Before you have kids, you plan on never arguing in front of them. But my wife, Kirsten, and I realized over the years that it’s difficult to avoid arguing in front of kids—especially with seven children. Sure, in some marriages, there’s very little arguing. In others, there’s lots of it. Maybe you’re a single dad and your arguments are with your ex-wife. Or, maybe you’re arguing with your parents when you visit. Point is, when you have kids, it’s important to know where to draw the line. What do you think? Is arguing in front of your kids acceptable or something you avoid?
I think how you argue matters. Now, I’m not talking about any kind of physical or verbal abuse. That type of stuff is always wrong. But there are times when you’re going to argue—and it’s going to happen in front of your kids. Where do you draw the line? And what do your kids think? We recently asked our kids about arguing and the conversation surprised us. Here are 3 questions to ask your kids about arguing.
Question 1: Should we argue in front of you?
One recent argument started over who should go shoe shopping for our kids. My argument was set on making it easier for Kirsten to stay home. But Kirsten’s argument was that I had just returned from traveling, and since I’d been away from home, she thought it would be better to make shoe shopping a family outing. She was thinking of me. I was thinking of her. We argued. Our kids noticed.
Now, we’re at the age and stage as parents that our older boys physically hit each other. They can go from zero to a boxing match pretty quickly. When asked, one of our kids told us, “It’s good that you argue in front of us because we learn how to not physically fight and instead argue using words.” Sometimes, arguing in front of them may show your kids how to have healthy conflict. Remember, your home is a kids’ training camp for adulthood. Think about it—if and when your kids have families of their own, will they know what’s healthy and what’s not with arguing?
Question 2: How does it make you feel?
When we asked this question, it became a bonding moment among the siblings. The older kids shared with the younger kids what they thought about arguing when they were younger. We were able to see from each child’s perspective how our kids interpret arguments differently.
If you’re going to ask these questions, be sure you’re ready to comfort your kids and validate their feelings. It’ll ultimately be up to you to change things or not. Will you feel free to argue with others in front of them all the time? Or will you need to be more mindful of arguing in front of the kids? Be sure you pause and seek to understand what your kids are feeling.
Question 3: What can we do differently?
If you are married and your kids think you’re going to divorce over shoes, it may be time to dial your argument back. What’s far-fetched to you is real to your child. Your words are powerful and they can be received with different ears depending on ages and stages. Be vigilant about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Learn to decide what’s worth going to the mat for when your kids are around and what’s worth keeping in private.
During our shoe-shopping argument, on the way to the store, we literally turned around in the car and said, “Hey, just so you know, we’re arguing because we’re both basically thinking of the other person and we can’t get over the fact the other person won’t take the advice of the other one.” We followed that up with a conversation about why we were all in the car going to the store together, and how we needed to spend more time connecting.Remember, as a dad, the primary way you change the world is in your home.
With seven kids, it’s important to know what our kids are seeing in our home. We have seven constant witnesses to how we handle conflict. We’re modeling something every time we argue. I tell my kids all the time that they can change the world. Remember, as a dad, the primary way you change the world is in your home. If you’re wondering how you’re doing in this area, ask your kids.
Sound off: What are some other questions we can ask our kids about arguing?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “How does it make you feel when I argue with your mom?”