To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First
Twenty years later, Bill and Susan still cannot point to the moment the marriage went sideways. In their early forties, both fully invested in their careers and children’s happiness, the once joyous couple recognized that they were constantly “on the road,” attempting to maintain all the responsibilities tied to parenthood and business success.
On some weekends, Bill and Susan shared a bed for a few hours and nothing more. Conversation was reduced to the “mechanics” of household management, everything from the timing of soccer games to the scheduling of the copious responsibilities at church. Over time, both Bill and Susan determined that they were now “strangers” to the other.
Issues or aspirations beyond the couple’s hopes and dreams for the teenage children were never discussed, leaving a lot of “dead air” when the partners had time to spend together. Before long, the bickering started and the accusations of infidelity, unconcern, and the like were tossed like hand grenades between Bill and Susan. Obviously, mom and dad’s discontent affected their offspring. Grades dropped, athletic performance declined, both the children were diagnosed with depression.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Often, married couples neglect their marriage as the children’s activities and interests begin to demand more time, financial resources, and travel. While the “programming dynamic” may work effectively for some families, it can become a recipe for disaster for many others.
Amid the constant demands placed upon the schedules of highly programmed families, couples do not have the time – or simply do not prioritize – the nurturance of the marriage union. Indeed, once wonderfully yoked pairs may become “strangers” to one another. In the worst scenarios, the emotional distance may lead to downright derision. The marriage bond is stressed, the distance grows, and the children, once the recipients of their parent’s ample attention, must deal with anxiety and potentially depression. It’s not pretty.
There is hope, of course, and it begins with a look in the mirror. If you recognize that your children are withdrawn and unhappy, ponder how you and your partner may be contributing to the difficulty.
Are you modeling a healthy relationship for your children to emulate? Are you treating your children like peers or confidents, neglecting your spouse as a source of support and wisdom? Have you sacrificed so much of your “couple time” for the children that you are no longer attending to the relationship that created the children in the first place? If you continue to answer “Yes” to these queries, it’s time to take some steps to reclaim the marriage.
You will be happier, your partner will be happier, and your children will thank you one day for the attention you placed on the marriage.
Say No to All the Commitments
Somehow, many corners of our culture have adopted a mindset that goes something like this… My child needs round-the-clock extracurricular programing to be happy, successful, and liked. No way!
While it’s important to give your children the tools and the opportunities they will need to explore and flourish in an area of interest, it is not necessary to fill every day of the year with practices, private lessons, tournaments, and the like. You can’t sustain it. Neither can your marriage. Take some time away from the extracurricular parade to enjoy a family outing, movie night, etc.
For the sake of your marriage, don’t be afraid to call a babysitter on occasion, too. Surprise your partner with a dinner at a favorite location, or, better still, plan and execute a weekend getaway to a romantic location. Call in the grandparents, also. The grandparents know all about the stressors placed on married couples by growing families. Unless your child is a little heathen, the grandparents will love the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time with the grandchildren.
Public Display of Affection
If you want happy children, and you do, do not be afraid to publicly show affection to your partner. Your children may protest when you smack a wet kiss on your beloved spouse, but they will absorb the message, “mom and dad really love each other.”
Additionally, hold hands with your partner when you are in the presence of your children. A little “press of the flesh” lets your children know that gentle touch is an important component of your marriage bond. The PDAs in real-time equip your children to develop healthy relationships in the future.
Do Not be Afraid to Ask for Help
This nugget of advice cannot be overemphasized. If your partnership has been neglected and now looks more like a dented jalopy than a well-oiled machine, it may be time to call in a seasoned counselor. Do not be afraid to reach-out to a counselor to discuss the issues in the marriage bond, and be open to the suggestions he or she may provide.
It may, at the counselor’s discretion, be appropriate to bring the children into some of the sessions, too. Alas, these steps always presuppose one’s willingness to be vulnerable. Humble yourself, friend, and ask for help.
Sometimes the marriage bond is sullied by distraction. As partners try to manage their work responsibilities and all the other things, marriage can go sideways in a hurry. Our busyness can quickly diminish the beautiful bond that was solidifying before the “I do(s)” were exchanged.
If the rut sounds familiar to you, take heart… you’re not alone. Look in the mirror, and take some action. Remember, the happiness of the partners in a marriage deeply impacts the happiness of the children produced by the union.
Sylvia Smith is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples in therapy. Her mission is to provide inspiration, support and empowerment to everyone on their journey to a great marriage. She is currently associated with Marriage.com, a reliable resource assisting millions of couples to resolve their marital issues. She holds a Master’s Degree in Arts (Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy).