I hide a lot of stuff from my kids under the guise of setting a better example. I’ll lecture them about the virtues of a healthy breakfast, and then wolf down three chocolate chip cookies as soon as the bus pulls away. I’ll reprimand them when they don’t share, and then eat snacks in secret so I don’t have to. I’ll go on and on about how crucial it is to get plenty of sleep, and then stay up watching mindless TV hours after I should’ve gone to bed.
My habits and behaviors aren’t always worthy of imitating, which explains why I often say one thing to my kids and then do the opposite when they’re not looking. But as much as I hide, there’s always one thing I try to shine a spotlight on: I want to show my kids, by way of example, how much I love their dad.
The odds are good that, at some point in their adult lives (and probably for a substantial portion of it), my children will end up in relationships. And while I’m teaching them the importance of things like oral hygiene and table manners, I also want to teach them how to love and appreciate their significant others, which is equally important. After all, their quality of life will depend on it.
Everybody knows how greatly a relationship can impact your day-to-day mood. If you’re in an unhappy partnership, it has a domino effect — coloring your self-esteem and your work performance and everything else. I figure if I can model a healthy relationship now, before they actually enter into one, they’ll be better equipped to succeed when they do. I’m stacking the deck in their favor, so to speak.
It isn’t the grand romantic overtures that are the most important. Sure, it’s nice for them to see Dad bring home a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates once in a while (and it has been a while…hint hint). But what I most want them to see are the everyday gestures, the simple yet meaningful things we do for each other.
My husband leaves very early in the morning for work, and he doesn’t always eat beforehand because he doesn’t want to make noise in the kitchen while everyone is sleeping. So every night (OK, almost every night), I take a few minutes before bed to make him a fruit smoothie and put it in the freezer. My kids see me doing this, but I also make sure to explain why I’m doing it — because I want to make sure Dad has a healthy breakfast that he can just grab and go.
When he sends me a random “I love you, hope you’re having a good day” text, I show the kids and tell them how happy it makes me.
“How thoughtful of Dad to bring home takeout because he knows I’ve been busy,” I’ll say when he lugs in an armful of Chinese food on the nights I can’t even think about cooking.
Sometimes I get them in on it too: “What do you guys think we could we do to help Dad out today?”
Just as fighting in front of our kids impacts them, so does loving in front of them. Maybe it’s more subtle, but it certainly has a lasting effect. It teaches them that a partnership takes ongoing effort. You don’t just fall in love and quit trying. It teaches them that taking your spouse’s needs into account is not only a necessary part of marriage, but it also teaches them how beneficial it is. Hopefully, it will teach them to be more helpful and considerate in any situation.
They may not fully understand it now — they may even roll their eyes once in a while at such “mushy” displays of appreciation and affection. But when it’s time for them to be someone’s partner, they will, whether consciously or unconsciously, draw upon their experiences with their parents’ interactions. And until then, they’ll know that our relationship — the very foundation on which our home is built — is strong, and worth fortifying at every opportunity.
I’m not saying my husband and I are always so cognizant of one another’s needs. No one can model ideal behavior all the time, and we certainly have our fair share of selfish moments and spats, just like every other couple on the planet. But we always strive to come back to demonstrating care and compassion, because if there’s one thing we always agree on, it’s that the best gift we can give our children is the security of knowing that their parents love each other, and the skills to draw on later when it’s time for them to love someone the same way.