Are We Too Stable? Conflict Role Modeling After Divorce

One of the issues with divorce parenting is the question of relationship role modelling. How will children learn what a good relationship looks like if they never see one? How will they learn how to treat someone in a marriage? More specifially—how will they learn to deal with conflict?  This is a sensitive issue for me, because I blame conflict avoidance in large part for the demise of my marriage to my children's father. I have learned that in order to keep a relationship healthy, you can't let things simmer below the surface for years.

I don’t know how valid of a concern this is, since children are actually in relationships already—just not romantic ones. In fact, I think the sibling relationship is a pretty good foundation for learning how to treat people you live with, but even if kids don’t have siblings, they have parents, teachers, and friends. But since most if not all divorced parents have guilt and anxiety about parenting—and they tell me non-divorced parents also have guilt and anxiety about parenting as well—I thought it was a nice subject to obsess about for an afternoon.

My kids and I have been cohabitating with my SigO for several years now. He and I present (I think anyway) a stable relationship role model for the children.  But is it too stable? The nature of shared parenting allows us to do all our fighting when the kids aren’t home, or at least when they are sound asleep.  The boys have never seen us fight.  Oh sure, they have witnessed a clipped sentence followed by, “We’ll talk about that later,” on one or two occasions, but by-and-large we present as a happy couple that never argues. Which is a lie. 


The current parenting trend is one that discourages arguing in general. We expect our precious little darlings to talk it out and never raise their voices to each other, which is all well and good in a utopia, but not actually how I operate in my own life. 

Sometimes I get mad at my SigO. Sometimes I use a harsh tone of voice. Sometimes I am completely irrational and refuse to back down and it is only after an hour of arguing with him that I can finally see my own part in the problem.  OK, full disclosure, sometimes it is a few days before I am ready to compromise.  And I don’t think this is that unusual.

For example, yesterday my SigO cleaned the whole house and put the dish soap under the sink. I put the dish soap back on the counter when I washed dishes and left it there, because dish soap belongs on the counter. He came in the kitchen and put it back under the sink.  We had words about the ideal location for dish soap, and they weren’t all philosophical.

I think a lot of stupid arguments aren’t actually stupid, they are just about the wrong things. We fight over things like dish soap when we really are mad about who cleans the most, or who makes the bigger mess. In this instance, my SigO is definitely a far more thorough house cleaner than I am, and I provide the things that make the most mess—children and pets. But I am the one who cleans most often, and therefore feel like I get to decide where the dish soap resides, since I use it most of the time. But of course this whole spat (and its resolution) happened out of sight of the children. By the time they came home from Daddy’s everything was smooth and easy again.

I don’t want to fight with my SigO in front of the children. I don’t want to argue with anyone in front of the children. So how are my kids going to learn that it is OK to fight, sometimes necessary to fight (particularly if they live with someone who hides the dish soap) and that there are acceptable ways to argue and ways that cross the line?  I spent several hours of a road trip contemplating my failure as a parent for not role-modeling conflict resolution, before I came to an important realization:

In less than two years my eldest will become a teenager. This will naturally present all the angst and strife we will need!  I am sure we can all look forward to several years of arguments around the dinner table and in the hallway at midnight. I'll relax, and keep our grownup strife out of their view for just a little while longer. 

Related: How Fighting Well Makes Us Stronger

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