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The Tantrum: Is Yelling in Front of the Kids OK? Part 3

July 29th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  3 Comments


This week’s Tantrum has an obvious answer. Arguing in front of your kids was part of the recent definition of ghetto parenting, and with good reason: you don’t need to be Phil Zimbardo to realize that a child of a hostile environment may well turn out hostile themselves.

And yet, I’d like to argue in favor of arguing in front of your kids, but only if you’re eventually going to get divorced.

It goes like this: some of my earliest memories of childhood were of hellacious battling between my parents in our little wood-frame house on Virginia Street in Key West. No violence except toward dishes or dressers, if my memory serves me, but lots of shouting and argument. And, in the way that pregnant women all of sudden see other pregnant women everywhere, it seemed like every house on the block had the same rituals at night: the children were put to bed, then ten minutes or so of humid silence, and then suddenly an orchestra of anger erupting from every upstairs window.

The fighting in my house, I have since learned, was my parents trying to work on their relationship. When they gave up that hopeless endeavor—maybe I was six?–the arguing just stopped. It never occurred to us to wonder why. My brother and I accepted it, and we were a house at peace for the next four years, when our parents revealed to us in a somewhat life-changing conversation that they were getting divorced and that we were moving to California with our father.

This, of course, made no sense to us. For years it seemed like everyone had been getting along so well. But the memories of the arguments would come to save me. In the years that followed, I never once suffered under the delusion that some children have that their parents might get back together again. I never once thought it would even be a good idea. Whenever the future felt too uncertain, I had at ready recall all the images and sounds of those flammable nights on Virginia Street to remind me that the past was no better.

So to Theodore, I say, go ahead and argue with the ex-wife in front of JP. Not constantly, but just enough so that he can see and feel what a horrid a match you two are. He will thank the gods that you are no longer together, he will come to love the stresses of your custody schedule. His biggest problem will be trying to figure out what kind of idiots his parents must have been to ever marry one another. And that’s a pretty good problem to have.


  1. Ken says:

    July 29th, 2010at 9:35 am(#)

    I think that this post, and this tantrum, are missing the point that there is a spectrum of conflict between married couples that is being discussed. To more data points: my parents argued (and still argue) and they just celebrated their 42nd anniversary. My wife and I argue and are together 14 years and counting. Conflict is inevitable and to try and hide or repress that “for the sake of the children” does a disservice to you, your spouse and your children. Learning to express disagreement with the people you love is a life skill and by that I mean it takes a lifetime (or two) to master. I agree that verbally abusing your spouse is bad, REGARDLESS of whether it is in front of your kids or not. But showing your children that you can disagree with each other and still love each other (and not divorce) is a VERY important lesson for them (and for us).

  2. Bizarro Ward says:

    July 30th, 2010at 3:59 am(#)

    My wife argues for the both of us.

  3. karen says:

    July 30th, 2010at 3:19 pm(#)

    My husband might say that I argue for the both of us, Bizarro Ward, but really, that just means that he is not stepping up to the plate and entering in the discussion. He makes his position equally as clear by his silence, which is often far more damaging than making his position known. I can guess at what it is from his actions, but often the truth is far different.

    Thanks to decent couples counseling, he is learning that I am not his parent who shut him and their spouse down rather than listen, and that he is entitled to enter into the fray and find a compromise.

    Constructive fighting, or arguing if you please — as I believe Nathan and Ken sort of point out — is done from a place of hope. Silence comes from the land of defeat.

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