Some unhappy couples elect to stay together until their children leave home. They do so at a personal sacrifice for the sake of their children’s well being. Divorced parents and those in intact families also consider their youngsters’ needs in most of their important decisions. How do we determine what is in the best interest of the children?
Parenting is a daunting task. It is complex and difficult even for the most knowledgeable adults who avail themselves to professionals, friends and child experts’ advice. Parents learn quickly that none of it uniformly applies to all children. Each child is unique and their personalities and styles may have a different impact on each of their offspring.
Most first time parents are overwhelmed by the responsibility they face as soon as their new bundle of joy arrives. The newborn’s total dependence and helplessness only compounds the awesome undertaking of protecting and providing for this vulnerable human being. The well- meaning parents are novices, who are expected to do it perfectly, with no prior extensive training.
As babies develop, the physical care and emotional investment are compounded by the psychological guidance needed to offer the child the best opportunity for healthy development. Parents love their children and are committed to spare them any unnecessary discomfort and provide all the possible opportunities for a successful, secure and happy life.
Couples also have to negotiate their own needs as they partner to provide their child with only the best. In “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce – A 25 year landmark study”, Judith Wallerstein states: “When one of the parents (or sometimes both) cannot maintain his or her adulthood and abdicates responsibility to protect the child, then the child is exposed to many serious risks. This can happen in both intact and divorced families.” Staying a mature adult means being able to defer one’s own needs and emotions in favor of what is truly within the best interest of the child. This is a challenging task.
Parents who argue, berate, attack, shame or discredit each other in front of the child damage their youngster by their immature behavior. Pulling a child into alliance against the other parent causes the child great long-term harm. Though Judith Wallerstein found that “Ill founded accusations have built –in ways of self-correcting as the child matures”, the pattern of disrespectful interactions imprints the youngster with relational ways hazardous to his/her future marriage.
Parents who make decisions that primarily serve themselves and exclude the youngster’s needs or input, may cause children worry, fears, insecurities and loneliness.
Judith Wallerstein writes, “This includes decisions about religious instructions, education, medical and health issues, and sometimes place of residence.”
Whether parents stay together happily, reluctantly or choose to divorce, it is wise for them to label any discord as sad, regrettable, changeable and unproductive exchange. They need to teach family cohesiveness, even at times when they are unable to live up to their own ideals.
As adults, parents must model responsible conduct of hard work, keeping promises to each other and the children, telling the truth and being kind even when it is contrary to their momentary impulses.
Judith Viorst’s book title “Grown-Up Marriage” cues us to what responsible parents must model. Among other behavioral depictions, “A grown-up marriage involves a tricky combination of honest and polite”.
For the sake of your children:
• Contain your negative emotions and model the positive ones as consistently as possible.
• Visualize your child as observing your every response as a code of conduct for his/her future.
• Remember your values of kindness, fairness, decency and respect of others as you interact with your spouse, children, or others.
• Curb the impulses to be “right”, vengeful, dominant or controlling, to exonerate your hurt ego.
• Deal with your mate and children with the same respect and dignity you wish to receive from them.