Kids As The Mistress
Kids certainly test your mettle. It’s their “job”. But that doesn’t mean we should allow them to undermine our relationship.
Being totally dependent from the start, kids place enormous demands on their parents. You’d think this is implicit. Yet, how many couples forget that their relationship will be straining at the seams during this stage? Somehow, in the midst of fatigue and preoccupation, we can feed unrealistic expectations of each other, then blame our partner for what they should be doing but aren’t. Or, what they are doing, but oughtn’t.
The pressure cooker period from 0 to 4 seems to set the dynamics for mothers who put their children first, and fathers who depart (emotionally or physically). On the face of it, making kids number one seems reasonable and even noble. But this decision drives a wedge between a couple that’s hard to discharge, and it can have devastating consequences.
Paradoxically, it’s a move that undermines a child because they are placed into a position of power over their parent’s relationship. Whereas, what kids need is to know their parents are bonded together to give them a sure foundation of love and stability.
In a weird sense, kids can become a kind of “other lover” who claims veto rights over a couple’s love. Like a mistress, such kids (typically treated as mini adults) dictate the terms of engagement. Yet, while there are countless times when children require priority attention to address their genuine needs, it’s all too easy for the line to become well and truly blurred.
By now, some readers will be furious with me, believing that kids come first no matter what. They will be saying, how dare I suggest kids would do anything to harm a couple’s relationship?
Well, it’s true: kids are a couple’s key responsibility. But thinking that older children aren’t manipulative would be truly naïve.
The love and security of a stable parental relationship is fundamental. It’s also far more powerful than an over-anxious mother trying to do everything for her kids. Or, a semi-passive father who feels disaffected, limiting himself to only assisting with outings and sporting events.
Kids aren’t mini adults. But when people place them in the decision-making seat they are as harmful as another lover. For instance, parents running after their kids’ decisions is not a good approach. Children need loving boundaries, including “no” and a range of alternatives to know limits and where they are safe.
From my own observations as a teacher, many parents do impressively well. But some also present as largely clueless and, by misguided actions, compound the pressures on their kids in ways that are unwittingly cruel.
Childhood is and deserves to be regarded as a special time when kids shouldn’t be:
- Forced to make adult choices
- Exposed to adult pressures, or
- Be permitted to dictate terms to their parents.
Like the little Emperor’s of China, these kids are unintentionally denied the structure they need to develop good character and a balanced, resilient outlook on life. Instead, they are burdened by worrying about the unhappiness in their parents’ relationship (which kids always blame themselves for), and a range of antisocial behaviors that life has to chip away at for decades.
So, what’s the answer? Love your partner. Love her with all your heart and don’t hold back. Be kind to her because, in so doing, you teach your son or daughter what a healthy relationship looks like.
Be honest and face your problems, keeping all the heavy-duty stuff behind closed doors (because kids, clever as they are, simply have not got the ability to process it). But be prepared to show your personal frailties all the same.
No child wants to be the real boss in a married couple’s relationship if it means having to deal with grown up problems. Nor do they want to call all the shots that carry big responsibilities (no matter what they insist). But, when there is a leadership vacuum in a family, many kids will naturally try to pick up the slack.
Leave no room for your children to drive a wedge between you. Be “tight” in supporting each other. When kids know no amount of emotional gameplay or blackmail can undermine your parenting, they know they’re in a safe place. And that’s what makes kids grow up feeling secure.
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