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.