Last night I received this message from a reader (shared with persmission):
Tonight my husband & I had a fight. Non physical & no name calling, just loud & aggressive. This is so out of character for us but we both lost our shit. It was after my 3 year old was put to bed but mid fight she heard us & instantly began to scream & cry. I watched her on the monitor for a moment & then calmly went up to console her. I didn’t mention the fight or even the incident at all. I simply calmed her back to sleep. Deep down I feel like we’ve royally screwed up & in the process screwed her up. What do you do to insure your child won’t be fucked ip for life? Or am I being silly because fighting is a natural thing? Ugh I’m so disgusted with us. I just need someone to assure me a child won’t be permanently scarred.
Before I say anything, let me make it clear that I am not a licensed therapist or psychiatrist.
But I do have lots of experience in lots of different areas. And I can assure you that your child will not be permanently scarred.
Not from this incident, anyway.
I know how you feel right now. You have that feeling in your stomach like when you’ve gotten caught in a lie or gotten into a car accident, or some other shitty thing has happened.
You can’t stop thinking about it.
You may be obsessing over it.
Then you forget about it for a little while, or you wake up in the morning the day after it happens and you are feeling good for minute or two, and then that feeling comes back.
And you think, why do I have this feeling in my stomach? And then you remember.
Fuck. That fight. I wish I could turn back the clock and go redo that moment.
I get it. That feeling sucks. But it will go away with time.
It is easy to allow guilt take over your brain.
But that doesn’t help you. So forgive yourself.
I know the experts say that fighting with your spouse in front of the kids is like the worst thing you can do.
And no, it’s not a healthy behavior for you to model for your daughter. But you already know that.
Your daughter is not going to be fucked up for life from this incident.
And you are not the only mother and father to lose their shit in front of their kids.
I know, because it has happened to me.
But this is just a little blip on the radar. I promise.
So there is no point in beating yourself up.
Obviously you don’t want to make a habit out of this.
Instead, use this as a lesson.
Should you find yourself approaching this situation again with your husband, first, remember how shitty you feel right now.
And don’t allow things to escalate.
Take a breath. Take ten breaths. Tell your husband you need a time out. Tell your husband you’d like to continue discussing whatever the thing is that you are discussing, but that you want to do it when you are calm and when you won’t say something that you might regret later.
And if that’s not enough, if you can’t get yourself back on track that way, or if you find that you and your husband are in need of more help than that, find yourself a (good) therapist.
I recommend someone who specializes in imago therapy.
As for your daughter, if she is anything like most of my kids, she will wake up in the morning and be her usual old self. She won’t mention waking up or being scared. There is a good chance she may not even ever recall it.
Like when your kid is awoken in the middle of the night by a thunderstorm. The noise may have scared her, but she doesn’t mention it the next day.
My husband and I got into it a year or so ago in front of Number 4.
She was at least six years old. It was during the day, she definitely hear us, and I felt like shit for a long time.
But the next day, I made sure I talked to her about it. I kept it simple.
First, I apologized. I told her I didn’t set a very good example.
And then I explained to her that just as she and her brothers and/or sisters get into fights, sometimes grown ups do, too.
That sometimes the hard part about being a grown up is that there isn’t someone there to remind you how to behave and treat other people. Especially the ones you love the most.
When you are a grown up, you have to remember how to do that stuff all on your own.
And sometimes you mess up.
But you still love each other, and you will do your best to model the kind of behavior that is healthy for her.
Your daughter is only three. I’m not sure you even need to address it again. You can make that determination on your own. If it will make you feel better by talking to her about it, you don’t have to get too complicated.
A simple, I’m sorry if Daddy and I woke you up last night. We love each other very much. And we love you very much.
We will make sure we don’t do that again.
And then just do exactly that.
Don’t let your mistakes consume you.
Simply learn from them, and keep moving forward.