Parental conflict

Families

Most of us disagree at times in our relationships - whether this is related to who does the washing up, who spends the most money or even over the remote control for the TV! Not all conflict is damaging, however it’s important to remember that the way it is displayed, the amount of time it happens and how this conflict is dealt with can all have a negative impact on children.

Parental conflict in relationships can occur in all types of families: between biological parents, step parents, foster and adoptive parents, parents and grandparents and separated and divorced parents to name just a few.

A key point is that parental conflict is very different to domestic abuse. No-one should ever make you feel threatened or unsafe; if this is the case there are many organisations and services that are there to support you. Follow the GOV.UK guidance to find out more, or call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.

What is parental conflict? 

There are many forms of conflict in relationships, some are really healthy. As adults, we are role models for our children so if we are able to remain calm and respectful whilst addressing any disagreements we have, it provides our children with important life skills for future interactions with others. Children who experience relationships which are positive and productive are more likely to feel more settled and have good social and emotional wellbeing.

Unfortunately, conflict can sometimes be quite damaging; when children witness adults who shout loudly, argue a lot or perhaps ignore one another frequently or for long periods of time, it can have a negative impact on children’s self-esteem, mental and physical health, behaviour and academic achievements and future relationships with others.

Research suggests if there is long term parental conflict, this may also affect how we parent our children. Some children may experience some degree of hostility from their parent(s) or a decrease in quality time spent together.

What might cause conflict in relationships?

There are many reasons why conflict may arise in relationships.

Parenting styles

Differences in parenting, and the influence from wider family members, can cause parental conflict. We all come with a personal idea about how to parent our children due to our own childhood experiences - which will not always be the same!

If you are trying to support siblings who fight and argue with each other, it can be very stressful. Children generally learn from adults in their families about how to behave and interact with one another. Is there anything you could do differently to show your children how to manage disagreements positively? Sometimes changing the way we as parents/carers are responding can have a very positive effect on the behaviour of others too!

Family smiling around dining table as young girl feeds her mother

The Family Links website provides a range of resources you can access and download, as well as some great top tips to try at home together!

In addition, Barnardo’s services run a range of parenting courses in your local area which may be of interest to you – just give us a call to check our availability during the lockdown, or check the website for your nearest groups.

Having a new baby

Whilst bringing a new person into the world brings much happiness and excitement, this may also create challenges for relationships. Baby’s addition to the family may mean changes to routine, to work, to friends, to income and so much more! The NHS website have guides for families with new additions that provide tips and tricks for navigating this time.

Our local baby groups are a good way of meeting other parents and learning new things, even if it needs to be online or over text for the time being – why not check out your local services Facebook page for more details!

Remember, these challenges exist whenever you become a new parent, whether that is through having a baby, adopting or fostering, or taking on parental responsibilities for a step-child.

Financial concerns

Things such as debt or overspending, a job loss, perhaps a drop in working hours which affects income, or buying a house. These can all lead to concerns about not being able to buy basic necessities or pay the rent or bills. The Citizen’s Advice website has advice and guidance on financial matters.

Housing

Housing where family members are unable to have their own space can be very challenging. In addition, issues around poor living conditions can also cause worry and stress. Most Local Authorities have a housing department who can offer support and advice with regards to housing options and concerns. The charity 'Shelter' can provide further information.

Health difficulties

Long term or life limiting illnesses, a new illness or poor mental health can cause worry and anxiety for those involved, and place a huge amount of stress on relationships as people try to navigate their own way through these challenges. Mind is a useful website with information and support.

Substance or alcohol misuse

Being dependent on something which perhaps not only affects family income, but also negatively impacts the interaction between both partners and children, can place an enormous amount of stress on relationships. If you feel you may like to access further support please see the following links:

NHS Live Well - Alcohol Support 

NHS Live Well -Getting help with drug addiction 

There is also a range of support services if you are concerned about a family member and would like to seek further advice:

NHS Live Well - Advice for the families of drug users 

Reflecting on ourselves

It’s useful to consider how we think about certain situations, how they make us feel and how we behave as a result affects those around us. For example, distancing ourselves from certain situations or ignoring others will not offer a solution to a problem. Criticising others or being defensive or attacking will reduce the likelihood of being able to deal with conflict positively.

Ways to reduce parental conflict 

There are many things we can do to reduce the amount of conflict in our relationships. These may be achieved fairly easily with just a few adjustments!

Couple holding hands while drinking coffee

Here are some top tips to try:

  • Try and spend more quality time together. This might be watching your favourite programme on TV with your grandparents, or having a regular date night with your partner. 
  • Choose the right time to address things; waiting for a quiet time in the evening may be more preferable than during a busy school run. 
  • Tell your partner how a situation makes you feel and try to listen and show you understand their point of view. 
  • Consider and ask each other’s views; be willing and open to compromise. 
  • Listen to each other’s views without interrupting each other; one voice at a time.
  • Make sure everyone has an opportunity to voice their view, provide time for the other person to respond to what has been said, wait and listen. 
  • Communication really is key - celebrate things you agree on and use this in future discussions.

In terms of parenting, it’s important to remember that children don’t come with a manual (thank goodness, as they are all individuals with unique and special characteristics and ways!). So an important part of shared parenting is discovering together what works best for you as a family; sitting down and celebrating what is going well and naming what may need more attention or changing will help your communication to be open and honest. This creates an environment that ensures everyone’s views are heard and a sense of equality within the relationship. ​​​​​​

Other resources

Relate have some additional advice about building and sustaining positive relationships, and also offer relationship counselling. 

See it Differently have compiled clips showing different family conflict scenarios and how they can be handled more effectively.