This morning over breakfast, Caleb turned to me with a serious look on his face and asked, “Do you and Dad ever have fights?”
I almost laughed and blurted out, “Of course we do!”, but caught myself. Instead, I tried to give the answer a gravity equal to that with which Caleb had asked the question.
“Well, we don’t have the kind of fights where you throw things or hit people, if that’s what you mean. But we do have arguments and disagreements. Haven’t you heard us arguing about anything before?”
He thought for a moment. “No, not that I can remember.”
I was aghast. I assure you, Paul and I have the normal number of squabbles and differing opinions.
Caleb asked, “What do you argue about?”
I tried to think of the last few times we’d had to work out a problem with each other. “Well, let’s see… we’ve had arguments about how to spend money, and about the best way to discipline you kids. We’ve also had silly disagreements–about things like whether or not your dad was going to take cold medicine, or where to store our game controllers. All married couples have arguments.”
He went back to his breakfast, question answered. I, however, was still wondering.
Perhaps, I thought, Caleb just hasn’t been very observant and doesn’t notice our occasional moments of discord. I tried to remember the last time Paul and I argued with each other in front of the kids. I couldn’t think of one instance. Maybe we’ve been so deliberate over the years about presenting a united front to Katie and Caleb in matters of parenting and discipline that the habit spilled over into shielding them from all of our conflicts.
I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.
It’s important for kids to witness the way that adults work things out. Psychologists tell us that children learn how to handle conflict by watching others, especially parents, handle theirs. Have we left a void in that part of our children’s education? How else will they learn the give and take of compromise, or the unconditional love that isn’t shaken by momentary frustration or anger? If we don’t model the techniques of asserting, listening, and reflecting, where will they learn to communicate effectively?
I’m not entirely sure that we have a problem in this area (I should probably expand my research pool to include Katie, who’s four years older and probably more tuned in to the adults in her sphere), but it’s definitely something I’m going to be more aware of from now on. Conflict is a inescapable fact of human existence, and I want our kids to know how to approach it in a healthy way.
Now I just have to pick a fight with Paul. Hmmm… maybe we could argue about who would win in a cage match between Steve Ballmer and Steve Jobs. That should keep us going for a while.