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Parents' Bond Impacts Children

Author: Bill Mitcham - Mooresville Tribune
Published: March 12, 2009
Source: Statesville Record and Landmark

Parents' Bond Impacts ChildrenAs a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, it is not unusual for a parent to bring a disturbed child to see me because "she needs help."

The parent reports that the child is uncooperative at home and is getting into trouble at school. After interviewing the parent and child, I discover the parents aren't getting along too well. The husband might have threatened divorce and has spent several nights with his parents or at a motel.

When this happens, many times I end up working with the parents rather than the child. The acting-out behavior of the child may be a reaction to the tension between the parents. Many parents may not be aware of the reality that children actually bond to the bond between their parents. When the bond is threatened by conflict or coming unglued by separation or divorce, children intuitively feel the tension and get anxious about the future. They know the stability of the family depends on the quality of the bond of their parents.

Some therapists call this interconnectedness between the parental bond and the well-being of children, the "fishbowl theory." By this, they mean it is the parents who control the temperature of the family environment. In a fishbowl, the temperature is the same for all the fish in the bowl. If the water is warm and comfortable for the big fish, it is the same for the small fish. If unresolved conflict between spouses causes the family temperature to get too hot, all the children in the family feel the heat of the family fishbowl water.

Sometimes, children act out not because they have emotional or psychological problems, but because the family environment is too heated or cold. A child acting out can temporarily lower the tension between parents because the parents have to focus their attention on the child rather than the marriage. Children are willing to "take the heat" to keep their parents together. The problem of focusing on the acting out child is that it prevents the parents from dealing with the real issue.

All of this is to say to parents, the best gift you can give to your children is a secure bond and a stable marriage. For the sake of the children, parents need to learn to work through their issues and conflicts. Chronic unresolved conflicts can permeate a family's life and create emotional and psychological problems in children. Children are not mature enough to get caught in the crossfire between disgruntled parents.

If there are issues that are building a fire under the family fishbowl and heating up the temperature of the water in the fishbowl, parents need to put out the fire and restore the water to a safe and comfortable temperature. This is the responsibility of the parents, not the children.

Maintaining a healthy marriage can be viewed as one of the best parenting jobs a couple can do. A stable and affectionate bond between parents allows a child to feel confident and secure so they can continue to grow and develop into a healthy and productive adult.

The best thing a mother can do for her children is to love their father. The best thing a husband can do for his children is to love their mother.

A miracle takes place in an acting-out child when parents get their act together. The "problem child" suddenly becomes cooperative again and her grades come back up and she is pleasant to be around. Sometimes, she might even clean her room on first request.

Dr. Bill Mitcham is the Director/Therapist at The Marriage Maintenance Center in Davidson. He can be reached at 704-408-4187or e-mail at


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