Why loving your partner is the most important thing parents can do for their kids
Huffington Post blogger Jackie Morgan MacDougall recently caused controversy in a HuffPost Divorce blog. She argued that parents should prioritise their marriages to stave off divorce.
“I’m not saying to neglect the kids, but they won’t exactly suffer by seeing their parents put each other at the top of the list … serving as relationship role models,” MacDougall wrote.
I’m not sure why this is so controversial. This is hard-won wisdom, and it is also wisdom that has been around for a LONG time.
One of my favourite quotes about parenting says, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” (The quote is attributed to close to half a dozen different people who all claim to have said it first.) And as it happens, it seems that research supports this view.
What partners come first
In some recent research I conducted at the University of Wollongong, parents were interviewed about their most vital life-roles. At the top of everyone’s list, unsurprisingly, were the roles of spouse and parent.
When I quizzed these study participants as to which was more important I discovered that most indicated that their marriage had to be a higher priority than their children. My follow-up questions revealed that spouses saw success in family life as based on the success of a marriage. In the words of one participant (a wife and mother of three school-aged children):
“If my relationship with my husband isn’t happy and solid and good for me … that impacts pretty much everything else that I do. So if my husband and I have had an argument, I lose the ability to be [good] with my children. And it doesn’t generally work the other way. If I’m feeling like I’m fulfilling that mother role well it doesn’t necessarily make my relationship with my husband any better. But if my relationship with my husband is good then that improves my capacity as a mother to perform and to be better in that role.”
Anyone who has ever had major challenges with a spouse or partner will generally agree that the impact those challenges create is far greater than the challenges our kids cause.
So with that in mind, here are five tips for how you can work together for your children. These are even more vital if your relationship with your children’s other parent is not strong.
1) Maintain a positive emotional atmosphere at home
By being supportive, kind, loving, affectionate, caring, and compassionate as a couple, your children will also benefit and feel secure. You can do this by simply taking the time to speak nicely, acknowledge one another, and make it clear that you enjoy being together.
It will probably embarrass the kids, but I also recommend having a big old smooch in the kitchen from time to time, just to show that you do love each other. It boosts the positivity pretty well too.
2) Appreciate each other
It is amazing the difference it makes when we notice the effort our spouse has made in maintaining the home, working to provide income, or helping with the children. Expressing gratitude makes people feel good – giver and receiver. Plus, it’s nice to be around people who appreciate you.
Try it as an experiment. Each day find three things to explicitly appreciate in your partner. Watch the difference it makes almost immediately.
Talk to each other about the struggles each child is presenting for you. Ask for advice.
Look for ways you can support one another and develop solutions that will help you and your children. More than anything get in there and help.
Dads – get your hands wet and soapy in the bath or sink, read stories at bedtime, and spend time lessening your spouse’s load. You demonstrate your commitment to one another and to your children best by noticing when your spouse needs help. When you place your spouse’s needs above your own in a giving and sensitive way, you’ll improve your relationship and make home happier.
4) Make decisions together
Be on the same team, and support one another in your decision making.
If one or the other of you makes a decision you disagree with, avoid criticising this decision or undermining it in front of your children. Instead wait until you can discuss it privately and kindly.
Follow through on the things that you’ve agree on, together.
Taking time to be together to do nothing but talk re-emphasises the fact that you matter to one another. A weekly lunch date, walk, or other activity rekindles closeness in you as a couple, and can help you work better together to raise a happy family.
I have often taught that attention is the currency of relationships. Often relationships are in trouble, or couples are simply treading water because of the simple fact that we don’t spend enough time together without interruptions from the kids. Make time to reconnect (no phones or screens allowed) and watch what it can do for your relationship.
This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz