We love our kids (ages 5, 8 and 13) and want them to grow up to enjoy life and be successful as parents and marital partners. That said, I worry because my wife does not like me to be affectionate toward her around the children, and she is often critical of me in front of them. We don’t do fun things as a family like I see some families doing. What effect, if any, do you think this will have on our kids?
Your behavior sets your kids up for similar behavior in their future relationships. If you and your wife make no changes, don’t be surprised to see your behaviors repeated by your children when they have adult relationships. It’s common at the first of the year to make New Year’s resolutions. I suggest that you and your wife resolve to become the best role models you can be for your kids. Take a hard look at the values you want for your family, identify where you fall short and resolve to change. Here are a few suggestions for changing your role model behaviors.
Be Role Models As:
- Marital partners
Evidence that one’s parents like each other is very reassuring to children. My father kissed my mother every time he left the house. While classmates worried their parents were divorcing, I was certain mine wouldn’t divorce. Children are tuned into tensions between parents. If they sense something wrong between their parents, it tends to increase their anxiety. When parents seem happy in their relationship, children tend to relax, have a sense of security and feel happy themselves.
2. Parents of a family that supports one another in constructive ways
Criticism of a parent in front of the children (or in private) has no place in a good marital relationship. There are ways to encourage the behavior you want without being critical of behavior you don’t like. For example, if a partner throws his clothes on the floor and you want them in a hamper, communicate your request for change in a respectful manner, and then use praise or express thanks every time clothes make it in the hamper. If this isn’t successful, ask your partner what it would take to get the clothes in the hamper, and explain why it is important to you. Children need to see parents being kind to each other and working things out rather than resorting to criticism. Critical parents tend to raise kids who are critical of others.
- People who are kind to others
Children whose parents are empathetic and kind learn to practice this behavior instead of bullying.
- Problem solvers
Parents can demonstrate problem solving and teach their children the process. When children describe a problem, they can be encouraged to come up with solutions.
- Parents who support fun in families
As your children visit with friends, they will learn that some families have fun together, and they may wish that their family did too. Some families set aside one night as a family fun night and watch movies or play cards and games. These experiences give parents the opportunity to demonstrate that it’s good to have fun. They also offer the chance to model how to graciously win and lose, another important life skill.
If you and your wife maintain your current behaviors, your children may turn out just fine. On the other hand, you can be more certain that your kids will be happy and successful if you put in the work to be better role models. The start of a new year is a great time to begin.
Betty Richardson PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.