Parents are the center of the universe for their young children. For you, though, the marriage relationship between mom and dad should be center stage, not the "wants" of the kids. A healthy respectful relationship between mother and father is essential for the well-being and mental health of children. When parents forget to take care of themselves and their relationship, they put their kids at risk.
From their early toddler years, children need to learn that their parents have a private life together that does not include them. If both parents are together in the family, the bond and relationship between these two parents is the model through which your children will view the world. If the bond is sacred and respectful the majority of the time, the kids will feel safe and good about themselves. Conversely, if there is a great deal of tension and disrespect in the home or between two separated parents, the kids will feel unsafe, will learn to dislike themselves, and will likely act out their stress through difficult behaviors. (A healthy relationship between the two parents is also critical even if they are no longer together. I will cover how to parent in divorce situations in Chapters 9 and 10).
Work on your marital relationship in whatever way you know will enhance it. Marriages frequently suffer when small children are in the house because one or both of the spouses forget to prioritize the marriage. Be sure your communication and your sexual relationship is meeting the needs of both parents. Both parents should respect the intimacy and adult communication needs of the other and be willing to answer the other partner's need even if it isn't the top priority in their mind. Get help from others if necessary to allow you both to recapture the enthusiasm for the relationship you probably once had.
A healthy and respectful marital relationship takes time. Prioritize the time to share in intimacy and communication. This doesn't mean an extended vacation away from your kids. It does mean, however, that you may need a night a week or a weekend away to rekindle the bond between you. Your child will likely initially resent it when you leave him for a night out, but you should help him understand that his parents have a life separate from him.
You can say something like this: "Honey, both Mommy and Daddy love you. We both love each other, too. To help us be the best parents we can be for you, we need to spend special time together. You will be safe with_and we'll come kiss you when we get home tonight."
This approach is almost certain to meet with some resistance from your child. She wants to be the sole center of your universe. But you are meeting one of her needs as part of Principle #3. Your child must not think she runs the family or that her wishes are her parents' commands. If both of her parents are together, she must understand that the relationship between the parents is a sacred relationship in the family so that each parent can give her what she needs. It is healthy for your child to know that you love her and cherish her, have a lifelong commitment to her, and will always give her what she needs, but that she is not the only person at the center of your life. Helping your child understand this is an incalculably valuable gift because this helps her to grow, evolve and become her own person in charge of her own life.
As we have all learned in our lives, the real world is a difficult place filled with challenges and obstacles. So too is teaching our children about the real world. Unfortunately, if you don't teach your child the realities of life while he is still under your protection, he will emerge from your nest either considering himself to be the "center of the universe" or viewing the world as a nice place obligated to satisfy his every wish. Such self-centeredness leads quickly to feelings of anger, rebellion, and depression. Introducing your children to the realities of the world is an important task that is oftentimes incredibly difficult for parents because it requires one's own restraint, self-sacrifice and delayed gratification in order to provide a greater lesson. Take comfort in knowing that these lessons—when combined with Principles #1 and #2—will give your child a rock solid foundation upon which to base his life as an individual.
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