Are you modeling a good marriage for your kids?
We’ve been talking this week about raising kids to make good decisions. On Monday we talked about how to help kids understand it’s better to wait to date, and yesterday my 16-year-old shared her thoughts on why she’s not dating in high school. Tomorrow my 19-year-old will chime in, answering “why do teenagers rebel?” (and what we can do to make that less likely).
But all of this really comes down to the relationships that you model with your kids. It’s great to teach them things, but it’s so much better to show them. When you model a great marriage, they will want to have what you have. They’re far less likely to look for shortcuts.
Now modeling a great marriage means that you have to actually have a good marriage! You can’t just fake it. But remember that a good marriage is not a perfect marriage. It’s okay if kids see that you’re still working some things through, as long as they also see that you’re doing it in a healthy way. And what is it that you want kids to see?
In a Good Marriage, Spouses are Affectionate Towards Each Other
Kids need to know you actually like each other! It’s so important for them to see you physically touch. It helps them understand more about sexuality, and it helps them feel secure, that your marriage is okay. The majority of women who write to me who have sexual issues in their marriage will say something like, “In our house sex was never talked about and I never saw my mom or dad touch or kiss each other.” It was something that was so distant that it felt like it was wrong.
Affection is a wonderful thing. Now some of us are huggers and some of us aren’t. Some of us can easily give our husband a quick kiss in front of people and some of us would be mortified. Obviously we all have different comfort levels. But I do think it’s very important, even if you’re not a touchy person, to let your kids see you hold hands. Let them see you caress his shoulder or put your hand on his leg when he’s driving. Let them see you put your head on his shoulder if you’re sitting on the couch together. Even let them see you kiss! It helps them feel really secure, but perhaps more importantly, it helps them see that marriage is fun! If the only people they ever see being affectionate are those who aren’t married, what are they going to learn? Marriage is where love goes to die.
In a Good Marriage, Spouses Fight, but Resolve Conflict
Keith and I have had our share of fights in front of the kids. We’ve snapped at each other. I’ve retreated into silence or short answers at times. I’m not proud of those moments, but they happen. And we’ve always tried to make sure that if they see us mad, they also see us apologizing and working it out.
Often when parents are mad they say nothing because they don’t want the kids to know. But kids sense the tension and they sense the silence, even if you haven’t said anything to them. And when kids know there’s trouble, but they don’t know what that trouble is, they often assume it’s worse than it is.
I’m not advocating yelling in front of the kids, or calling names, or airing all your dirty laundry. But if something happens right then and there, and you start snapping, kids see it. That’s not wonderful. But what is wonderful is if they can also see you resolve it.
Everybody has tension; if you can show them how to get around that tension, how to apologize, and how to forgive and move on you will have taught them something really important indeed.
Bonus points if you can also let them see you praying together, especially about problems. If you get angry and apologize, and then you take each other hands and say a quick prayer of repentance and blessing on the other person, that speaks volumes. I know not everyone who reads this blog is a Christian, but I can’t stress the importance enough of modeling a strong spiritual life and faith to your kids.
Spouses in a Good Marriage Value Each Other’s Opinions
Kids need to see that marriage is a partnership where you respect each other, and where you honour each other by checking in before you make a decision. If your child asks for something like a cell phone, you listen to their reasons and talk to them about it, and then say, “let me check with Daddy and we’ll talk to you together.”
If you’re trying to make up your mind about whether to switch jobs or whether to sign the kids up for sports, they need to see that you consult your husband and that you make that decision together.
And likewise, before he does something big, they should see him talk to you.
We know a couple who genuinely love each other, but where the mom is often exasperated because the dad does things on a whim. He arrives home one day and announces, “I bought a cottage.” And soon it was, “I bought a boat.” Now, they had the money, so this didn’t endanger their financial position, but that was a big decision for him to make that affected the whole family. And she was not pleased.
Talk to each other about big decisions. Even dream together! And the best way to do that is just to check in with each other everyday. Have one time of day when you always talk–maybe you sit on the couch for 15 minutes before dinner to catch up. Maybe you have a cup of tea after dinner and catch up. Maybe you take a walk after dinner together. Do it regularly, and let the kids see it. And if you are talking like this and sharing what’s on your mind, it’s far less likely that one of you will make a major decision without consulting the spouse!
Spouses in a Good Marriage Praise Each Other
When I empty the dishwasher I get on the phone. I don’t like doing just one thing, so that’s often my time to phone my best friend, or my mom, and talk.
But here’s the thing about being on the phone: kids hear you. Even when you’re not talking to them. So when your kids hear you talk about your husband, what do they hear you say? Do you complain, or do you build him up? Yes, we all need times to talk to a trusted mentor about problems, but those should be the exceptions, and they should be private conversations. In general, let your children hear you saying good things about their dad and honouring him.
And let them hear you praise him, too! When we eat dinner together, Keith always says, “That was an amazing dinner, Sheila.” My daughter rolls her eyes, because he’s so predictable, but he means it, and she hears it. I make it a point of praising my husband in front of our kids, too. Let your kids hear you say nice things about each other!
In a Good Marriage, Spouses Share One Whole Life, not Two Separate Lives
Do your kids see you do things together? Or do they see you sitting on separate screens at night and living separate lives? Many couples live as roommates, not as lovers, or even best friends. Find things to do together! Let your kids see that you know how to keep love alive and that you genuinely have interests you enjoy. When they see that marriage is something that is fun, where you have a constant companion, it makes marriage look very attractive.
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Sex is Part of a Good Marriage!
The most mortifying thing many parents can imagine is the teenagers catching you having sex.
But honestly, that’s not really that bad. Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but secretly your kids want to know that you still have fun and you still want to be with each other–though they’d rather not hear any specifics.
I think we err too much on the side of “we can never do anything whatsoever at all if there’s a chance they’ll know what we’re doing”, and not enough on the side of, “it’s our house, and if they don’t want to hear it, they can go to their rooms and shut the door.” It’s a great comfort to kids to know that their parents still have fun, even if they don’t want to picture it. I know it’s awkward when kids are teens, but you can still nurture a good sex life with teens in the house!
If you’re affectionate; if you praise each other; if you resolve conflict; if you have fun with each other, what will you be teaching your kids? You’ll be showing them, marriage is fun! Marriage is worth it. Marriage is work, but it’s wonderful having someone who loves you.
So don’t worry too much about keeping absolutely everything private. Let them see you living out your marriage, because one day, you want them to start living out a good marriage of their own, too.
I can think of a ton of other things that go into setting the example of a good marriage–showing a united front; complimenting each other; praying together; worshiping together. But I didn’t want the list to become too long! So talk to your husband about these points, and ask: are we modeling a good marriage to the kids? Or are we trying to keep too many things behind closed doors? Now pick ONE aspect that you really want to be deliberate about modeling to your children. And then do it together!
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