“Close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, there’s no place like home.” ~ Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz
Hello all and welcome to the September edition of Tweens & Teens. This month I’ll discuss how your life changes after having children and how those changes affect your relationship with your spouse and/or significant other once your children are tweens and teens.
The first few months after my first son was born were nothing short of pure trauma. I was in school getting my doctorate, my wife was working, and here we are with a child. Loved him! Needed the Prozac! I thought he would never sleep in his own bed, and I remember telling my wife, “Someone leaves our bed tonight. Either me or the kid.” Well, the couch was reasonably comfortable, and she did eventually allow him to sleep in his crib. As you can guess, he cried. A lot. And loud. Ah, the memories.
But, this is when we first learned to work together for something other than ourselves. We made sacrifices for him. We still do. As we’ve grown together as a couple, we have undoubtedly learned that being a biological mother and father doesn’t make you a mom and a dad.
Now that our son is a tween (just turned 12 years – Happy Birthday!), we’re learning something very important. Listen carefully…Right now, I’m teaching my son how a father should treat their children as well as how a husband should treat his wife. Additionally, his mother is teaching him how a wife should be treated by her husband and how a mother should treat her children.
Take a moment and consider what I just said. These are very key points because now is the time that he is learning how to act once he gets married and has children of his own. Remember how desperately we tried not to be like our parents but still managed to do some of the same things we swore we never would do? It’s hard to outrun genetics as well as the memories and experiences that were imprinted on us when we were younger. This is partly why abusive cycles continue. It’s also why functional cycles continue, as well.
As parents, we’re defining “normal” for our children. Just like our parents defined it for us. For some, dysfunctional is normal. That’s why so many people who come through my office tell me, “There’s nothing wrong with my child. I was just like he/she is when I was younger.” Guess what? There IS something wrong because your definition of normal is skewed. This is not judging others, this is simply the truth. Certainly there are times when I say, “You know…you’re right. There is nothing wrong.” I like saying that to families. But, more times than not, I have to tell them that they need to change their family lifestyle and way of thinking.
I’ve also been asked about arguing in front of your children. The first thought that most of you may have would be “Don’t do it”. If yelling, cursing, and belittling is how you and your spouse argue, then I agree. Don’t do that in front of your kids. However, if you argue in a calm manner and it’s more of a discussion than an argument per se, then I think it’s okay to do so in front of them during certain occasions. There will always be times when it’s inappropriate because of the subject matter, etc.
My wife and I rarely yell when we argue. When this occurs, it’s never in front of the children; however, when we are calm, we do allow them to see us argue so that they’ll understand how to “argue fairly”. This most often happens in the car on a long trip when we can’t escape each other. The concept of arguing fairly may seem strange, but we need to teach our children how to discuss opposing topics with others. We’re showing them how to argue fairly and are also sending them a message that it’s perfectly okay to disagree and express your disagreement with others. Within limits. These limits are defined by how they perceive their parents arguing. My wife and I also show affection in front of them. Within limits. They see us hug, hold hands, and tell each other how much we love the other and how sorry we are for hurting their feelings.
So, I say this in conclusion. If you want to teach your children how to be a functional parent, husband, wife, friend, etc., you must show them. It’s one thing to tell them how to do something. It’s something entirely different to walk the walk. So try taking a walk sometime…the exercise may do your family some good.
Take care, and I’ll see you next month.
*Click here to read more installments of Tweens & Teens by Dr. Jones.