When you’re in a healthy, happy marriage, you provide your kids with a strong template for romantic relationships later on in their lives.
But when you allow marriage issues to fester or worsen, you’re essentially showing your kids that it’s OK to disregard problems and settle for less than they deserve.
Below, therapists share six marriage and parenting mistakes that will negatively impact your kids.
1. You undermine each others’ parenting decisions.
You give your daughter explicit directions to do her weekly chores before going out on Friday night. But when the weekend rolls around, your husband disregards your rules and gives the go-ahead on girls’ night out. Obviously, you’re not expected to agree on everything but when it comes to household rules, you need to remain a united front, said Marni Feuerman, a marriage therapist in Boca Raton, Florida.
“You’re just teaching your children to become better manipulators ― and that kind of behavior carries on into adult lives when it’s seen as a strategy that gets results!” she said. “It’s much better to pull your spouse aside, have a mature discussion and reach a compromise on parenting decisions. Then approach your children as a team and let them know what the rules are.”
2. You don’t make time for your marriage.
First comes love, then comes baby, then comes parents putting baby before just about everything, including marriage. Sure, your kids are important but don’t let your relationship take a backseat to diaper duty and school projects, said Liz Higgins, a Dallas, Texas-based couples therapist who works primarily with millennials.
“Children thrive when their parents have a healthy relationship and often suffer behaviorally and emotionally when their parents’ relationship is unstable or unhealthy, she said. “Date nights may be challenging to schedule in but it will strengthen your relationship, creating a long-term ripple effect that benefits the entire family.”
3. You consider parenting a competition.
Parenting should never devolve into a game of one-upmanship. Competing with your spouse for your kids’ affection ― or trying to be the “better” or more fun parent ― is a losing proposition for you and your kids, said Deborah Mecklinger, a mediator and therapist in Toronto, Ontario.
“Trying to outdo the other parent either by buying the kids’ love or bending or breaking the rules will negatively impact the family,” she said. “Creating a rivalry and using manipulative behavior to gain favor in the kids’ eyes will leave everyone feeling anxious, insecure and confused.”
4. You don’t show affection to your spouse.
When it comes to PDA (parental displays of affection, in this case), there’s no need to overdo it in front of the kids. But at the same time, don’t shy away from being loving toward your spouse, Feuerman said. Those moments when you show affection will instill a sense of security in your kids, she explained.
“Being loving and affectionate makes them feel safe and loved,” she said. “And you’re setting a good example; children internalize what they see and perceive it as what an adult romantic relationship should look like.”
5. You never fight.
At first read, this pointer may seem a little misguided. The truth is, it’s actually healthy to fight in a relationship and, depending on how you handle arguments, your kids will benefit from witnessing it, Higgins said.
“Obviously, verbal or physical abuse should never occur in front of (or away from) children, but a little healthy fighting isn’t so bad,” she said. “It removes the assumption ― and later, expectation in their own adult relationships ― that healthy couples don’t fight.”
As Higgins explained, arguing in front of your children gives you the opportunity to show them that adults can have disagreements and differences but remain a happy and secure team. And when you resolve your argument in a healthy way, they learn what repair and conflict resolution looks like.
“Essentially, when couples can learn how to ‘fight fair,’ children learn from their modeling,” she explained.
6. You show disdain for your spouse in front of your kids.
If you need to air your grievances about your spouse, book an appointment with a therapist or call a trusted friend. Badmouthing the other parent, or worse, trying to turn your child against them, is in no one’s best interest, Feuerman said.
“Having poor boundaries with your children is problematic,” she said. “They may not have the skills or maturity to tell you this but they don’t want to hear you badmouth your partner ― it makes them very uncomfortable inside. If you’re struggling to communicate with your partner or are dissatisfied in the marriage, you should speak with a professional, not your children.”