are lucky that their divorce ended the fighting and unhappiness! Rare indeed. Thanks for stopping in again Lindsay!

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12 Holly Bowne August 27, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Great rules! I do believe it’s good for our kids to see their parents “fight fair.” I remember when I was a child, if I heard my parents arguing I would say “stop arguing!” and they would respond “we’re not arguing, we’re having a discussion.” :)

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13 Carolyn August 28, 2009 at 8:21 am

That’s funny. And I think my husband and I have said the same thing to our son. ;)

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14 One Sassy Girl August 27, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Those are rules for life – kids or no kids. We can get so much more accomplished when we listen to others, articulate our own concerns and feel we are heard. Regardless of who changes for how or if an outcome is reached, everyone will walk away feeling some sense of resolve. Well done! Glad LBM brought us to each other ;)
.-= One Sassy Girl´s last blog ..No Dear, After You =-.

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15 Carolyn August 28, 2009 at 8:20 am

Thanks Sassy Girl! And thanks for stopping by!

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16 Vanessa August 27, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Great post! A wonderful reminder for me to remain calm during the arguement. My husband and I have debates over many things but it has never excalated to yelling or using physical force.
.-= Vanessa´s last blog ..BEST INVENTION EVER!! =-.

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17 Carolyn August 28, 2009 at 8:20 am

Good for you! I think when things escalate to physical force it’s gone to place it should just never go. But yelling is another story. As much as we try to stick with the rules, there have been a few times when our voices have gotten a little too loud. I guess the best thing is to just check yourself and calm down and try again. Thanks for stopping by!

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