Verbal Heartbreak

I wake up with a start. It must be around midnight. My room dark all but the light of the living room gleaming down the hallway into my room casting a faint glow on my bedroom floor. I hear yelling and cursing, and numerous amounts of name calling. My heart picks up speed and I feel a panicky feeling in my chest. I slip out of my bed quietly and stand by my door, afraid that something bad might happen again. My name is mentioned in my parents’ spat and I flinch as if someone raised their hand to slap me. Tears escape my eyes soundlessly and I gasp to catch my breath. Are they fighting about me? Did I do something wrong? Even when they were not fighting about me, I still felt guilty. A couple years later, I found out that they had stayed together for me. But what would hurt me worse? Would my parents splitting up, or the constant fighting I witness due to the fact that they had to deal with each other hurt me more?

This was one of many times I was around or overheard my parents when they fought. It was almost a regular thing. Every fight made my skin prickle, my stomach queasy, and my mouth dry, even the small arguments, because I never knew what would happen next. How I felt when my parents fought made me resolve that I never wanted my own children one day to ever feel that way. I resolved that I would never willingly allow another child to go through this as well. I felt unsafe. I felt responsible and guilty for every fight as if I caused them myself.

Unfortunately, upon researching the subject more, I found that many more people have experienced the same as me. Other children felt like they were the one to blame for their parents fighting or they were stressed. In a three year study of more than 300 families . . . the study shows even though your argument may have nothing to do with the kids, if you fight the wrong way, it threatens their emotional stability (abc news). Some parents believe that it is none of their children’s business when they fight with each other. What they do not know is every time they yell at each other and fight; they are hurting their children and making the home a stressful environment. Home is supposed to be the one place that feels safe. No child should ever have to feel unsafe or unsure in their own home. There are many other ways, children can be negatively affected, both long term and short term from being around their parents verbally and physically fighting. There is also a way to combat it.

You would never expect that simply arguing in front of your children could affect them so much. One may believe that children do not really notice these things. Believe me, they do. “Little eyes are watching, little ears are listening,” says Glucoft Wong (Diana Divecha Ph.D.). No matter what parents think, their children are fully aware of what is truly going on. Ashik Siddique, a medical researcher, reporter, and a writer for Medical Daily, says that a new study finds that arguing in front of your baby might sensitize the infant’s brain to stress. It does not matter if you think they are too young to even remember, you are hurting their development, and that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Another study found that an infant’s brain will pay more attention to angry voices and noises than happy or neutral tones (Ashik Siddique). Not only does this show that even infant’s notice fights, but that they definitely will in the future. Also be aware, some research has shown that children as young as six months old can feel tension from their parents (Diana Divecha Ph.D.). Bad tension can easily be felt already now as an adult, but babies are like little radars for finding negativity in the air. Any type of bad arguments in front of your children at any age can scar them for life.

Of course fighting in front of the children can hurt and affect them right now. A study from Cardiff University shows that arguing in front of children can seriously damage them (Abc News). Kids look to their parents how to act. “Children who see their parents fighting or arguing in front of them learn that fighting is the way to solve problems,” says Arthur Robin, Ph.D. director of psychology training at DMC Children’s Hospital in Detroit (Karen, LoBello). The parents are supposed to be setting the example for their kids. LoBello also says, “A child’s friendships ultimately suffer when he isn’t equipped to handle disputes in a constructive manner.” If the parents do not properly handle conflict, the children are likely to not either, not only in their present, but also their future.

Children are in the most attentive stage of their life and what they see now will hold with them all the way to their future. “Early life experiences can strongly influence a person’s response to events in the future,” says Ashik Siddique, a medical researcher, reporter, and writer for Medical Daily. What they see, hear, and learn now will shape them for their future. That leads the parents to be one of their biggest and greatest examples to follow. Parents are the example of what being an adult looks like and future relationships.

