The last piece I’m going to post on the topic of why a good marriage is the best gift we can give to ours kids is probably the simplest:
4. It’s just nicer to live in a happy household than an unhappy one.
Can anyone disagree with that? Who wants to live in a home where people are constantly upset with one another, yelling at each other, harping on each other’s insecurities? What gift could be better than a house full of love and contentment? Children superficially clamor for material things, because they cannot understand more than that – they beg for a new bike, the latest gadget, the new style of shoes that everyone in the class is wearing – but not-too-deep down, they would all trade that in a heartbeat for peace in the home. Certainly as adults many people can look back at their past and, especially for those who come from a home in which their parents did not get along well, recognize that any material gifts they received pale in comparison to what they lost by being witness to an unhappy marriage. (Obviously the way the kids are treated by the parents is an important factor as well, but even in cases where the kids are treated wonderfully by their parents, they suffer terribly from discord between the parents themselves. And you will likely never find a family where the spouses are a blissful, happy pair of lobsters yet they mistreat their children – happy parents are good to their kids.
Even the other realistic candidates for best gift won’t measure up. Nobody is really suggesting that the best gift competition was a toss-up between “good marriage between parents” and “new Star Wars light up running shoes.” But virtually all the other nonmaterial bequests that could be reasonably suggested really depend on this as well. A turbulent home life disrupts and hinders our attempts at maturation, personal growth, and stability. It doesn’t really matter how skilled a gardener you have trying to grow the garden: if there’s an earthquake going on, it’s going to be hard to reap much at all. Moreover, when it comes to many of the virtues you’d like to give over to your children – independence, self-esteem, persistence – the truth is that you can’t really give them these anyway. You can educate, model, guide – but at the end of the day, it’s not really up to you whether these values will take; whether your marriage will thrive, by contrast, is.
(It did occur to me that someone might want to suggest unconditional love as a gift that ranks above parental harmony, and I think it’s a good point. Except that I think if we’re going to go there, we might as well say that “food and water” is a better gift, because ain’t nobody going to care about unconditional love if they don’t make it past infancy. Food is not a gift parents give their children, it’s a requirement. There is no physical survival without it. And without love, there is no emotional survival. So perhaps, if we run with my line of thinking here, it’s not so crazy to strike love from the list of options either.)
The bottom line is, happy people make for better parents. A lack in the marital relationship means a lack in the happiness of both parties, even if the situation is not one of all-out war. Parents who are happy can be more focused in their parenting, can give more freely to all the members of their family, and are simply more pleasant to be around. It’s a simple equation, really. If you want to do the best for your kids – work on your marriage.
You can start right now.