When we fight in front of our children

There had been clues along the way.

The prolonged hugging in the morning, before Fred left for school. “I love you too much,” he said, as he rested his cheek against my belly. I responded in kind and wrapped my arms loosely around him. He repeated himself one more time, “I love you too much,” before he finally let go to head for the car. But midway he stopped and ran back to hug me again. “Okay, go, go!” I said.  “Get in the car!”

Yesterday, when he seemed to overreact when his afternoon playmate had to go home for dinner. “WHY does he have to go?” Fred had shouted in tears. “HOW do you know he is eating dinner NOW?” Max and I had already started arguing in the next room by that time. I later realized that Fred was dreading to let go of his friend, afraid to be left alone in the house while his parents were fighting.

Where there is love, there is conflict. Where there is intimacy, there is hurt. We fight because we feel and because we care. As the saying goes, the opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. As long as we engage in conflict, we are showing that we care enough to engage.

I know this. At least, after 10 years of marriage, I know this. I know that lack of sleep or misunderstandings can trigger some of our meltdowns. I know that within 24 hours things will blow over. I know that, despite the hostility we feel at those moments, our love cannot be so easily destroyed.

But at 7, Fred doesn’t know this.

I remember the first time I heard my parents fight. I was in bed, and all I could remember hearing were my father’s shouting and my mother’s muffled crying. At the crack of dawn, I woke up to study my mother’s face and body, making sure she was still breathing and that she would soon wake up. I had believed, then, that you could die from someone’s anger.

I was 7, the same age Fred is now.

The night after our fight, while Fred and I were reading at bedtime, we came across the word “courage” in his story book. I asked Fred if he knew what the word meant. He asked, “Is that like me not crying last night?”

I realized we had not talked about the fight. I told him to feel okay about telling Mommy and Daddy how our arguing makes him feel. I told him that sometimes as adults we forget; we are so emotional and we forget how our anger impacts our children. Fred, who had been stoic this whole time, suddenly started blinking back tears until they overpowered him. I realized, then, how much he has grown, how much of a complete person he has become, and how vigilant we have to be now in his presence.

Long before I became a mother I had a goal to spare my future children the stress of a war zone at home.

A number of things have defined the person I’ve become, but none more than the experience of witnessing and living with my parents’ fighting. The feelings of powerlessness had led to depression, the fears to anxiety, the anger to a sometimes overly strong need for independence from any man. But how easy it has become to prioritize getting all our emotions out over making a serious effort to consider the impact on our children. More than once I found myself saying something to Fred that echoed too painfully what my mother used to say to me, something that used to give me zero comfort: “Your father is not angry at you; he is angry at me. This has nothing to do with you.”

A fight between Mommy and Daddy is the cracking fault line in a child’s world. Our fighting has everything to do with them.

After a day of not speaking, I finally reached out to Max when I saw the notes in Fred’s school folder. Fred had been acting out that day. He did not listen to his teachers. He was angry. They made him write a letter of apology to be signed by us. Without explanation, we both knew the cause of his behavior and what we needed to do to restore normalcy to Fred’s – and our – life. Like a powerful glue, it was our child that put us back together again. Our children have everything to do with us.

How do you handle your marital conflicts when it comes to your children? Are you able to fight behind closed doors? How do your children react to conflict?

My struggles with writing

I didn’t realize how long I’d been away until I was visiting a favorite blog of mine last week, and saw on the author’s blog roll: Only You — last updated: 4 months ago.

I’ve been struggling with my writing all year. Topics became harder and harder to come up with, and I worried that I was writing without feeling. I would look at some of my posts and grimace at the writing quality. I was going downhill, I thought, and in my mind I decided it would be better to pause than to keep churning out bad material.

Motherhood, marriage, identity and all these other issues I had loved thinking and writing about were still important to me, and yet I found myself coming up dry. Have I moved on, I wondered? When I started this blog almost two years ago, I did so with an inexplicable urge. Life was probably no less busy then than it is now, but I had enough drive to make writing (and blogging) a priority. For the first time in my life I had the courage to let my voice out and so I did week after week, publicly – intimately – writing about things I had not even told my family or close friends. My voice was a volcanic eruption. Then gradually this spring that drive lost its urgency. I felt at peace, even when I was  not writing. Had I healed? Had I gotten so much out of my system that I no longer needed to talk? Words became less of a focus for me this year. For some reason I can’t explain, I even stopped reading this summer. Life was busy – I was a “single” mom for a while with Max in Japan and Fred’s martial arts activities intensifying – and I began living life rather than only thinking about it. And by this I am not saying that writers don’t live – only that I don’t. I’ve tended to write during periods of my life when I needed to heal, and I’ve written much less during times when I felt good.

And then recently I heard from a friend, “I miss your blog.” I read Alexandra’s poignant post about bloggers who disappear (and she’d mentioned my blog). The lovely Jessica at Mommyhood: Next Right even e-mailed me to say she’d missed my writing. I was honestly shocked. I had not realized that it might make a difference to someone to read what I have to say. It feels embarrassing to be this self-depracating at my age, but as someone who still has a hard time calling herself a writer without quotation marks, I’d say that my self-esteem as a writer is probably right at the high school level. But why not, right? There are so many writers – both professional and amateur – whose voices I would desperately miss if they were to stop. Whether it’s because they share experiences that make me feel less alone or stories that take me somewhere I could never experience, I am so grateful to be touched by them. And like finding a good hairdresser, I make sure I hold on to those writers that really make an impact on me. I don’t mean to be presumptious enough to say that I play that big of a role in a reader’s life, but I need to remind myself that part of the reason I like to write or blog is to make an impact; I am not only doing it for self-healing.

So I’m trying to ease back again. I will likely continue to struggle with time – time to write, time to read and comment on blogs, and I doubt that my writer’s block has completely lifted. But I miss the sharing and the interacting, and I miss the process of reflecting on an experience. Hopefully this time I will find a new voice – a voice that stays present even in the absence of healing, a voice that reflects the growth I’ve accomplished in the last couple of years. I hope that you can still be there for me.