I recently had a parent who came into the office to talk about her marital difficulties that she was having with her spouse. Her secondary concern was that she wondered how this was affecting her children. She wanted to know if she had done irreparable damage and more importantly she was wondering how it was affecting her children's view of marriage and healthy relationships. After all, a healthy parent knows that his or her job is to raise healthy children who maintain meaningful relationships.
This can be a very complex situation because as I explain to parents that often times the results of parental fighting depends on the sensitivity level of a child. It also depends on the intensity or frequency of the fighting. In general, children are very resilient and can weather the intermittent arguing that occurs between parents unless the fights are incredibly intense, abusive or frequent.
If you have participated in these kinds of fights, you may want to believe that it is not affecting him or her because you have taken steps to keep your child insulated from it as much as possible. You have tried to argue when he/she has not been in the room or has been outside or has been asleep. Unfortunately children who listen to their parents fighting are hyper vigilant about what is going on even if they are not in the same room. For these kinds of children, just waiting for the next argument can be very detrimental to their psyches.
This reality is not meant to make you feel guilty but it is to be a wakeup call; that follow up with your child will likely help your child process a tough situation. You will need to talk with him/her about the fighting and the fact that you know it is not healthy to live like this. It helps to share with your child what you are going to do to remedy the problem. You may explain that you and your spouse are going to get counseling and work out the problems. Or if your spouse refuses to go to counseling, you can inform your child that you intend to get some counseling. Perhaps you need to share with your child that there may be an exit plan in the future so that you keep everybody safe from the chronic fighting. The important thing is to convey that you are in the process of making healthy changes for you and your family. It may also be necessary to get your child into individual or family therapy so that they can have their feelings validated.
The most important thing to do here is to teach your child about things in their life. Kids typically feel compelled to make things better. It is important for a neutral source like another adult, a teacher, or a counselor, to let your child know that they did not cause the problem, they cannot control the problem, nor can the cure the problem!
So if this column resonates with you, I would encourage you to seek the assistance of a counselor. Together you can figure out what is the next strategy to make the healthiest choice for your family. Raising kids is not easy but almost any situation can be a teachable moment to help both you and your child grow stronger. It's important for you to work with somebody to stop the isolation and to team up to figure out the next step!