Marriage IS Parenting: Show them how to be a pro: Part 3
Demonstrating a good marriage is parenting just as much as direct nurturing and behavior correction. You might call it indirect parenting. How so, you might ask? Well, what is the general definition of parenting? Teaching children how to be a good adult. Being a good adult means many things (so many I couldn’t not possibly list all here): how to do laundry, how to take care of a pet, how to cook Ramen, how to drive a car, how to speak kindly, how to love someone else, how to react appropriately, how to raise kids, how to treat a spouse, how to do anything they are able to observe you doing.
This means that if you are fighting with your spouse all the time, you are teaching your children that fighting with your spouse is how marriage is done. Even with something as trivial as replacing the toilet paper over as opposed to under can often be traced back to their parents replacing it over; that’s what they saw their parents do, so that’s what they do now. You are the teacher that is constantly before their eyes, and because they see you that way, they believe that what they see you doing is the right way.
This hero-like view of parents is something that children are innately born with. But be warned, they can be yanked out of this fanboy stupor quicker than you might imagine based on your actions. Treating your spouse or your children negatively over and over can be like Kryptonite to your superhero status in their minds. And when that happens, it will take a lot of time and intentional behavior changes in yourself to redeem that image.
If you are constantly making sarcastic remarks to your spouse in front of your children, don’t be surprised when they start doing the same thing to their siblings and friends, and possibly even you. As Steve challenges participants in the seminar to tape red and green circles to their mirrors to simulate someone recording you all day long, your children are literally recording you all day long and then subconsciously modifying their behaviors to mirror what they think is correct based on your example.
I am not intending to shame anyone who is struggling in marriage, but rather asking you to consider how much parenting you actually do during the day. And by the way, it’s 24/7. Even an incident at work that got you upset, something the kids didn’t even witness, can be a source of good or bad parenting. What is your mood like when you get home? If it was a bad day, are you teaching them it’s ok to get snippy with everyone around them, or are you showing them how it’s possible to have a bad day, but still be joyful around others.
This is the Model tool at its best. How often do children who witness marriage done a certain way mirror that exact technique when they enter marriage and parenthood? Sadly, this is very common. Obviously, there are always exceptions. My husband is one of those. In fact, sometimes I wonder if he’s even related to his family. Children who grow up with a terrible example can still be wonderful spouses and parents. It takes work, but it can be done. You just have to determine how passionate you are about being an excellent model for your children. Some people are motivated enough to change and some find it too difficult.
But consider it this way: why set up your children with a need to make such a dramatic U-turn later in life just so you can avoid the challenge of personal change now? Start today, whatever age they are. Change not only your tone, your words, your attentions toward them, but change them toward your spouse too. If you get upset with your spouse, don’t haul off and castigate them in front of your children. Keep your tone steady and ask them if you can talk to them in the other room. Or, if you’re like me and you need time to cool off, do that, but excuse yourself from the room without storming out.
We are always demonstrating something for our children. The word demonstrate connotes action. We’ve all heard the saying “actions speak louder than words.” Body language can communicate something completely different from what your mouth is saying, so use it very carefully. You might be surprised how children can pick up on body language much faster than words. And whatever message it sends tends to stick with them on a deeper level, so be sure to make it a good message.
The bottom line to all of this is that everything you do or do not do, say, yell, write, mime, it doesn’t matter…any form of communication that goes from your communicator to your children’s receiver will advise them about how to tackle life and impending adulthood. If you want your children to stop talking back, making snarky comments and being pessimistic about things, you may need to think about examining yourself and making a change.