Raising children can present some rude awakenings. Like the time my daughter pretended to be a boy so that “she can show me how to use the tools.” No one ever said girls can’t use tools—but she had never actually seen me use tools (eek).
Children absorb everything—relationship habits are high on the list. They are not just learning how to interact with their future partner, but also their peers, and of course you.
It takes a lot of thought to create a relationship that is not only beneficial for the individuals in it, but one that can have a positive impact on the children that view it daily.
Here are some essentials for any relationship that your kids need to see:
Talk about your feelings, your thoughts and your wishes. Do not assume that your partner knows what you are thinking or feeling. And do not assume that your thoughts, feelings, and wishes are not as important. Your child is watching and learning from you… the both of you.
2. Speak kindly
Not only must you practice communicating, but you must practice doing so kindly. It’s obvious that you don’t want to call your partner names, but children hear your tone too. If you are not in a calm state, then postpone the talking so that you can model how to manage feelings for your child. Also, talking harshly to one another can make it more likely for your child to do so with you or your partner.
It is easy to get stuck in why things need to be our way. Being curious about your partner’s perspective may not only actually improve your relationship, but also shows your child empathy and advanced problem-solving abilities.
4. Act kindly
Engaging in acts of kindness shows your child that love is more than just words. You are not doing this to receive anything in return, but truly because you care about your partner.
Putting up sweet sentiments on the bathroom mirror, giving a hug when your partner is feeling down, or perhaps sharing the last piece of chocolate. Your child will see your action and can see how your partner feels in response. Sometimes it helps to highlight these things for younger children (e.g., “mommy was so happy to see that we made her a card”).
5. Share responsibility
It’s common for either person in a relationship to feel like they are carrying the majority of the workload, so here is where communication, empathy and speaking kindly come in hand to resolve this issue. You will then be able to model for your child what shared responsibility looks like and hopefully it doesn't all fit into gender stereotypes. (Trust me when I say I will be taking out the toolbox soon).
6. Learn from each other
Showing your children that you still each have room to grow and that you can support each other in this not only demonstrates humility, but also teamwork. Your child will be more likely to be a team player when it comes to working on class projects or making a goal in soccer practice.
7. Set your own goals
Create goals or engage in hobbies outside of the relationship to show your child that you are each unique and can have differences, yet always love each other.
8. Empower each other
You and your partner can help each other grow by gently challenging and supporting each other to create positive changes and fulfill even life-long dreams. How beautiful would it be to show your children that you have each other’s backs?
9. Family hug
Sometimes young children feel excluded from the love between parents and it can be hard for them to know that they are still loved when their parents are affectionate towards one another. Open up some hugs to a group hug. Let them know that the love you have for your partner has extended to them.
When we can genuinely say “sorry” we are really showing how to be humble and that it is okay to not do everything ‘perfectly.’ This is something that no forced apology can ever teach a child.
Role modeling is one of the most powerful tools you have in guiding your child. If you are not currently where you want to be in your relationship, then consider what is the most important area to focus on and start with that. Sometimes a little therapy can go a long way, too, with understanding our own barriers and how our own past has affected us.