Last time, we talked about the challenges that various in-law issues can bring about in marriage. Now we're going to skip a generation, and talk about the kids.
Children are the greatest blessing a couple can hope for. They bring light and joy into the home, and have the potential to strengthen the marital bond more than just about anything else. Raising children is both a tremendous privilege and an enormous responsibility, because bringing them up to be responsible, caring adults means that the next generation will grow to help make the world a better place.
So if children are so wonderful - which they are - why do they have the potential to be one of the three main challenges in marriage?
There are a few reasons.
First of all, to find a couple that has absolutely identical ideas and philosophies on child-raising is extremely rare. Actually, I've never come across such a phenomenon. Why is this? Well, for one, it's because the father is a man and the mother is a woman, which is enough of a difference on its own. They also grew up in different homes, may come from different backgrounds, and each has his/her own personality. All of these factors just about guarantee that husband and wife will not always see eye-to-eye when it comes to their kids.
So how can couples raise their children and still keep their marriage afloat?
By following a few key rules.
1) It's okay to disagree. In other words, don't feel bad that you and your spouse have differences of opinion about your kids. Realize that it's honest to have disagreements - just disagree without being disagreeable. Discuss the issues calmly, when both of you are in a good state of mind, and talk openly and honestly. That means, don't hurl accusations and judgment statements. Talk about the issue at hand, not about why your spouse is so ------ for thinking the way he or she does. Respect the differences between you, and arrive at an agreement that both of you can live with.
2) You must support each other in front of the children. Although you and your spouse are mature enough to follow rule #1, children are not mature enough to understand it. Therefore, you must, but must, support each other in front of the kids. Treat each other with respect and back each other up. That means that, if you tend to be more laid back while your spouse is a stricter type, you still have to support each other in front of the kids. So let's say that the father is lenient and the mother is strict, and the following scenario occurs:
Mom and Dad have a four year old daughter named Kate. Little Katie has just finished eating lunch, and she now wants a cookie. So she asks, "Mommy, can I please have a cookie?" And Mom answers, "Katie, you just ate lunch. Now is not the time for cookies. If you want, you can have one after you wake up from your nap." Katie looks at her Dad and gives him her pouting face, the one he can almost never resist. What should Dad not do now? Dad should NOT say, "Oh, it's just a cookie. Let her have it." Or even worse, "It's okay, Katie. You can have a cookie." What should he say? He should say, "Katie, Mommy just told you that you can't have a cookie now. You have to wait until you wake up from your nap."
Now, to eat or not to eat a cookie may seem like a trivial issue. But kids are very fine-tuned when it comes to picking up parental vibes. So even if the issue seems insignificant, the rule doesn't change: Always, but always, support each other in front of the kids.
3) Don't fight when the kids can see or hear you. This is a corollary to rule #2. The reason this is so important is that, when parents allow their children to hear them fighting, they are really pushing their kids into an impossible situation. Let's continue the cookie episode to see how this works:
Little Katie wants a cookie, and Mommy says no. Dad feels bad for Katie, and tells her she can have the cookie. Mom is not thrilled with this, to say the least.
She: I can't believe this. I just told her she can't have the cookie, and you go right ahead and give it to her!?
He: Oh, come on. It's just a cookie.
She (raises her voice): It is NOT just a cookie!!
He: Well, then, what is it?!!
She: It's about showing some respect for the rules I set down.
He (getting heated up): I always respect your rules!! You're the one who never respects mine!!
She: You're a liar!
Katie - and the other children, too, who have no doubt come running to see what all the yelling is about - have now heard their mother call their father a liar. The fact that she didn't mean it, and it just slipped out in a moment of anger, is irrelevant. They heard it, and they have no way of knowing that their mother isn't deadly serious.
These children now have two choices. They can either believe their mother, or not believe her. If they believe her, then they are now facing the "fact" that their father is a liar, which obviously does nothing to bolster their faith and trust in him, and takes away from their sense of emotional security. If they don't believe her, than they think that their mother is hysterical, emotional, and untrustworthy, which obviously does nothing for their emotional security, either. So now matter what, do not fight when the kids can hear you. (Actually, you shouldn't fight at all - there are much better ways to resolve issues - but more on that another time.)
4) If you can't work it out, get someone to help you. This rule is unbelievably important. If you and your spouse cannot work out your differences of opinion on child-rearing issues, then you absolutely must consult a third person. That person can be a friend, mentor, clergyman - whatever - as long as you both like and trust them. There is, however, one thing you must check out before decided on whom to speak with. You need to find out if they have children, and if they know how to raise them. Remember the following rule: Someone who doesn't know how to raise their own children definitely does not know how to raise yours. So try to find someone with grown-up children who are happy, well-adjusted adults. If you can't find someone whose children have already grown up, then at least find someone whose teenage children are also happy and well-adjusted.
These are the key rules to dealing with the challenges that children can present to a marriage. Follow them, and you'll see that it's much easier to deal with than you think! And don't forget to enjoy your children along the way - they do grow up!!
Reframing Your Marriage | The 5 Word Formula to Make Your Marriage Work - Part 2 | The 5 Word Formula to Make Your Marriage Work | The 3 Main Challenges to Marriage - Part III | The 3 Main Challenges in Marriage - Part II | The 3 Main Challenges to Marriage - Part I | See More »