I am in NY this weekend with one of my daughters and was going to write about travelling and the stresses involved with being away from home, but here is what came out instead…
“And then there is love. The embodiment of the best example of what true love is. That is also part of the role of a parent. To play role model for what marriage truly looks like. To teach children that love is not roses and chocolates. Love is not romance and dancing. Love is not respect and space and kindness. Hard work, dedication, commitment, strong-willed-ness, an ability to get through the toughest of storms with head held high. To stand beside the person you chose to stand with, because you chose them, forever and always. Love is not defined by any of these things, but rather by all of them.”
This is an excerpt from a speech I gave last night. I am in NY right now to celebrate some special peoples’ birthdays. People who embody what a true marriage looks like. What love really looks like. My parents.
As parents, it is a crucial part of our role to teach our children how to behave in relationships. With friends, siblings, teachers, strangers, grandparents, babies, and – not to be forgotten – spouses. We role model what is acceptable behavior for our children. We show them how to behave when we are sick, under pressure, in a bad mood. Our children are constantly watching.
What are you going to teach your children about being a spouse? A true partner? Like I said above, marriage is not just roses and chocolates. It’s not just how we behave in the good and easy and plentiful times. It is not just about what we do when we are happy and in a loving mood. Then, it is relatively easy to show how generous, kind, patient, understanding and respectful we can be. Then, it is easy to show our kids that marriage is sunshine and smiles. But a true relationship is what we look like under pressure. What comes out when you are stressed? Overtired? In a bad mood? In disagreement?
While it is so important to show our kids the healthy happy side, the even keel factor of the relationship, it is so SO important to show them the uneven keel. It is so important to show them that even under pressure, even when we are sick, even when we are maxed to our limit, we can still and always treat each other with kindness and respect. We can disagree, and still be friends. We can take opposite positions and still find a harmonious solution. I don’t know if there is something more stressful to a child on an ongoing basis than parents in disrespectful disagreement.
Now, that does not mean we need to be saints. No one can live up to that. We can disagree, we can fight, we can even get into a heated discussion – and our children can see that. That is healthy. People who live together don’t always get along and don’t always feel happy and don’t always agree. But there is something that does ALWAYS have to be present: respect.
Even and especially when the going gets tough – respect. Even and especially when we are in a bad mood or under tremendous pressure, we never get the right to be unkind or to put someone down. Even when we are so exhausted we are falling off our feet – remember you are talking to your life partner.
These are the lessons we want to be teaching our children. These are the lessons we MUST be teaching our children, in this generation. With the very skewed idea of long-term relationships that exists in this society, and even more so – the statistics to support the lack of solid long-term healthy relationships - this is as much a necessity as teaching your children healthy eating habits. One is for their physical long-term health, the other – for their emotional health. To be able to build solid long-term relationships will help your child not just in their marriages, but with friends, colleagues, bosses. It will teach them life-long lessons of patience and kindness, generosity under pressure, and the meaning of true love and giving.
Be mindful of what you teach your children. Be mindful of what they observe in your actions – that leaves a more lasting imprint than your words. Be mindful to pass on the keys to healthy loving relationships as a treasure map to your children. They will be forever grateful of the true lessons you teach them. They will be forever grateful of the programming you instilled in them and installed for them in their patterns of behavior.
I know this first hand, as I am so grateful to my parents.
Do not take these lessons for granted. If you do not feel you are being the best role models you can be for your children, invest the time and money to take care of your behavior in your relationships. The investment will reap its returns over and over in the future generations. The calm and serenity and forgiveness and kindness that you will have the capacity for will spill over to the offspring. What more precious gift can you give your children than the greatest tools/preparation/ability to stand strong in a long, true, happy, fulfilling relationship?
With love and a brrrrr from freezing New York,