Family: What Children Don't See, They Hear

A couple had been arguing for a long time and came to see me for some mediation, each one wanting to be 'correct' and desperately wanting to prove the other wrong.

We started by making a list of issues that were being debated. I then asked them to select one that they agreed was a priority. They picked parenting their three children, a boy aged 12 and two girls aged 8 and 6. They both promised to stand by whatever new parenting rules were decided on.

I asked the couple what the children had said to them about all the arguing between them, and they were both quick to say that they never argued in front of the children. They wanted to give their children a safe place, so they did their 'fighting in private'. They did, however, argue in the house when the children were also in the house.

The wife explained that she grew up in a family where her parents did not argue in front of the children. She said she knew that there were problems between her parents but they tried very hard to hide them from the children. The husband stated that he grew up with his sister parented by his mother and it was a quite lonely household. He said that his mother was a very sad women but she tried to hide that from her children.

But this couple were adamant that they had done a better job than their parents in protecting their children from the conflict between them. They were sure that their children did not have any hint of their fighting.

When the wife admitted that their 12 year old son sometimes asked if she was okay, I asked her to think about why he is asking? What is he worried about?

She realised that every time she and her husband came up from the basement after their arguing, the children seemed tense, and their son would often find an opportunity to ask the mother if she was all right. For the first time the parents realised that no matter how much they tried to hide their constant arguments from their children, the children were aware and felt very frightened.

Disagreements between two people, even those who love each other and are committed to their relationship, are a part of life. But how we handle the disagreements, especially when there are children involved, is important.

As new immigrants, trying to settle into a new homeland and create stability for our families, we can face many new challenges - some we have never had to deal with in the old country - and we need to discuss them. Arguing about a few issues is not just understandable, but hard to avoid. That is a part of life and the settlement process. But parents can argue and disagree in a way that is not threatening to the children.

In some areas of discussion it might be all right for the children to listen in and watch the parents find a suitable solution. It helps them to sop worrying that they are part of he problem and encourages them to feel like they are part of the solution.

Aruna Papp, MA, ADR, MEd.
Counsellor/Therapist in Private Practice As an immigrant Aruna took advantage of all the opportunities Canada offers. She attended ESL classes, earned two Masters Degrees and founded 3 immigrant-helping agencies dealing with domestic violence. Now in private practice, she consults for governmental and non-profit agencies, conducts workshops and is a frequent keynote speaker. www.milycounsellingandmediationservices.ca