Continuing on in our exploration of why a good marriage is so vital to your childrearing endeavors, here is reason #3:
3. They’ll do as you do.
Jimmy’s parents were called into school, where Jimmy was waiting apprehensively in the principal’s office. The principal sat down with the three of them, looking very sternly at Jimmy and his parents, and said he regretted to inform the parents that their son had been caught stealing pencils from the supply closet. “Stealing?!?!” gasped the father. “Jimmy, how could you?! If you needed pencils, why didn’t you just tell me? I would have brought you some home from work!”
Good one, huh?
Do we ever find ourselves doing this kind of thing? We wonder where our kids learned to do that, failing to realize that the address is in fact us. (If you’re of a certain age, you might fondly remember, as I do, this delightful PSA commercial about kids and drugs.) Most kids I know don’t read self-help books or etiquette manuals. They learn how to act by observation – specifically, observation of you. So if you steal pencils from work, they will steal pencils from school. If you throw your socks on the floor, don’t be surprised when your kids refuse to clean up their room.
This is applicable to our marital relationships in so many ways. What are you like when you are angry with your spouse? Do you yell and scream, or can you manage your anger appropriately? If you and your spouse say nasty things to each other and call each other names, you can bet your children are learning to do the same. What do you do when you’re waiting for your spouse to get home and s/he’s late? Do you start fuming and cursing him/her? Or do you give the benefit of the doubt and say, “S/he’s probably stuck in traffic” and take a deep breath? Whichever path you choose, your children are likely to follow suit when you’re late picking them up next time. You get back what you put in.
When I say that a good marriage is the best gift for your kids, it doesn’t just mean for this year’s birthday, and it doesn’t just mean as an investment for their later compliance. This is a gift that keeps on giving. You are giving your kids the tools to have a successful marriage themselves when they are adults (which, by the way, are precisely not the tools they are likely to learn while navigating the dating world – more on this in a future post). You can’t control who your kids’ friends are (at least, not for very long), who they will date, or who they will marry. If you want them to have fulfilling relationships down the road, the best way you can strive for that outcome is to show them what one looks like. This, by the way, is why I like to encourage parents to argue in front of their kids.
What??? Doesn’t that go against the advice of every other parenting expert and book and article in the world???
You see, I am referring only to a case where you and your spouse can argue appropriately (you have seen our video Relationship Tips series on, right?). Every couple has disagreements as a direct consequence of being comprised of two people with two brains. The two-person thing makes it quite impossible to agree on absolutely everything. The question is, how do you resolve those disagreements? If you are going to yell, put down, call names, mock, invalidate, etc., then yeah, don’t do that in front of the kids. However, if you will be calm, fair, validating, loving, and kind while “arguing,” what could be better for your children than demonstrating, and thereby modeling, how to do this? If you’d like your kids to be able to solve arguments – with their siblings, friends, teachers, future in-laws, you – then the best way to teach them to do that is learn it yourself.
To Be Continued…