When Parents Argue
Chances are you’ve had an argument or twenty with your parents recently — about clothes, homework, your phone, friends, or pretty much anything. But what’s going on when your parents fight with each other?
When Parents Disagree
All couples argue from time to time. They might disagree about important things like finances, careers, or major family decisions. Or they might disagree about little things that don’t seem that important — like what’s for dinner or what time someone gets home.
Sometimes parents stay calm when they disagree. They allow each other a chance to listen and to talk. But many times when parents disagree, things can get heated.
It can be easy to jump to conclusions when you hear parents arguing. Thoughts might pop into your head like, “Does this mean they don’t love each other anymore?” Or, “Are they going to get a divorce?” But arguments don’t always mean the worst. Most of the time, they’re just a way to let off steam when parents have a bad day, don’t feel well, or are under a lot of stress. Like you, when parents get upset they might yell, cry, or say things they don’t really mean.
It’s OK for Parents to Argue Sometimes
It’s natural for people to have different feelings, opinions, or approaches to things. Talking about these differences is a first step in working toward a solution. People in a family need to be able to tell each other how they feel and what they think, even when they disagree.
Most people who live together in a family argue about small things — like if the way you do something is different from how a brother, sister, or parent does it. Watching how parents resolve differences can give you some important information about how you handle conflict, and how you might handle arguments in the future.
Most of the time, arguments are over quickly, parents apologize and make up, and the family settles back into its usual routine.
When Fighting Goes Too Far
Sometimes when parents fight, there’s too much yelling and screaming, name calling, and too many harsh things said. Although some parents may do this, it’s not OK to treat people in the family with disrespect, use degrading or insulting language, or yell and scream at them.
Occasionally fighting goes too far and includes pushing and shoving, throwing things, or hitting. Even if no one is physically hurt, an argument has gone too far when one parent uses threats to try to control the other through fear. It’s never OK if a parent does things like these:
- threatens to hurt someone
- destroys the other’s property
- threatens to commit suicide
- threatens to leave the other parent
- threatens to report the other parent to protective services
When fights get physical or involve threats, it’s usually a sign that the people fighting could do with some help controlling themselves and managing their anger. This may mean speaking to a doctor, therapist, or religious leader or calling a helpline.
What About You?
It’s hard to hear parents yelling at each other. Seeing them upset and out of control can throw you off — aren’t adults, especially parents, supposed to be the calm, composed, mature ones in a family? How much parents’ fighting bothers you might depend on how often it happens, how loud or intense things get, or whether parents argue in front of other people.
It’s natural to worry about a parent who may feel hurt by what the other parent says. Maybe you worry that one parent could become angry enough to lose control and physically hurt the other. With all this extra mental and emotional turmoil, you may start to feel the signs of stress, like being tearful, getting stomachaches or headaches, or having trouble sleeping. If parents’ arguments start to get in the way of how well you eat, sleep, or pay attention in school, talk to a school counselor or teacher.
It can be especially upsetting if parents are arguing about you. But your parents’ arguments are never your fault. Parents are responsible for their own actions and behaviors, no matter how much they are provoked by another person.
What You Can Do
If you feel that your parents’ fighting is getting too much for you and you’re stressed out about it, it’s time to take action. You could try talking to one or both of your parents about their arguing. They may not even realize how upset you are until you tell them how their arguments affect you. If this doesn’t work, you could try talking to another family member to help you figure out what to do — or go to your school counselor or doctor.
If the fighting goes too far in your family (or that of someone you know), let an adult know what’s going on. Talking to relatives, a school counselor, a favorite teacher, or any adult you trust can be helpful. Sometimes parents who fight can get so out of control that they hurt each other or other family members. If this happens, letting someone else know will allow the family to get help and kids to be protected from harmful fighting.
Family members can get help from counselors and therapists. This can help them learn to listen to each other and talk about feelings and differences without arguments getting heated. Though it may take some work, time, and practice, people in families can learn to get along better.
Happy, Healthy Families
If your family argues from time to time, try not to worry: No family is perfect. Even in the happiest home, problems come up and people argue. Usually the family members involved get what’s bothering them out in the open and talk about it. Hopefully, they reach some compromise or agreement. Everyone feels better and life can get back to normal.
Being part of a family means everyone pitches in and tries to make life better for each other. Arguments happen and that’s OK — it’s all part of learning how to live with each other and get along. Figuring out how to resolve conflicts by talking things out or learning when other people need their space can help you later in your life, too.
Reviewed by: Michelle New, PhD
Date reviewed: April 2013