In the last post, I opened up the topic of why a good marriage is good parenting and discussed the issue of household stability. Here is reason #2 that the best gift you can give your children is a good marriage.
2. Kids run on emotion.
As noted in the previous post, kids are consumed by their emotions. Rational self-control is a hallmark of maturity; no matter how persuasive your logical discourses may, you will not get a four-year-old to stop crying about a lost candy bar. The grief fills their entire being, and the faculty for saying, “You know what? I have twenty-three other kinds of candy in the pantry!” just isn’t there. Ergo, when the emotional temperature of the household is high, they take that with them to whatever they’re doing. It affects how they eat, it affects how they sleep, it affects how the go to school and it affects how they come back from school. Think about how your day goes when you leave home for the day after a morning of yelling, bickering, and filial impudence versus when you leave from a home that is peaceful, calm, and cooperative. Now imagine you didn’t have the cognitive tools to think about what had happened that day, to switch into a new mode for work, or to postpone dealing with the upset feelings until later. You’d be a mess. Children who come from chaotic homes are most often the ones with the worst behavior at school.
If – since – you want your children to mature, you have to provide a home environment where growth is possible. Plants fed with the very best plant food still need a greenhouse to protect them and provide an environment that allows them to thrive, and children no less so. A home where there is marital and familial harmony naturally provides a better environment than one where there is anger and tension. Working on your marriage means providing a springboard for kids to launch from when leaving the home. You can’t jump very high if you’re not standing on solid ground. The home is the ground that children stand on emotionally. If things are shaky, they have a much harder time jumping up to higher levels of maturity. (This of course hearkens back to the previous point about children’s need for functional stability, in addition to the need for emotional stability.)
By the way, here too the idea that children don’t really know about your marital satisfaction is misguided. Have you ever sat at a table with two people who were in a fight? It can range from uncomfortable to downright embarrassing. There are numerous nonverbal ways that this gets played out – the lack of eye contact, the subtle difference in tone of voice, even the salt shaker being put down just a little harder than is normal – and kids are even more attuned to nonverbal cues than to verbal ones (again, because they relate to the world primarily through their emotions, not their rational minds). A child sitting at your table when you are giving off those signals is in turmoil. The emotional balance of their home is all off kilter – and then you tell them to go and brush teeth. Is it really a surprise when they offer resistance? Securing cooperation from children is a subject in its own right; trying to do so when the house is full of tension is practically a non-starter. If you and your partner are constantly tense and at odds with each other, you are not giving your children the environment they need to develop.
To Be Continued…