You’re a young parent or an old parent, and you’re passionate about raising your children in the best possible way. You’ve attended parenting classes, read books, and have been conscientious about being a good mom or dad. There’s one key ingredient that you might have forgotten, and that’s the relationship with the one who helped make you a parent in the first place- your spouse. Yes, working on your relationship with your husband or wife may be the most important thing you’ll ever do to ensure the emotional health of your children. Here’s how:
Structure and stability: Children need structure and stability. They have special antennas that pick up tension. When they sense you aren’t getting along, they won’t tell you directly, but they’ll be sure to act out. Your children need to feel taken care of and protected. If your relationship is chaotic, you’ll create a home environment of chaos. A stable marriage, though, provides a comfortable framework, where your kids can focus on being kids and not be distracted by the anxiety that something is wrong at home. Children actually think they are to blame when you’re upset. They won’t realize that your bad mood is because you aren’t getting along with your spouse.
Parenting on the same page: Parents need to show a united front. If you don’t get along with your spouse, it will be quite a challenge to work together as parents. When you have diverging views on raising your kids, the children get stuck in the middle and wind up taking sides. In most relationships, one parent assumes the role of disciplinarian while the other is more laissez-faire. If both parents work together, they can parent in a balanced way. If they can’t, they risk villainizing one parent as the bad guy and undermining the parent-child relationship. While even the most connected couples may have a differing opinions on child-rearing, they’re able to work through their differences and parent effectively. Learn how to work together so you can be on the same page for your kids.
Modeling healthy relationships: I’m sure you know the saying “History repeats itself.” This is certainly true when it comes to relationships. I have seen many young couples experiencing the same relationship breakdown they saw in their homes. More important than any book or speech is how we model to our children. The relationship your children witness in your home will be the most impacting factor in how they’ll conduct themselves in their own relationships. Most parents wish they could leave their child an inheritance. Even if you have no money to leave, you can give them the gift of seeing a loving, stable marriage. If you are suffering in your marriage, you surely won’t want your kids to experience what you’re going through. Work on your relationship so you can spare them the grief and provide a model they can look forward to.
Accepting your child: The best way to practice being a good parent is to learn how to be a good spouse. When you employ relationship skills with your spouse, you’ll have a much easier time applying them to your children. One of the greatest challenges in any relationship is fully accepting the other. As you learn to exercise your compassion muscle by listening to your spouse without judgment and making space for him/her, you’ll find it easier to do so with your kids. When you accept your children by validating their feelings without reacting, you help build their self-esteem. Even when you disagree, you can assure them that their feelings make sense. Working on your marriage gives you invaluable experiencing. By the time your children grow old enough to articulate themselves, you’ll be prepared to be there for them in a caring, empathetic way.
You won’t lash out at the kids: Children can be quite a handful at times. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and have no help, your real upset may be with your spouse, but the immediate victims will be the kids. Being more irritable in general, you’re likely to yell at them when they get too hard to handle. They’ll bear the brunt of issues that you could have worked out with your spouse. When you’re feeling good about your spouse and have an open line of communication, your stress threshold will be lower and you are less likely to lash out at innocent bystanders.
Even if you can’t stand your spouse, you owe it to your children to make your marriage work. Working on your marriage will help provide structure and stability for your kids, enable you to parent them on the same page, model healthy relationships, learn relationship skills that will help you accept your children, and make sure your frustration doesn’t hurt your kids. Take action today for your marriage, for the kids’ sake!
Want more help? Click here to join Rabbi Shlomo and Rivka Slatkin for a free parenting and marriage teleseminar.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.