Baby suffers when parents fight frequently

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  November 13, 2012 06:00 AM

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[My partner and I] argue all the time and my 6 month old son is usually present. How much is this affecting him? I want to leave my partner but he refuses to let us split and won't move out because he thinks we can get better. I'm just scared of the damage this could do to our son.

From: Kat, Birmingham, Alabama

Dear Kat,

Your instinct is right: Babies are affected when parents argue loudly and repeatedly in front of them.

Babies are so closely attuned to us that they learn to read our signals. When we get tense, say, in anticipation of disagreeing with a spouse, they get tense, too. It's not that your baby understands what you're saying; the raised voices, and the tone of the voices becomes over-stimulating to a baby. And I don't just mean that the baby starts to cry; there can actual medical implications, such as raising a baby's blood pressure.

Research at the Gottman Institute in Seattle shows that continued exposure over time can lead to a range of negative outcomes for children that include aggression, withdrawal, depression, irritability, psychosomatic illness, regression, sleeplessness, insecurity about relationships, and inability to manage conflict.

Quite a list, huh? If there is physical violence, the outcome is exacerbated.

Seems like you have to make a decision to either agree to stay and, together, get some professional help to put in the work and effort to make this relationship healthy, or you need to end it. Parents should never feel that they can't disagree or go through spells of being unhappy with each other. The key is knowing how to disagree in ways that are respectful of our differences and still supportive of each other. In fact, when that happens, it can actually be a positive role model for our kids.

But as I've said before in answer to questions like this, if you read this wonder about the way you and your spouse fight in front of the kids, it's time for counseling. Kat, I would certainly put you in that category. Don't let this drag on.

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3 comments so far...
  1. I would look further into your relationship honestly. Based on your comments, it sounds like a very controlling relationship. It sounds like the partner controls YOU! I agree in a family unit being teh best for family but under what circumstances????!!! This doesn't even sound at all healthy for your baby.

    "I want to leave my partner but he refuses to let us split and won't move out because he thinks we can get better. I'm just scared of the damage this could do to our son."

    He won't LET you??

    Maybe I am being a little paranoid and melodramatic here...but that comment frightens me for a multitude of reasons...but first and foremost the well-being of your baby. Seek authorized help if you cannot come to an amicable decision.

    Posted by jd November 13, 12 06:59 AM
  1. I need to talk to my ex-wife about our kid's. I call her at work and aske her to call me on her drive home so we can talk about the kid's without them around. Kid's are like sponges - fighting, yelling, swearing - all have a negative effect on children - 6months or 6 years old! No study or book needed to come to this conclusion.

    Fighting involves a skill set. Knowing when and how to "fight/argue" versus letting it go is very important. Fight/argue - yes BUT - NEVER - in front of children.

    Here's a good way to proceed - If YOU - THINK - it could have a negative effect on your child, then DON'T DO IT!

    Posted by Adult November 13, 12 10:49 AM
  1. I can say first hand that kids absolutely suffer when their parents fight. I'm a 40 year old male and only child to my parents. They fought (yelling, nothing physical) endlessly. This was usually followed by mother crying over and over again. When I was young (up to around 10 or 12) I would hide in my bed with my pillow over my head. The result. I'm not married because I'm scared to death of reliving those moments. I also have difficulty getting into and maintaining relationships with women. I've resigned myself to a lifetime of being alone.

    Posted by Joe November 13, 12 11:53 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. I would look further into your relationship honestly. Based on your comments, it sounds like a very controlling relationship. It sounds like the partner controls YOU! I agree in a family unit being teh best for family but under what circumstances????!!! This doesn't even sound at all healthy for your baby.

    "I want to leave my partner but he refuses to let us split and won't move out because he thinks we can get better. I'm just scared of the damage this could do to our son."

    He won't LET you??

    Maybe I am being a little paranoid and melodramatic here...but that comment frightens me for a multitude of reasons...but first and foremost the well-being of your baby. Seek authorized help if you cannot come to an amicable decision.

    Posted by jd November 13, 12 06:59 AM
  1. I need to talk to my ex-wife about our kid's. I call her at work and aske her to call me on her drive home so we can talk about the kid's without them around. Kid's are like sponges - fighting, yelling, swearing - all have a negative effect on children - 6months or 6 years old! No study or book needed to come to this conclusion.

    Fighting involves a skill set. Knowing when and how to "fight/argue" versus letting it go is very important. Fight/argue - yes BUT - NEVER - in front of children.

    Here's a good way to proceed - If YOU - THINK - it could have a negative effect on your child, then DON'T DO IT!

    Posted by Adult November 13, 12 10:49 AM
  1. I can say first hand that kids absolutely suffer when their parents fight. I'm a 40 year old male and only child to my parents. They fought (yelling, nothing physical) endlessly. This was usually followed by mother crying over and over again. When I was young (up to around 10 or 12) I would hide in my bed with my pillow over my head. The result. I'm not married because I'm scared to death of reliving those moments. I also have difficulty getting into and maintaining relationships with women. I've resigned myself to a lifetime of being alone.

    Posted by Joe November 13, 12 11:53 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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