Parenting does come with an instruction manual … lots of them actually. Information abounds on what a good parent should or shouldn’t do. The problem is, the advice is often contradictory or limited in its scope. Below is a more holistic take on good parenting—how parenting decisions affect the entire family unit, including the parent’s relationship…
Good parents put their children first
Giving your child your whole heart doesn’t mean giving your child your whole schedule. In order to continue being a good parent, you have to make some time for yourself.
You also need to carve out time for your spouse. In terms of health, financial stability, academic achievement and more, a healthy marriage is one of the best gifts you can give your child. Protecting your marriage requires good boundaries—regular date nights and strictly-enforced bedtimes can help.
There isn’t a magic formula for perfectly dividing your time between these priorities. Just do your best to keep the ratio somewhat equitable.
Children are resilient
Kids can shrug off minor frustrations and disappointments. However, the so-called “resiliency” of children should never be used to justify or ignore serious problems. Neglect, abuse, abandonment, etc. can create lasting trauma if left unaddressed. If/when trauma occurs, make sure your child has adequate support to process through it.
Children are fragile
The resiliency myth cuts both ways: Children are not emotionally invincible, but they are often stronger than we think. Inevitably, you will lose your temper or let your child down. But so long as you create a loving environment for your child most of the time, he or she will rebound.
Never fight in front of the children
So long as you can master the art of fighting fair, it’s OK for your child to hear you argue with your spouse once in a while. Putting on a happy façade when your marriage is in trouble creates a false sense of security. And seeing the two of you respectfully work through conflict can help your child in his/her own relationships or marriage someday. Compromise and communication are important skills to actively model for your children.
That being said, your child doesn’t need to hear every argument, and some subject matters are not appropriate for children. And your children should never have to witness physical or verbal abuse.
Children can help hold a marriage together
Couples who have children do tend to stay married longer. However, these couples do not necessarily have happier marriages, especially during the early years of child-rearing. Protect your love life during the chaos of raising a child. Otherwise, your marriage will be more vulnerable to collapse once the kids leave home. Ultimately, your commitment to each other—not your children—should be the binding agent in your marriage.
If we aren’t happily married, our children will be better off if we divorce
Children crave stability—what feels like an “unfulfilling” marriage to you may still be quite satisfactory to them. Divorce complicates a child’s life while providing few, if any, benefits for the child. Even in “friendly” divorces, children must deal with a lot of unwelcome challenges—divided loyalties, split schedules, house-hopping, new boyfriends/girlfriends, etc. Unless your marriage is truly toxic, most children won’t see your divorce as any favor to them.
If your marriage is laced with bitter, chronic arguments, your child, of course, will be negatively affected. Attending a marriage and relationship education (MRE) workshop or a seeing a couple’s therapist can help you improve your communication and conflict resolution skills.
It’s normal to lose interest in sex after having children
Hormonal changes, “touch fatigue” and general exhaustion can understandably diminish your sex drive in the weeks/months following the birth of a child. But the arrival of a child doesn’t mean you can permanently put your sex life out on the curb. For your marriage to survive past its infancy, your love life must also be nurtured.
Moms are essential, dads are optional
Sure, kids can and do get by without dads every day. But male and female parenting styles are generally distinct—and both styles are beneficial to children. The male pattern of interaction helps with emotional self-control and social development.
Additionally, father involvement is correlated with numerous other measures of child well-being (higher levels of economic and educational achievement, career success, psychological well-being, etc.). While a two-parent home isn’t an option for every family, the potential impact of a loving father (or father figure) is often undervalued.
Don’t show affection for each other in front of the kids—it grosses them out
It does gross them out. It also makes them feel really secure. (Just keep the PDA rated "G".)
Your child deserves the best
Your child deserves your best—that is, your best effort at providing love and stability. And no matter how many tantrums are thrown in the mall, it’s your best (not the best stuff) that really matters most to your child. You have limited time and energy … and that’s OK. But instead of scurrying around town searching for the latest stuff, make time to speak with your child and find out the latest with him or her.