Fighting in front of our kids — it’s something many parents are loathe to admit they actually do, and some even go so far as calling it shameful. But when UK TV host and writer Fern Britton came out last week saying that she and her husband, TV chef Phil Vickery, argue in front of their kids, I cheered!
The 60-year-old mother of four said, “Yes, we have humdingers, but then we’re normal. Anyway, that’s good for the children to see. This is a real relationship. […] You hear people say, ‘Thirty years and not a cross word.’ Sorry, I simply don’t believe that. But, if it is true, how boring.”
After hearing this, I gave a huge sigh of relief because my husband and I regularly have arguments in front of our children. Of course it isn’t ideal, but sometimes we are just too wound up, emotional, and in the moment to let it go. In those moments, I try not to criticize my husband or bring up past resentments by saying “You did X” or “You didn’t do Y,” and instead try to rationally explain how I am feeling. Sometimes I fail at all of the above, but still it feels honest — on the table, right out there to be dissected and then move on. Because when these arguments happen, my kids see that 15 minutes after our disagreement, we’re already over it; my husband will give me a hug or I will offer to make him a cup of tea.
We show our kids that it’s OK to get annoyed — even angry or frustrated — with your significant other, but that you should never, ever hold grudges or refuse to speak to one another. We always move on super quickly, showing that arguments are healthy, but ignoring each other or being cold and silent is not.
Sure, sometimes when I hear my kids raise their voices at one another, there is a part of me that feels pangs of guilt that they’ve learned it from me. But I have also taught them the importance of resolution and seeing things from other people’s perspective. There isn’t an argument my kids witness where they also don’t see either me or my husband (or sometimes both of us!) apologizing for being wrong, or out of line.
Before my husband and I were married, we went to marriage counseling at the request of our minister, where we were asked, “Are you a ‘rhino’ or ‘hedgehog’?” In other words, did we charge full steam ahead in arguments, like a rhino, or did we curl up in a ball and refuse to engage or communicate with our partner, like a hedgehog? My husband quipped that we were both rhinos, but he had to pretend to be a hedgehog to maintain peace!
It was during these counseling sessions that we discovered that while two rhinos are certainly combustible and often fiery, it is actually the healthier relationship style, as you get your grievances out on the table, work through them, and then move on.
The counselor told us that when two hedgehogs have a disagreement, they just curl up in a ball — hiding from the issue — and often go days or even weeks festering with resentment about a situation. In those cases, arguments stay unresolved; little acorns of anger grow into big trees, which leads to an uncomfortable atmosphere where neither partner is acknowledging the other. Imagine kids in between that, walking on eggshells, thinking maybe they caused the problem? Seeing their parents avoid each other and treat each other coldly? I grew up in a household just like this, where my mother and her partner wouldn’t speak for days. Being in the middle of their silent resentments was horrible. My mom and I would eat dinner together, while her partner sat in a separate room all evening watching TV. The tension in the house was unbearable; I felt trapped and lonely and wished I could escape.
So that’s why now, as a parent myself, I never want my children to have to experience something like I did. They’ll see my husband and I argue. And to counteract those tiffs, I also make sure they see us hug and kiss and appreciate each other. I make sure they know I love daddy very much, but sometimes we all get a bit stressed and react in ways that are not our best self. That in life we will all have rows with colleagues, family, and friends and it is OK to be cross, but being a bigger person and remembering to apologize and take responsibility for our part in the argument is the most important thing. To accept we could have done better, to forgive them (and ourselves), and move on.