How Parental Strife Impacts Children–What Parents Can Do
Sadness is when your parents fight.” Angie, age 8.
When couples struggle, the adults are keenly aware of their own pain and confusion. Many, however, fail to recognize how their ongoing, unhealthy conflict harms their children.
Unhealthy marriage or unhealthy divorce—both damage children’s security.
People possess two core needs—to feel significant and to feel secure. Most of life involves the quest to meet these needs—through relationships, work, and other interests.
For children, the foundation of security is their parents’ relationship. No matter how trendy the clothes, how stellar the grades, or how overflowing the toy box—if parents’ fail to create a healthy relationship, children don’t feel secure.
For struggling couples, this news often overwhelms. Many couples “stay together for the sake of the children.” They hear the statistics on children of divorce and believe preserving their marriage is the key to caring for their children.
And, in a way, they are right.
Preserving the marriage—taking a non-functioning relationship and making it work—is absolutely the best route to giving children both a foundation for security and all the other elements of a healthy childhood. As parents create plans together, honor each other, and resolve conflicts in healthy ways–children learn by watching.
There is no better preparation for adulthood than a home founded on a strong relationship between parents which is then used to guide and direct the family.
However, simply staying married doesn’t work. In fact, children of dysfunctional marriages suffer as much (and sometimes more) than children of dysfunctional divorce. So, how can parents truly care for their children?
In marriage, children thrive when parents focus on building their own relationship.
Unhappy couples know they need something different, but frequently don’t know what. Or, how to get there.
Often the problem is conflict. When people feel attacked, their flight or fight response kicks in. While incredibly valuable if a bear is coming through the door, this response proves fatal when relationships are on the line.
The brain focuses on either getting away or fighting back. No cognitive energy is available for listening, empathizing, or creatively addressing issues. Instead, the focus is on how to shut down the other person. If couples never learn how to get past this pattern, they begin to feel unsafe with each other. This destroys trust–the very foundation of marriage.
If this pattern defines the marriage—learning to resolve conflict more effectively proves crucial for both parents’ relationship and their children’s security.
Healthy couples still fight—generally as much as unhealthy couples. The difference–healthy couples manage to protect and honor the other person even as each shares their hurts. They focus on seeing the conflict as the enemy—not the other person.
This preserves trust. When each person knows they will be safe and cared for–no matter how hurt or angry their spouse might be–the relationship flourishes.
This flourishing marriage provides the security children need.
In divorce, children thrive when parents focus on co-parenting well.
Many parents believe divorce inevitably brings ruin for children. Fortunately, this isn’t true.
Healthy co-parenting helps ensure children continue to thrive even if their parents’ marriage can’t.
Healthy co-parenting hinges on parents sharing a common vision for their children. As parents look together toward who they want their children to become, they identify the key elements to include in their relationship with each other. If parents want their children to be honest, considerate, and responsible—parents know they must model those traits in their behavior toward each other.
Co-parents use this common vision to craft homes founded on the traits they long to see. Though the actual patterns in each home may differ widely—children experience an underlying consistency that forms a new foundation for security. Still flowing from their parents’ relationship—but now through a co-parenting relationship rather than a marriage.
If you sense your relationship is taking a toll on your children, we want to help. Call us at 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com to explore our range of services to help rebuild marriages or create a healthy divorce. We look forward to serving you.