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Child Caring

Parents fighting in front of the baby need help. Now.

[This letter has been condensed.]
What is the effect of violence in front of a one year old baby and if she physically got hurt during our fight?..
Please help me, I don't know what to do anymore...my husband and I, when we were not yet married, decided to go separate ways but then days later, we found out I was pregnant ...because of that, he married me ... and since then we have been fighting nastily and sometimes we become violent and she is just beside us...
Recently, we had our worst fight ever and my baby was 1 yrold alrdy, we were slapping, punching, kicking each other and our baby suddenly went to my back and I fell on top of her, she was crying so hard that we stopped and before that she walks in the middle and is trying so hard to stop us by smiling and making us laugh...I take her to the other room but she keeps on going back to us and throwing herself in the middle of our fight...please help as it is breaking my heart that I have done this terrible thing to my little girl who does not deserve all our fights...

From: Carmelitta, Philippines

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Dear Carmelitta,

Yes, there are potentially serious outcomes for children who see their parents fight, even if they are babies, especially if it's frequent, especially if it's violent. The more violent and frequent the fighting, the worse the potential outcome. When the child is physically a victim of abuse, that makes things even worse. There's a long list of negative outcomes, from withdrawal and depression to psychosomatic illness, regression and inability to manage their own relational conflicts in life. For more on this, see my response to a previous LW.

There are some topics that come up repeatedly in letters here and I often screen them out , but this issue has such potential negative outcomes for children that I don't want to miss an opportunity to respond to parents who reach out for help. I know cultural differences might be a factor for you, but my best advice is this: you and your husband need professional guidance. In the US, there are workshops and centers devoted to parents with marital problems (here's one). I don't know what's available to you, but you and your husband made a decision to marry when there was a baby coming. Now you have a responsibility to that child. Talk to your pediatrician or clergy for a recommendation if you don't know where to start.

You were right to recognize that this is a problem. Now that you've had your fears confirmed, don't wait to get help.