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On Being a Great Parent

Your Partner Should Be Your Refuge

Your Partner Should Be Your Refuge

Dear Friend,

There are many things that you can focus on to become a better parent to your children.  But one of these has nothing to do – at least not directly – with how you relate to your child.

“Satisfied spouses make the best parents.”

I posted that statement on Twitter recently, and received a great response from folks.

The truth is, if your personal life is not happy and settled, it’s going to be difficult to really focus on your relationship with your child.

I see so many people (mostly moms) who practically abandon their husbands in their enthusiasm to be the “perfect” mother.  Their attitude seems to be, “He’s a big boy, he can take care of himself,” or “He’s always demanding my attention.  He’s worse than a kid!”

The reality is that when you follow the path that these mothers are going down, you are tearing down one key foundation for your child, even while you are frantically building another.

A happy, satisfied marriage creates parents who feel confident and stable enough to really relax and focus on their role as a parent.  A rocky marriage creates distracted and emotionally nervous parents who are too wrapped up in their own drama to really become aware of the children around them.

Lord knows that marriage (or any partnership that raises children) is difficult and complex.  And when you take a typically new relationship and throw kids on top of it, it is no wonder that so many children live in single-parent homes or with step-parents.

People get overwhelmed.  Dads are overwhelmed by feeling abandoned by their wives, while those wives are overwhelmed by their new role, assumed responsibilities, and a feeling of terror that they might make a serious mistake and hurt their new child.

Society bombards us with mountains of conflicting instructions on how to be a parent.  New parents are overwhelmed by all of this.

Add the regular (but now heightened) pressure to keep the money flowing and to keep up with the Joneses, and relationships have little chance to adding satisfaction to the lives of those in them.

I would argue that most marriages are net sources of stress on the partners during this time in their lives, rather than the refuges of peace from a chaotic world that they ought to be.

Divorce is simply an attempt by some to stop the mad chaos and stress in their lives, if only for a moment, and restart the clock at a more manageable rate.  The romance that a straying partner experiences is what he or she needs, but can’t seem to get anymore, from their marriage.

Can marriage with children ever really be a satisfying experience for a spouse?  Yes, I think that it can.  But the first step must be to stop the chaos.

We bring the chaos on ourselves.  We do what we think we are supposed to do.  Moms are supposed to be “super moms,” and dads are supposed to be strong and successful, bringing home the bacon while acting as a wise sage to the children.

This image of parenthood that we have is the cause of many divorces, and of a huge amount of personal misery and unnecessary legal bills and financial distress.

And ugly parent break-ups are a huge source of stress and, essentially, bad parenting by those same parents.

Do you want to be a great parent?

Step One:  Relax.  Kids are durable.  They don’t need you to be super mom or dad.  They just need you.

That leads to Step Two:  Focus on you.  Make sure that you do not lose yourself in your role as a parent, even if you enjoy it.  Kids need parents who are happy, so focus first on ensuring that you and your spouse are happy and satisfied in your life.  And let your kids watch how you do it.  You are now modeling behavior for your children.

Kids are copy-cats.  Monkey-see, monkey-do.  That’s the primary way that they learn.  Want them to live a satisfying life?  Start by living one yourself.

Step Three:  Since you are happy, you will be more relaxed in the now.  This prepares you for entrance into the world of your children.  Spend time with them.  Make time for them – for your relationship with them.  Get down to their level and really climb into their world.  Listen with true interest to what they have to say.  And remember that, to them, this goo-goo blather is serious business.  Show them that you respect and love them by sharing your undivided attention with them for a little while each day.

They don’t need you every minute of the day.  You do not need to feel rushed or stressed that you aren’t spending enough time with your kids.  Ten minutes of real, relaxed time at their level is better than a whole day of being in the same room with your kids but not really listening to them.

Being a great parent is easier than you think.  It just requires you to be a happier, more satisfied, less rushed you.

All the best,

Hugh

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