Posted by: Kate | February 25, 2009

Not in Front of the Children

I think Willem and I are fairly permissive parents.  We allow a certain amount of candy-eating, TV-watching, sibling-bickering, and mismatched-clothes-wearing, because we’re both of an opinion that moderation is better than extremism, in pretty much any category.  Better to let the kids learn to be satisfied with just one piece of candy, or to negotiate terms of play with a peer, than to shelter them from such possibilities and create adults who live with an all-or-nothing mindset.

There are two areas that have taken a little more consciousness and deliberation, when it comes to drawing those lines.  Like most Americans, sex and conflict create their own categories in our lives, and have to be duly defined.

The sex part was fairly easy: we won’t partake of the act with an audience, regardless of age, but we’ll participate in certain of the lead-up activities.  Neither of my kids has yet asked the dreaded “Where do babies come from?” question, but Emily is reaching an age where she’ll need a tutorial on puberty whether or not her natural curiosity leads her to ask about it.  (This led to a somewhat hilarious event, a few weeks ago: I told Willem that Emily was going to need this sort of lesson sometime soon, and the conversation developed from there into giving Willem a here’s-the-basics explanation of what happens, and how to respond.  Initiated by him, out of a concern for something happening when I was out of the house and he was home alone with the kids.  Very cute and earnest.)

Emily has reached an age where she moans and hides has face and groans and expresses deep levels of angst and distaste whenever there is any form of physical affection on television.  The lions rubbing noses in The Lion King bothers her, for Pete’s sake.  But somehow it doesn’t bother her to catch Willem and I kissing or hugging.  We’re not, in general, an especially demonstrative couple, especially in public, but we do try to exchange some basic level of affection and appreciation around the house.

Interestingly, Emily was far more squicked out, the other day, during our dinner conversation.  Willem and I were discussing bedtime the night before; I had come in late, and he was already asleep.  He didn’t quite wake up when I laid down, but he rolled over and took my hand.  We lay there for a bit, just holding hands, before I fell asleep.  It was nice, just a sweet gesture that stayed with me for a while.  I mentioned it the next evening at dinner – positive reinforcement works on husbands, too, sometimes – and Emily threw herself into a dramatic fugue.  “Eeeewwwwww!  You guys held hands?  Gross!”  Apparently hand-holding has a higher significance in her third-grade world than kissing does; I think that’s probably a good thing.

And then there’s conflict.  We don’t have a particularly lot of conflict now – the occasional spat when we’re just in a crabby mood and there are no easier targets in sight – but in our early years, we more than made up for it.  We never branched into the realm of physical violence, but we would have terrible, biting, intense fights.  Willem was always comfortable engaging in an argument regardless of our audience; I would freeze up and become very conscious of the discomfort for the onlookers and would end up just walking away rather than continue to feel both pissed off and embarrassed.  Now that I think about it, I don’t think we ever really resolved that; I think we just stopped arguing around other adults.

But I’ve always felt, from our earliest days to now, that it’s really important to have some level of conflict in front of the children.  Again, never physical, and that’s part of the lesson you’re communicating to them.  Never name-calling, and never personally hurtful – sarcasm walks that line, as does generalization and repetition, but we never pretended to be ideal at this.  But simple arguments, even around complex topics, are really important for children to witness.  How else are they going to really internalize the idea that it’s possible to settle differences with only words, and only careful words at that?  They need to see the process unfold, to see people get angry and need some time to calm down, to see questions asked in an attempt to really understand what the other person means.  And – to me, the most important part – they need to see that relationships can survive conflict.  They need to see how people can calm down, and talk it over, and move on after an argument.  They need to realize that it’s healthier to has it out and let the dust settle than to bottle it up and exist in a state of compression.

At least, I think so.

So we do argue in front of our kids, and we do kiss.  Sometimes both on the same day.  And so far, the kids aren’t showing any permanent scars from it.

It’s Wednesday, and thus Carnival time. Several others are playing along – please click away and check them out. This week, we have Baino, Heather, JMLC , Aitara, Heather and Be This Way.

And, as always, if you post along these lines, send me a link and I’ll add you to the list…



  1. Hope it’s a great day in Beantown. Sorry I’m not there to see you in my ‘hood.

    I hear you on the conflict part (it’s what I posted about)- but you know, the sex part hadn’t even occurred to me! (figures, given that I’m the reason for the box ‘o friday night fun). We’re pretty affectionate and I assume that would continue when we have kids– I can’t imagine a time when it would be acceptable to do more than that in front of children. I guess it just never occurred to me to think about it…

  2. It’s good to be affectionate in front of children, it teaches them that it’s normal and acceptible. As long as you can deal with it when she brings a fella home! Now sometimes I feel like going euuw . . not in front of the parent!

  3. You know, I never thought of arguing in front of the kids as as good thing, but I think you’re right. It models good conflict-resolution behavior.

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