Fights between couples are a common thing. But have you ever thought about the impact your fights have on your children, especially when they witness you fighting?
Most parents are either unaware of the effect this has on the children or they just don’t consider this fact. Whenever differences arise, most couples shout at each other and sometimes engage in physical fights regardless of the presence of the children. We all know the reaction of children when this happens.
Sarah Joseph, 42, a mother of four children remembers clearly how she used to feel every time her father beat their mother over three decades ago.
“I used to hate him and would wish I was strong enough to fight him back for my mother. But as young as I was and the fact that I knew it was not proper to fight your parent, I would just watch helplessly but with a lot of bitterness in my heart,” recalls Sarah.
She has never forgiven her father for this. Now being a parent herself, she hates it when her children witness squabbles between her and her husband.
“Sometimes you just can not control yourself when the children are around but I usually do my best to avoid taking matters too far when the children are around. Sometimes I choose to keep quiet for the sake of the children and others in the house,” says Sarah who is a sociology graduate.
Petronida Joseph,35, a business woman at Kariakoo says fights between couples affect children so much. Their children’s reactions every time she and her doctor husband have arguments tell it all.
The family shoes business that Petronida runs is usually the source of misunderstandings.
Verbal confrontations usually start every time she incurrs losses. Her husband claims normally that she sends money to her parents without informing him.
“It is true that my parents depend on me but I never send them money without agreeing with my husband. I fail to understand why he thinks I send them money from the business. The bad thing is he says this in front of the children. Overcome by emotion, I sometimes cry in front of the children,” she says.
Hostility toward one parent
This makes their 9 and 7-year-old children sad. They don’t like the way their father treats their mother. Petronida says the children have developed hostility toward their father and have been avoiding him. When they are out visiting friends for example, the children talk to their mother only and to their father only when necessary.
When doing homework assignments the children engage their mother when they need help. She is also the one who signs their school diaries. Previously, they used to prefer their father signing the diaries.
Petronida thanks God she has not noticed any effect on the children’s academic performance as a result of her marrital problems.
“The relationship between our children and their father is strained and my husband puts the blame on me. He thinks I have influenced the children to hate him. They no longer relate with him the way they used to years ago. When he is not at home our children console me and advise me to avoid shouting at their father during arguments.”
Petronida says this makes her feel bad because she knows she is the type of a person who can not control her mouth when she is angry with anyone. She and her husband yell at each other when he accuses her of stealing his money. “We forget about the children when we yell at each other,” she confesses.
Initially, Petronida had no idea their fights impacted on the children. Now that she and her husband know this, they have been dealing with their issues without hurting the children. They fight out of their earshot.
Jeanne Ndyetabura, assistant commissioner for social welfare in the ministry of health and social welfare says children who are involved in parents conflicts are likely to perform poorly at school as well as develop emotional issues.
She says if conflicts are not handled properly children end up feeling unwanted, insecure and that they have difficulty coping with their parents and other people. “It is very much obvious for parents to get into conflicts. However it is not healthy to involve children in any way. Instead, parents should help one another to handle their misunderstandings in a way that will not make children feel unwanted,” she says.
The social welfare expert warns parents against involving children in their personal conflicts, for example teaching children to hide any kind of information from either parent or sending negative messages to each other through children.
Jokina Kihongosi, a teacher at Azania Secondary School agrees parents’ conflicts do affect children’s academic performance. She has experienced this in her seven years of teaching. Jokina says it easy for teachers to notice when a student’s performance changes.
“When we notice any changes in a student’s performance we talk to them and ask how we can help. When you talk to them in a friendly way, they will tell you it is fights between their parents. The absence of peace in the family makes it difficult for children to concetrate in studies.”
When this happens, a teacher would always summon the parents and inform them how their misunderstandings are affecting their child’s studies. Jokina has had such meetings with parents thrice.
She says the signs of a child who is facing issues with their parents include becoming unusually quiet, distracted and keeping to themselves most of the time.