Although I clearly do not remember my parents fighting when I was two and younger, I can assume they did. It would explain why I am so affected by the simple raise of a voice around me. I have always been very in tuned with my parents’ emotions. Barely the age of three, I remember hearing angry voices from my crib. I remember watching my dad cry into a pillow on his bed in his cool dark room and wondering why he was sad. I remember so many little details from these memories and many more. I do not know if this is a normal occurrence for other children. However, if I can remember this much, I am sure other children can/could, too.

  1.         Mark Cummings says that, “Kids don’t get use to it.” He could not be more right. That panicky anxiety filled feeling I felt then, is the same feeling I still feel at the age of nineteen today.

The effect for witnessing rough fights in kids is not only apparent now, but they will also show face in the children’s future as well. Diana Divecha, Ph.D., says, “A recent study shows that even nineteen year olds remained sensitive to parental conflict.” I was shocked when I read this; it made sense why I experienced such rage and anxiety whenever my parents fight still. Clearly, the effects of witnessing verbal and physical abuse will still be evident even after the child grows up. I am not the only one who has been affected.

There is new science in recent years that explains why kids are so negatively impacted by these fights. In a 1998 study from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente it says, “. . .study of more than 17,000 middle-class Americans documented quite clearly that adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) can contribute to negative adult physical and mental health outcomes and affect more than 60% of adults.” This means that even though it happened between birth and age eighteen, the effects will last all the way into adulthood.

Some stress in our lives is normal and completely necessary for learning and development. It’s the type of stress that results when a child experiences ACE’s that it may become toxic (Adverse Childhood Experiences). Toxic stress is when there is a strong, frequent, or prolonged activation of the stress response systems in the body in the absence of the faltering protection of a supportive, adult relationship (“Adverse Childhood Experiences”). The biological response to toxic stress can be immensely destructive and likely to last a lifetime (“Adverse Childhood Experiences”). A few short years of a chaotic childhood could result in a lifetime of hurt and disconnection. Researchers have found that many of the most common adult life-threatening health problems of today such as obesity, heart disease, alcoholism, and drug use are directly linked to childhood adversity (“Adverse Childhood Experiences”) This toxic stress that happens in our childhoods, could also be the death of us in our adult lives. The toxic stress weakens us, our bodies, and our minds.

How do we resolve the problem? You can argue in front of your child, in fact there are lessons they can even learn from it. It is how you and your partner handle yourselves in the fight in front of your children that make or break their future habits. “When conflicts are handled constructively, kids learn to compromise, compassion, and to use humor and warmth to solve disagreements,” Murphy says, “They also learn that conflict with someone you love is not the end of the world.” The children can be taught through witnessing their parents good marriage and conflict resolution.

Every marriage has its quarrels and conflicts, it is inevitable. However, how the partners go about it is what matters. Couples that are happy and get along have more time to be emotionally available and sensitive to the children and their needs than couples that are caught up or constantly in conflict (Abc News). Happy parents are just all around more beneficial for the whole family. Happy parent mean happy children.

A smart woman by the name of Glucoft Wong has five tips to help parents resolve conflict, keep up an endearing relationship, and be a role-model when it comes to problem-solving for their children. The first tip is to “[l]ead with empathy.” Parents should show love and understanding towards each other and remember the way they would feel in each other’s shoes. In Wong’s second tip “[g]ive your partner the benefit of the doubt.” The parents should always assume the best of each other and use words of endearment, such as “I’m sorry I was late for dinner, sweetheart…” Wong’s third tip is “[r]emember that you’re on the same team.” It would help parents to deal with the situation by putting absolutely all of the problems out there, instead of working against each other, work together on what needs to be fixed. Wong’s fourth tip being “[c]onstructive criticism only works when your partner can do something about what happened.” Parents should not blame each other for something in the past and something that cannot be fixed. In Wong’s fifth tip, she says, “Anything that needs to be said can be said with kindness.” Any type of disapproval, disappointed, and exasperated tones should be left out completely. Speak in sweet tones and with kind words. Wong’s tips can make parents’ lives more peaceful and healthy, and also can teach children good marital skills.

