Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fighting In Front Of The Kids - What's the Harm?

This was a strange week. I assisted two parents in making reports to Child Protective Services. This was out of the norm, even for me as a mandated reporter. I might make a half a dozen reports a year. I almost always have the parent report with my assitance when possible and rarely do I report without their knowledge. The only time I would report without a parent's knowledge is if it would cause additional harm to the child. When working with families, I encourage parents to acknowledge what has happened, develop a safety plan and self-report whenever possible.

The theme is a common one, fighting in front of the kids does it really do harm? You might think so if you were to hear the 12 year old state, "place me anywhere but home." We assessed for suicidal ideation based on the writing on some school papers stating "death" and "what's the use, my parents don't care about me." The drawings of coffins on the arms might also be a clue. She acted out a couple of suicidal gestures with a big grin on her face as she talked about the fighting that was going on in the home. "It happens all the time" she states as she indicates how she is mad at both of her parents. "It is easier to let mom know how mad she is because mom won't do anything and Dad will get mad and Dad is scarier then mom."

Which parent is to blame? Who is in the wrong? Is it the parent who screams out how stupid you are or the one who yells, "your children need you". Is this a failure to protect case? What would keep a parent from leaving a situation that is aggressive, demeaning and upsetting? Perhaps it is the lack of driver's license, no car or no money to go somewhere else? Perhaps there is no support or maybe it is the excuses, "he didn't mean it" or "she loves me" or "I promised my children I would never divorce." Does it really matter who or why?

Maybe the most important thing is to make it stop. To just do whatever it takes to not carry on in front of the children. Dr. Phil McGraw tells the story that he and his father used to get into loud debates and arguments and one day he realized that he didn't want to do that anymore so he made a life law to just stop. As he tells it, just as he doesn't have to make a decision on a daily basis about whether he hurts small animals or babies, he no longer has to make a decision about whether he is going to yell at his dad or not. It just is not going to happen. This would be a good life law for parents to adopt. This does not mean that you don't have disagreements what it means is you leave out the loudness, the aggression, the violence and the contemptuous name calling. It means that you now have an opportunity to teach your children how to be in relationships in a healthy way. The fighting does not have to be violent in order to negatively impact your children.

It may be a good time for you to do a self assessment.

What am I teaching my children if I leave? What am I teaching my children if I stay treating their mother/father like this? What am I really teaching them about relationships? What do I want to teach them? Do I really want them to grow up and stay in a relationship that belittles, disempowers or breaks their spirit? Do I want to teach them that all behaviors are acceptable if you love someone? Do I want to teach them love is painful and suffering is not optional?

So stop. I know you would if you could. If you can't then please ask for help. There are so many resources out there. Google the topics - anger management, mood management or emotional detachment, look for a counselor, take personal responsiblity for what you are doing. There are so many ways to get help, to find some peace. Haven't you been angry, hostile and disappointed long enough? When you stop like who you are and how you are behaving it is time for action.

~ Deb


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