Stop Coddling the Kids and Save Your Marriage, Says Author

Filed under: Books for Parents

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Is the recession taking its toll on your marriage? Don't keep it from the kids -- it'll just hurt them.

That's the recommendation of David Code, author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First (Crossroad Publishing). With the fear of unemployment -- or actual unemployment -- stressing out many couples, parents who keep up a brave front for the kids and fight in private are making a mistake, Code tells ParentDish.

Kids are not as clueless about these things as parents think -- or wish they were, says Code, who also counsels couples as an Episcopal minister and family counselor in State College, Pa..

"Kids pick up on everything. You can make it simple, but you must tell your children: 'Daddy lost his job. We're concerned, but you guys don't have to worry,' " he says. "Kids, they sense all the tensions in a household. If you don't tell them what's causing them, they act out."

He mentioned a recent story in The New York Times that told of parents who worried that their nine-year-old daughter was pulling out her hair. The girl's parents and her therapist traced that back to Dad's job loss.

"Humans have forgotten we're hunter-gatherers ... Money is a primal need for us. It provides food, shelter, prestige," says Code. " If we lose a revenue stream, each family member is threatened to the core."

And while a stretch of unemployment could be a good opportunity to focus on spending time with the kids, Code warns against using that it to dodge the job-search grind. Unless the family is independently wealthy or the parent got a Wall Street-sized severance package, losing that income will be a big stress on the household and the kids will pick up on that anxiety.

"Obviously, the priority has to be getting back that revenue stream," Code says.

If there are problems at home, parents should feel OK with airing them out and even fighting in front of the children, says Code. The belief that seeing parents fight damages children is wrong -- that's how they can learn how to handle conflict in their own relationships.

"Think it's desirable to see parents disagree and have conflict," says Code. "That's reality. If we pretend we are perfectly harmonious couple, where are kids going to get the training to deal?"

Pulling back from arguments tamps down the natural fight-or-flight response that kids need to learn how to handle, says Code.

"It's almost like we're afraid to get angry," says Code. "The last time I checked, anger is a basic primal emotion."

Instead, many parents use concern for the children as a dodge to avoid dealing openly with the troubles in their marriage, and spend time with the children to skip the unpleasant conversations with their spouses. Then, according to Code's observations, they end up as two polite roommates raising children -- and headed for divorce.

"It seems like a guilt-free avoidance strategy," Code says. "(But) what's best for the children is not letting your marriage die."

Code's book argues that the "helicopter parenting" common in this generation can be such a dodge. Many parents focus obsessively on their kids, who then grow up with no clue on how to handle conflicts. The additional sense of entitlement makes it hard for them to navigate personal or professional relationships.

"If we raised our kids in Disney World, how are they going to cope when they're 18?," Code wonders.

While some experts argue the recession may put an end to some of the excesses of helicopter parenting, Code argues much damage has already been done. Employer surveys keep turning up evidence that bosses are frustrated with young employees who have bad attitudes and no work ethic because they grew up with this parenting style of constant praise and no discipline.

"That's a very popular myth, that the more attention we give our kids the better they'll turn out," says Code. "For the last 20 to 30 years, that has been the slogan of parenting. I'd like to know where the results are."

Related: How to relieve stress, Layoff stress, whether or not you were actually laid off

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.