My own personal tip for parents is that if they truly love their significant others and their children, they will find a way to work things out in a calming and loving manner to benefit everyone. These tips are just a few good ones out of the many out there for parents who care. Parents should seek therapy or a marriage counselor if they are continuously having trouble managing correctly during conflicts. Parents should not just do it for themselves, but for their children as well.

Parents should not stay together just for the sake of the children. Not every conflict can be resolved. Occasionally parents will realize that they cannot continue with their relationship (DeNoon). If the parents realize they cannot work it out and no longer want to be together, the children are better off if they get divorced. WebMD says, “Jones, an expert in children of divorced parents, says children do suffer when their parents’ marriage breaks up. But it’s even harder if parents stay together solely for the sake of the kids.” The suffering a child feels will be singular, compared to the many feelings and suffering a child will experience due to the parents trying to stay together just for them. A child will figure out why his parents are still together, and then he will start to blame himself for every fight. In the end, it remains that less damage will be dealt by getting divorce instead of the agony both the kids and parents will go through enduring what is “for the child’s sake”.

There are some parents who refuse to see how they are affecting their children with their choices and fighting. These people can be told they are hurting their kids countless times and even their own children will plead with them to stop, and they still will not understand. They will still believe that nothing is wrong. Unfortunately, I believe these people are just too simple to realize what they are doing. Upon this point, different measures are needed to take place such as possible involvement of Child Youth Services and damage control on the children.

Sometimes children’s parents that are not even together anymore still manage to fight constantly. They fight over the kids, they fight over new lovers, and they fight over money. These are some of the worse cases upon where the children really get hurt. Parents say things they do not truly mean. They accidently (sometimes purposefully) force children to pick sides in arguments. When the parents are angry at each other they tend to say out loud or tell the children what they are thinking in the moment of the other parent. If a child is forced to pick a side, they will learn to be disrespectful towards a parent. They will feel that if their other parent can get away with being disrespectful, that they can, too. In these situations, the best way to mend this problem is to learn to agree to disagree and separate yourself from the situation. If the parents cannot get along in other aspects, the only time they need to talk is for the children.

A child in a family full of fighting has such a greater chance of being verbally violent in the future. They may marry someone who yells at them just like their parents did and they will think it is okay and that is how it is supposed to be; but it is not. Times like these, when a child grows up in an environment, often than not they will seek the same thing in their future. Then their children will go through the same childhood that they did. It all repeats itself like a cycle. Sometimes the children grow up to be just like the parents and all the fights they witnessed as a child. I am living proof that that sometimes they do not.

You will never be able to guard your children from everything, but how you fight in front of them is in your control. You can either pretend that screaming at your partner in front of them really does not affect them and scar them for life and hurt their development, or you can show them how to handle yourselves in an argument so that one day they, too, can do the same. When it comes to kids there is always a lesson to be taught, and it is up to the parents to teach that lesson. Children can be affected by bad parental fights from birth to the rest of their lives. There is detrimental stress to the children caused when the parents fight uncontrollably. Children should not have to stress out their entire childhood and parents should always want best for their kid. One of the best thing for kids is to be shown how to properly act.

I grew up thinking that everything that happened with my parents was normal and okay. It was not until I was around other friend’s parents that I realized it was not. I was constantly upset, constantly blaming myself, always waiting for the next fight. Even though it was my parent’s decision to stay together for me for years, I blamed myself. I blamed myself for every little fight. I still blame myself.

For myself, researching the short term and long term effects of fighting in front of children has really opened my eyes, my heart, and my mind. This was a very touching and personal experience that I, too, have had the displeasure of experiencing as a child and into young adulthood. I have discovered memorializing in print my thoughts, experiences, and research has helped tremendously in my own personal healing process with said subject. My hopes are that when others read this, they, too, may find the same peace as I.