I think that most parents would agree that you will do almost anything for your children. Once you have brought these little beings into the world they change your life forever.
After becoming a parent, many people start to focus on their children. And their own needs, wants and desires take a backseat to doing what they believe is best for the children. To a degree this is a natural part of being a parent, as in the early years children are completely dependent. As the children become older and gain some independence many parents start to make time for themselves again. This can be a difficult transition time for many, but when it happens the children still will always be a priority.
People will do many things for their children. But one thing I don’t believe they should ever do is stay in a relationship “for the children”.
A Stable Home
Any long time readers at thezombieshuffle.com may be wondering where I’m going with this as I’m a big believer in marriage and long term relationships. Furthermore, child psychologists agree that a stable home life with both parents is very beneficial to the personal and emotional development of children.
It seems clear that having children grow up in a home with both parents is a positive thing. So why would I say you should never stay for the children? First, it’s important to understand what is meant by “a stable home life”.
A stable home life goes a lot deeper than just being able to come home to mommy and daddy; it means living in a house full of love.
When discussing environments for children most child psychologists will list some variation on the following scenarios (in order of benefit to the children):
- Child is raised by both parents in a loving home
- Parents are apart, but the child is raised, supported and loved by both parents
- Child is raised by a single parent where the other parent is largely absent
- Parents are together “for the child”, but the child grows up in a tense or loveless home
- Parents are apart and use the child is used against each other
The ranking of the first and last options seems obvious. Where confusion seems to come in is in the value of staying together “for the sake of the child”. Some people believe that simply providing the child with a home with both parents present is a positive thing. This is not only incorrect, but can actually do long term harm to the emotional development of a child.
The important thing is not the presence of both parents. The truly important thing is the presence of love.
Trouble on the Home Front
I’ve heard of all sorts of troubled relationships involving kids. In some cases parents split up and share custody. In other cases they stay together “for the children” and are unhappy, usually leading to one or both having affairs on the side in order to find the fulfillment that is lacking in their marriage.
Some wait until their children are grown before going their separate ways, and in one case I’ve heard of (second hand) the couple had agreed to split up as soon as their daughter reached the age of majority, and told her just after her 18th birthday. Geez, happy birthday to her.
I believe that the primary role you serve as a parent is as a teacher. You are trying to teach your child, and guide them to be the best people they can be while preparing them for life on their own. If you stay just for the children, what exactly are you teaching them?
A Life of Love
Recently I was at a funeral, and during the eulogy the daughters spoke about their father. One thing that both of them commented on was how much their father loved their mother.
After they spoke, the funeral director spoke and talked about how with the holiday season it is easy to get caught up in gifts. Often we want our gifts to be expensive or extravagant. Then he made the following comment:
As a parent, the greatest gift you can give your children is to love your spouse/partner.
I believe in that 100%. If you don’t do that, what exactly are you doing “for the children”. Children learn from what they see. The relationship parents model to children are the things they come to learn are “normal”. If someone stays “for the children” but has checked out on the relationship how does this help them? Kids are smart, and they can pick up on body language and emotional undercurrents. If you stay in an unhappy relationship for the children you aren’t helping them. All you are doing is creating emotionally broken children.
Reasons to Stay
Just to be clear, I am by no means suggesting that if you are unhappy in your relationship and there are children involved you should leave it.
In fact I understand the idea of staying “for the children”. Relationships naturally go through ups and downs, and often more than just love is needed in order for a relationship to last. Children can act as glue for a relationship, and sometimes they allow a couple to stick things out and make it through the tough times.
But staying in a relationship should never be just for the children. As soon as someone says they are staying “for the children” that implies that they don’t truly want to be in the relationship, and this lays the groundwork for unhappiness and resentment.
You need to be able to stay for the relationship itself, and for the value and satisfaction that it provides to your own life. If it happens to be beneficial to the children at the same time great, that’s a nice side effect.
So no, I am not suggesting leaving your relationship. What I am suggesting is that if you want to truly do something for your children, embrace your relationship. Work on it, and improve it. Do your best to build and model the type of relationship that you would want them to have. One full of love, caring and affection. Remain committed to the relationship and continue to support and love one another.
Love your partner and make that love part of your everyday life. People are different in how they express love, but however you express it make sure that you do. And let the children see that. Give them a home full of love. And let them know that not only do mommy and daddy love them, but mommy and daddy love each other too.
The Challenges of Parenting
I have two children, and I love them to pieces and can’t imagine life without them. But you know what? Being a dad is really hard sometimes, and I have times that I don’t particularly care for some of the things they do, decisions they make, or the way they sometimes treat me. My children are fairly young, and are still prone to the occasional tantrum (realistically though, aren’t we all?). When my child is in the throes of a tantrum, at that particular moment I don’t necessarily enjoy being a dad. But that doesn’t mean I love them any less, or that I will abandon them. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.
For full disclosure I suppose I should admit that at these times I often tell them if they don’t improve their behaviour I will be putting them up for sale on ebay. But it’s a bit of a joke between us, and they know that I’m kidding (usually).
Why are relationships with partners any different? Why do we hold them to a different standard? Your partner will have days that they make you angry, and there will be days that you don’t particularly like them. That’s just life. We don’t give up on our children, and we don’t stop loving them or showing them that love. So why do we do it with our partners?
This may be a gender thing, but I believe my relationship with my wife is in some ways more important than my relationship with my children (or at least on an equal level). Eventually my children will grow up, move out and start their own lives. I will always be there for them and be a part of their lives, but their lives will be exactly that – theirs. My relationship with my wife is one where I hope we are able to share our lives and support each other “until death do us part”.
Leaving a Legacy
I hope I have a long life ahead of me, but when my time comes I hope my children are able to stand up and say that I was a good man who did my best for them, and that I loved them. And I also hope they are able to say that I loved their mom, and they knew that, felt it, and saw it.
Of all the lessons I am able to teach them, I hope I am able to teach them that life may not always be easy, but love can always endure.