Fighting parents, crying baby: not a good combo

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 26, 2012 06:00 AM

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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

Hello Barbara,
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

Dear Bere,

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.

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4 comments so far...
  1. Also, fighting is bad. Physical fighting (the pushing that the LW is describing) is abuse. That is never okay, and it doesn't get better. This pattern of escalating fighting must stop immediately, because it puts everyone in the household at risk. Seek counseling and if you can't afford it, seek intervention from the Department of Children and Families--they do not want to separate families, they are there to support families be healthy together and as such, can offer many many services to help.

    Posted by katemc June 26, 12 08:33 AM
  1. Best of luck to you. If it helps at all, every couple is fragile with a two month old baby. Sleep deprivation, the demands of a new person with constant needs, changing hormones and roles...it is a wonder we all get through it. Get some help. There is no reason to do this alone. Also look for mother's groups or New Moms, New Baby classes in your area. They will give you good support and some great ideas how to solve whatever problems come up with your baby, which can make your life more harmonious, which can help your boyfriend too. Also, it helps more than you might suspect to sit around with a group of ladies going through the same thing and realize that so much of this stress is par for the course and it WILL get better.

    Hang in there, together, get help together and individually

    Posted by Meri June 26, 12 11:07 AM
  1. The fighting is a serious issue. Get help for that!

    And yes, it affects your son. He isn't damaged for life, but he will be if you do not resolve this problem.

    Better to move out and live on your own than to live with continual fighting.

    Posted by TF June 26, 12 01:04 PM
  1. LW, I think you already know the answer to your question. Of course the screaming will effect your child. Even if he doesn't understand what you're saying to each other now, what about when he does? Do you think you two will magically stop arguing in such a way by the time your child understands words? Take measures to fix the situation now.

    Posted by Linney June 27, 12 10:48 AM
 
4 comments so far...
  1. Also, fighting is bad. Physical fighting (the pushing that the LW is describing) is abuse. That is never okay, and it doesn't get better. This pattern of escalating fighting must stop immediately, because it puts everyone in the household at risk. Seek counseling and if you can't afford it, seek intervention from the Department of Children and Families--they do not want to separate families, they are there to support families be healthy together and as such, can offer many many services to help.

    Posted by katemc June 26, 12 08:33 AM
  1. Best of luck to you. If it helps at all, every couple is fragile with a two month old baby. Sleep deprivation, the demands of a new person with constant needs, changing hormones and roles...it is a wonder we all get through it. Get some help. There is no reason to do this alone. Also look for mother's groups or New Moms, New Baby classes in your area. They will give you good support and some great ideas how to solve whatever problems come up with your baby, which can make your life more harmonious, which can help your boyfriend too. Also, it helps more than you might suspect to sit around with a group of ladies going through the same thing and realize that so much of this stress is par for the course and it WILL get better.

    Hang in there, together, get help together and individually

    Posted by Meri June 26, 12 11:07 AM
  1. The fighting is a serious issue. Get help for that!

    And yes, it affects your son. He isn't damaged for life, but he will be if you do not resolve this problem.

    Better to move out and live on your own than to live with continual fighting.

    Posted by TF June 26, 12 01:04 PM
  1. LW, I think you already know the answer to your question. Of course the screaming will effect your child. Even if he doesn't understand what you're saying to each other now, what about when he does? Do you think you two will magically stop arguing in such a way by the time your child understands words? Take measures to fix the situation now.

    Posted by Linney June 27, 12 10:48 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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