Sunday, March 3, 2013

A strong marriage is your best parenting tool...

We live in an age where so much is focused on our children. Don't get me wrong, this is good. I'm not of the "seen and not heard" persuasion AT ALL, clearly. I believe children are unique little human beings who should be respected and listened to as well as parented and taught.

However, I have seen too often the needs of children supersede the needs of a marriage. Not only have I seen it, I have lived it and do not want to do that again.

I read once that if a marriage is strong, a family is strong. If you put all your energy into your children and not your marriage, your marriage will fail and then so will your family. I believe this. I've felt it. Anyone who has kids and has been through a divorce knows the pain of that.

But if you put your marriage first, you really are putting your children first too. Giving them a stable, loving home and modeling for them the example of a strong, loving marriage is one of the best gifts you can ever give them. But you cannot do it by putting the marriage at the back-burner in an effort to focus on the kids.

To do this, I'd offer a few suggestions:

1) Make date night sacred. I don't care how you have to do it: grandma, uncle, cousin, babysitter, find a way to spend alone time with your spouse at least once a month. If you can't do it at night time, make a lunch date, a movie date during a weekday if you can both get off work, a weekend afternoon. This is a way to show your spouse they are a priority.

2) Participate church-related marriage counseling. I don't mean the kind of counseling you get when your marriage is struggling. My husband and I completed 6 weeks of counseling before getting married and learned we are a "vitalized" couple. How cool is that!

We also learned that out of 15 categories, we were 100 percent compatible in 7 areas, 90 percent compatible in 4 areas, 80 percent compatible in 3 areas and 70 percent compatible in 1 area. From this we learned that parenting expectations and marriage expectations would be our stumbling points. We know our strengths and where we need to continue to work. This was crucial for us as a couple.

3) Participate in a marriage retreat. I have not done this, but have heard fabulous things about them from other couples. I have heard of these turning a marriage around. I really hope to do one at some point.

4) Discuss with your children why a strong marriage is important. And model for them affection, love, putting each other first, kindness, compassion and even arguing. When Jason and I first got married, at the first inkling of a disagreement, Brady would run to his room, grab a plastic sword and position himself between Jason and I. Sigh.

On the one hand, no mother can feel more loved than when her 4-foot child is ready to take on the 6-foot guy for her without a whit of fear. But this was not a healthy response to marital disagreement. In the year and a half since, he has learned that sometimes Jason and I disagree, but we work it out, and it's okay. It is no longer the end of the world to him.

5) As hard as it is sometimes (and I still fail at this occasionally), present a united front. We are your parents. We love you. We are on the same page. This show of strength and solidarity really is comforting to kids. There is no question who is in charge and what the rules are. My parents are partners and working as a team.There are boundaries and the child is safe within them.

If you do disagree on discipline or rules or consequences, try to talk about it AFTER the kids are in bed, not in front of them. I forget this a lot. It may be even more important in blended families. Kids really do look for a crack in the armor, at least my boy does and he WILL exploit it if he thinks he can.

6) Do special things for your spouse. We get used to making treats and getting special things for our kids and celebrating their achievements. We need to do the same for our spouse to show them - and our kids - how special they are to us.

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