When we utter the phrase, “Won’t someone think of the children?” it is often in context to the horror of things that we put out there that children might see or hear. These are generally things that we believe will poison their minds and negatively affect their ability to grow up to be healthy adults. When I hear the phrase, I cringe.
Part of my issue is tied to a strong view I hold that we shelter children too often from things in the real world that they will end up seeing or hearing regardless. The other part of my issue relates to that rather large moment when we do not think enough about the children. The moment I speak of is when we know a marriage is not working and not salvageable and yet we stay for the benefit of the children.
Parents will often remark that children know exactly what is going on. Children are smart. Children pay attention. And yet, some of those same parents will keep a marriage going because they think it is important for the children. I have professionally witnessed things a bad marriage can teach children, and I’d like to talk about five of them right now.
Five Things Bad Marriages Teach Kids About Relationships & Love:
1. It is okay to settle
Randy, 14, lives in a house that is not a home. Dinner has become a silent table where the movement of the silverware is louder than the voices out of the mouths. Randy has heard his mother talking to her girlfriends about the lack of intimacy and the constant fighting she does with Mark. His dad stays in the garage or basement all day. And yet, the marriage remains. Based on all that he has seen and heard, Randy has learned that although marriage is supposed to be a relationship forged in unconditional love, happiness, commitment, respect, and honor, those are likely just guidelines and it is okay to settle.
2. Avoidance is an option
Jennie has started becoming distracted at school, and her time at the dinner table is limited to the three minutes it now takes her to scarf her food down, after which she quickly dismisses herself from the table. This is when her mom decides to have the talk with her. Mom is no fool and can see that Jennie feels the strain that consumes the marriage. And yet, Jennie does not want to talk. Instead, her room is her sanctuary, and when she needs to interact with someone, there is always social media with her friends. The question is, where did Jennie learn these behaviors? Could it be that her parents have been ships in the night for several months and have a difficult time expressing themselves with each other? Might Jennie observe her mom looking anywhere but in the eyes of her husband? You betcha. I think we all know what Jennie’s coping mechanism might be when she starts dating and is at odds with her significant other.
3. Material things and another baby can make things better
Dad is unhappy? No worries, that’s nothing a trip to Lowes and some new toys won’t solve. Mom continues to be annoyed by dad’s belittling behaviors? That’s okay, she’s going to the salon to get dolled up. Stagnation and complacency has set in? I guess it’s time to get pregnant! Can Tina and Doug tackle issues head on and in a logical fashion, or is it healthier to fill a void or mask an issue with things? Patrick, their 12-year-old son, knows what he sees. Why then, would Patrick not try the same approaches if he has marital challenges in his adult life?
4. This is as good as it gets
“Mom and dad are smart. They’ve seen the world and are very successful in their jobs.”
“If there was a better alternative than staying in this unhappy marriage, they would have figured it out.”
These are two specific thoughts I have heard children express when talking about what they think about their parents staying in a bad marriage. A third and more painful statement to hear went something like this: “Really happy marriages are a fantasy that no one ever truly lives.” It is a sad thing indeed to hear a child marginalize marriage, and yet, given the lens that informed their view, one can hardly blame them.
5. Communication via screaming and name calling is an option
“When mommy and daddy talk, they raise their voice and use mean words. Mrs. Locklear would never let us call each other by these names. Sometimes I get scared.” Fast forward 12 years later and this same child that recognized the meanness and fear from within her parents’ communications is using those same tactics in their communications.
There are so many ways by which a bad marriage can affect a child, and most of it stems from how they view and are thus influenced by their parents. Parents are very often mindful and proud of the positive influence that they have on their children. When will they wake up and see those negative influences?