Your kids understand your marriage
I have heard many different opinions and viewpoints about what a healthy family looks and feels like, and I am sure you have some very clear ideas of your own too. However, it would be difficult for anyone to ever convince me there is a more significant and influential relationship within a family than the spousal relationship. How well the parent figures in a family get along will have a significant impact upon the healthy functioning of every person within the home, even if one parent is a step-parent. There simply is no getting around this point! Some shocking statistics from Dr. Phil McGraw shed further light on the critical nature of having a healthy two-parent family whenever possible.
It is impossible to have, for example, a family in which the mother and father have lost all respect and admiration for each other, yet are able to maintain a façade of happiness and connection that the children cannot see through. Kids and teens are usually far more observant and perceptive than we give them credit for, and probably have a large degree of insight and clarity on your relationship! Just as importantly, they can feel instinctively whether their mother and father's connection is one that helps them feel safe and comfortable, or something less than comfortable. Many years after both had passed away, my own father told me about how my grandmother and grandfather chose to "stay together for the kids' sake", despite the fact their marriage had very little joy and life left in it. Believing this choice would prove to be the healthiest and least harmful for the family, it proved over time to be just the opposite - the parents' lack of love and healthy connection created a negative feeling through the home which lasted for more than 20 years of child rearing.
When parents seek help for their child or teen who seems to be having any number of difficulties, including anxiousness, inability to sleep, acute fits of anger, or others, there is often a tendency to attack the challenge in the following order of priority: fix the problem we see (e.g. anger) through giving tools and tips, and if that does not bring results, start examining the child's life at school. Perhaps there are learning or bullying difficulties that are contributing to the problem! Both are common approaches, and at the right times, are very important areas to look at in seeking to create a healthy, happy family. However, any efforts given to these areas are likely to be short-circuited by an unhappy spousal relationship in the home. This is a surprise to many parents, who often are initially unaware of the far-reaching effects of their connection on the "energy" of the home.
Ultimately, the reason this relationship is so influential is not only because kids and teens naturally look up to their parents (or step-parents) and absorb many of their developing ideas of the world from them. Rather, it is because of the energy that everyone can feel in the home, over which parents have incredible influence, whether they realize it or not. Happy homes are almost always created through the presence of happy parents, and the degrees of optimism, connection and unwavering support they are able to provide.
Interestingly enough, the solution for many young people who are struggling is for their parents to do some of their own work, both on their marriage or common-law relationship, and on themselves as individuals. How well are their needs being met together? Does each parent feel they are permitted to express themselves and live authentically, according to his/her own values and personality? Does everyone feel they are supported within the family, yet have a healthy number of connections outside the home? These are critical questions to answer, and whose answers will have positive or negative repercussions throughout the family. Seeking these answers in a supported way can often make a big difference for everyone in the family.
Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and parents. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:
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