Young People Ask . . .
Why Do Mom and Dad Always Fight?
I have a lot of problems in my family, and I don’t know what to do. My dad likes to yell at every little thing that he can yell about. And my mom yells about every other little thing. If my dad doesn’t get anything to eat when he gets home from work, he just starts yelling at my mom.—A 12-year-old girl.
I’m very concerned about my parents getting a divorce. Of course, I love them both and I want to be with them both at all times, but they fight over financial things and a lot of other stuff.—A 10-year-old boy.
AS YOU see it, parents are supposed to love and care for each other. They are supposed to be all-wise, all-knowing, kind, considerate. They are supposed to see eye to eye on just about everything. And if they have a minor difference of opinion, they are supposed to discuss matters calmly, quietly, well out of your earshot. They simply aren’t supposed to argue.
But perhaps you’ve discovered to your dismay that parents sometimes do disagree—and not always calmly and quietly. These are your parents, and to see them at odds pains you more deeply than words can express. One youth admitted that when his parents used to fight, “sometimes I felt like my insides were tearing.”
Why Parents Fight
It would be wonderful, indeed, if mothers always kept ‘the law of loving-kindness upon their tongues’ and never uttered a harsh word. (Proverbs 31:26) It would be finer still if fathers were never “bitterly angry with” their wives. (Colossians 3:19) But the Bible says: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.”—James 3:2.
Yes, your parents are imperfect. As a rule, they may ‘put up with each other in love.’ (Ephesians 4:2) But it should not surprise you if, from time to time, irritations build and manifest themselves in the form of a squabble.
Remember, too, that these are “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1) The pressures of making a living, paying the bills, contending with the atmosphere of the workplace—all these things place heavy strains on a marriage. And there are special pressures when both parents have secular jobs. Simply deciding who will cook and clean can become a source of controversy.
How Their Fighting May Make You Feel
Whatever prompts your parents’ disagreements, it may devastate you to hear them argue. Writer Linda Bird Francke explains that children tend to “elevate their parents to exalted levels. A young child doesn’t think of his mother or father as an individual with his or her own peculiar quirks or weaknesses, but as a rock-solid institution dropped on earth only to serve and protect him.” To see your parents quarrel brings home a painful realization: that your parents aren’t nearly as “rock-solid” as you thought. This can shake the very foundations of your emotional security and arouse all kinds of fears.
The Journal of Marriage and the Family reports: “More than half of all children of elementary-school age interviewed in the recent National Survey of Children said they feel afraid when their parents have arguments.” A young girl named Cindy put it this way: “Every now and then my mother and father argue a lot. I get very frightened and go to my bed. I wonder when it will end.”
Fights about money—a common topic of debate between marriage mates—may incite fears that your family is facing financial ruin. And when you are the focus of the fight (‘If you don’t take a firmer hand, he/she is going to be a spoiled brat!’) you may even fear that you are somehow to blame for the fighting.
Also disturbing are unrelenting battles over seeming trifles. (‘I’m sick and tired of coming home and dinner not being ready!’) Such constant bickering often springs from deeper resentment between your parents. Understandably, you may begin to worry that they are heading for the divorce court. The looming threat of a potential outbreak “makes you uncomfortable at home and unwilling to risk having your friends around.”—Trouble at Home, by Sara Gilbert.
Your parents’ conflicts may also create heart-breaking loyalty conflicts. As the Journal of Marriage and the Family put it, “closeness to one parent introduces the risk of rejection by the other.” Fearing to say or do anything that could smack of taking sides, you may feel on edge anytime you are around your parents, fearing you will be dragged into the conflict.
‘Are They Going to Divorce?’
Not likely. The Bible indicates that a certain amount of strain accompanies all marriages. At 1 Corinthians 7:28, Paul warns that those marrying “will have tribulation in their flesh,” or “pain and grief in this bodily life.” (The New English Bible) So the mere fact that parents disagree, even quite spiritedly, hardly means that they no longer love each other or that a divorce is impending. The Bible shows that even people who deeply care for each other can have occasional conflicts.
Sarah, the wife of Abraham, is held out to Christian women as an example of wifely subjection. (1 Peter 3:6) Yet, when she sensed that Ishmael, son of Abraham through the slave girl Hagar, posed a threat to the well-being of Abraham’s other son, Isaac, she vehemently made her feelings known. “Drive out this slave girl and her son,” exclaimed Sarah, “for the son of this slave girl is not going to be an heir with my son, with Isaac!” (Genesis 21:9, 10) No doubt marital tensions flared! But no long-term damage resulted. In fact, at God’s urging, Abraham went along with her request!
Very likely, then, your parents’ disagreements seem far more significant to you than to them. Young Margaret discovered this when she tried to interrupt a parental squabble by yelling, “Stop fighting!” only to be told, “We’re just having an argument.”
Most domestic flare-ups are thus short-lived and quickly forgotten—especially if your parents are God-fearing and apply the counsel to “become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Yes, your parents will most likely work out their difficulties without any help from you.
“First They Argue, Then They Hit”
Not all marital woes, however, are so easily solved. A seven-year study of some 2,000 U.S. families revealed that “every year about one out of every six couples in the United States commits at least one violent act against his or her partner. . . . It is very likely a substantial underestimate.” One teenage boy summed up his parents’ conflicts this way: “First they argue, then they hit.”
If such is the case in your home, then there are indeed serious problems in your parents’ marriage. There may even be a real threat to your physical safety—or that of your parents. Recalls Marie, a young woman whose mother regularly bickered with the alcoholic father: “I was scared. I figured he was going to hurt my mother or she would hurt him.”
Also of serious concern are parents who avoid displays of physical aggression but who attack each other verbally with “malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech.” (Ephesians 4:31) Likewise, parents who hurl verbal darts that hint of sexual dissatisfaction or even infidelity give clear signs that serious marital problems may exist.
Some families even have special sources of conflict, such as alcoholism or drug abuse. Or it may be that one parent is a Christian and the other an unbeliever. Jesus Christ predicted that such a situation would “cause division” in a family. Serious marital stress may result.—Matthew 10:35.
What should you do, then, if your parents’ marriage seems in real jeopardy? Is there anything you can do besides watch helplessly? This will be the subject of a future article.
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Marital flare-ups prove distressing to teenagers
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Applying Bible principles restores peace