~ 31 Days of Parenting Teens & Tweens, Day 10 ~
In a country where the divorce rate hovers around 50%, it's hard for me–a recovering people pleaser–to say what I'm about to say. I realize potentially I could offend or hurt every other person who reads this. At least those of you who've read me a while know neither is my intent, and I'm hopeful everyone else will give me the benefit of the doubt. Regardless, its importance warrants its inclusion.
The priority relationship in a two-parent family needs to be husband and wife, leaving no doubt to the children who comes first.
You and your spouse were a family before children arrived on the scene, and if you carefully tend your relationship, you'll be together long after they depart.
When children are young, they require a lot of attention; they're 100% dependent on you to provide for their every need. But by the time they've reached middle school, this should no longer be the case; their dependence should gradually diminish.
Kids are master manipulators; they intuitively know how to play parents against one another to get what they want.
You and your spouse need to have a united front when parenting, or your children will find your weaknesses.
The best way to have a united front is to do the things necessary to strengthen your marriage.
- Have regular date nights. Especially if you let this go when your children were younger, spend time alone together. By 12 or 13, under normal circumstances, your child should be mature enough to stay home alone for a while.
- Flirt with one another. Kids will gross out at any signs of PDA, but I say the more, the better! Though they outwardly protest, inwardly they're relieved. They've likely seen their friends' or classmates' parents split up, and to see you showing signs of affection brings a measure of comfort.
- Attend marriage retreats or seminars. Designed for this very purpose, to strengthen your relationship and open doors of communication. Worth the time and expense.
- Develop relationships with other couples. Not only does this model healthy relationships with others for your children, being around other marrieds encourages your own marriage and has an overall positive affect.
- Express your love and respect for one another verbally and nonverbally. Your kids pick up on what you say and do. They're watching when you don't realize it.
- Get help if you need it. If you're struggling in marriage, your kids know it; even if they never say a word, trust me, they know it and it makes them nervous. Often by the time couples seek help, their relationship has deteriorated beyond what they think is the point of no return. While it's never too late "until…" if you sense signs of neglect, please…take care of it now!
Marriage can be hard and sometimes it feels like the mountains are insurmountable; but there's always, eventually, the other side.
I can't speak experientially to those of you who are single parents or have blended families; I have great empathy for you because I'm sure your road is more difficult than I can imagine. But I can't help but believe it's better for your children if you can find a way to demonstrate unconditional love to the other parent (if he or she is in the picture). Finding a way to rise above painful circumstance and to love "in spite of" (different from liking or condoning poor choices) will teach your teens and tweens invaluable life skills.
Your turn: Do you have advice for single-parent families or blended families? Particularly along this topic, which at its base level teaches t(w)eens that the world, in fact, does not revolve around them. It's one thing when they're two and can't dress, bathe, feed, shelter or transport themselves…very different at 12. If you are married, identify something loving you can do for your spouse to strengthen your marriage this week.