Here is an interesting question sent to me recently: “I am a fourth grade teacher with two children, a girl 5 and a boy 7. In my class only 3 children live with both parents, the rest are children of divorced or separated parents. Is there anything parents can do to raise their children so they are divorce-proof?”
A good question. Is it possible to divorce-proof your children so your grandchildren will live in an intact family? Right off the top of my head it seems that one good way to divorce-proof your kids is to be in a stable, loving marriage yourself. This means your children will have the privilege of seeing how two people who love each other interact. Your kids will also learn the arts of communication and compromise without which no marriage can survive in happiness.
I use five “C” words to remind parents about what is needed for them to grow and develop as parents and have a solid marriage. You have to CARE about each other and have a COMMITMENT to each other. You each need CONFIDENCE in your ability to make the relationship work which means you need confidence in yourself as a person. You need to develop good COMMUNICATION skills. And finally, if you are ever “stuck” at some point in the relationship and can’t change unpleasant or destructive interactions, you need to get COUNSELING.
A marriage that works, that nourishes each person, and allows each person to grow is a treasure. To live in the home that houses such a marriage is the best gift you can give your children.
What can parents specifically teach their children to help them grow up to be divorce-proof, especially in this age of high self-centeredness and low commitment to others?
The meaning of cooperation. Responsibility for ones actions. Empathy and respect for others. Understanding of changing gender roles. How to talk right (and shut up when necessary). A strong sense of community. An appreciation of the value of marriage and a stable family to self, children, and community. Self-control. How to make a living. How to run a household.
Yes, these are all important and should be imparted to and modeled for all children. But something just occurred to me. When I think about successful marriages, it seems to me that people who stay married have love and respect for THEMSELVES. They are people who are not dependent on another person to feel good about themselves. They can look within to find strength and solace although we all have a need on occasion to get both from those who love us.
My epiphany of today is that we must love and respect ourselves in order to love and respect another. The tricky part is to raise children who have a strong sense of self without being self centered and selfish.
I dont have all the answers but an old mantra of mine seems a good start: Give your kids LESS STUFF and EXPECT MORE from them. Too much stuff makes your kids feel entitled while high expectations make your kids feel you believe in them. When they meet your expectations at school or home they feel good about themselves. Thus they love and respect themselves, thus they can grow up to love and respect another.
Teachers and parents both need to praise children for a job well done but I am becoming increasingly leery of undeserved praise at both school and home. Self-esteem does not come from a parent or teacher telling a child, “You did a good job.” when the child didn’t. Self esteem come from a child feeling first, I AM LOVED, and second, I CAN DO IT. We have to love our children enough to help them acquire competence and find kind ways to tell them when they do not perform up to our expectations.
We can’t “divorce-proof” every child, and there are definitely some marriages that should end, but maybe we can help our children develop a strong sense of self. This may help them pick better mates which should lower the divorce rate.
Dr. Heins will personally answer your individual email questions.
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