Dear Readers, For those of you who read Mailbag regularly, forgive me for publishing this question about parents' fighting so soon on the heels of a similar question earlier this month, linked below. I try not to repeat but I hope you'll agree this is an important enough issue that it deserves an answer. BFM
I'm embarrassed to ask this but I really need to know. I"m living with my boyfriend and lately we have been arguing and yelling and screaming and even pushing each other a lot. We have a cute son, he is only 2 months old. We do all those stuff in front of him and when I start to cry he just looks at me and makes a sad face then smiles at me and when he is sleeping and we start arguing in his sleep he starts to cry, ...and doesn't stop even though he is so small. Can he know what's going on?? Can that affect him now or even later on? Thanks, hope you can answer my question soon.
From: Bere, Des Moines
Babies are highly responsive to sensory input, especially when it comes from the people he knows best: his parents. He doesn't understand what you're saying but he can pick up on vibes. He can't recognize words, but he can recognize your voice, and he knows by its pitch and timbre that something is wrong. He knows if you're angry, sad, depressed. So, yes, studies, notably by psychologist John Gottman, show that babies react to parental stress and become stressed themselves from it: They tend to cry a lot and to eat poorly.
Here's something else research shows: when parents fight, they are drained of the emotional energy they need to care for their baby. Instead of feeling sympathetic to a crying baby, they are annoyed or unhappy with him. Instead of comforting him, they tend to pop a pacifier in his mouth. A steady diet of this is bad: At this early stage of development, a baby should be learning that he can trust his caregivers to meet his needs and that his environment is safe. That helps give a baby a healthy emotional start in life.
From what you're describing, your baby is already potentially at risk because of your fighting. I don't know resources in Des Moines, but I bet if you ask your pediatrician for help, or your primary care physician, he or she will point you in the right direction so you can get the support. You need to figure out how to proceed in your relationship with your boyfriend as well as in your role as a new mother.
I hope you'll let me know how things are going.