It is common knowledge that marriages often suffer a bit when kids come along. Society has numerous jokes and memes about how children ruin your sex life or how parents become strangers when the busyness of child-rearing sets in. Date nights, romance, and even plain ol’ adult conversations can be put on the backburner if the relationship is not maintained as a priority. While it is easy to get caught up in the huge endeavor of raising children—and raising adopted children often comes with an additional layer of complexity—it really is in the best interest of our kids if we keep our marriages strong. Here’s a little list of some of the ways parents need to be strong together for their kids.
Kids are closely watching, and learning from, the interactions their parents have with each other. It is so important to model a healthy relationship so that they, in turn, can have healthy relationships. Good communication is key. Parents need to make their needs, wants, hopes, and dreams known to the other. Show your kids what being a good listener means by being a good listener to your spouse. While some discussions should be private, you don’t have to hide every disagreement from them. Show them how mature adults resolve conflicts and demonstrate how people can disagree but still love and respect each other. When you fight, fight fair. Ask for forgiveness in front of your kids and admit when you made a mistake. These lessons will go so far in shaping how they will interact with their loved ones in the future.
Trusting one another is obviously essential if a relationship is to survive. Modeling trust and security is especially important for adoptees, who may be coming from a place of trauma and loss. Part of trust is to be emotionally vulnerable with one another. If you are a waiting family with other children, let your kids see you lean into each other for the ups and downs of the adoption journey. If you experience grief, turn to each other for comfort. Share your triumphs and joys with your spouse, make it clear through your words and actions that you are there for each other for the highs and the lows. Marriage really is for better and for worse, and it takes trust for the long run. Children benefit from the stability a trusting relationship provides.
Households are managed in a wide variety of ways. While you need to do what works best for you and your family, there is evidence that kids benefit from seeing parents share responsibilities. A recent study suggested that daughters with fathers who engage in traditionally female household tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, are more likely to aspire to careers that are more gender-neutral, such as being a doctor or lawyer. When children see both parents sharing domestic duties, they learn cooperation and democratic family values. In our family, my husband does most of the cooking, and I am usually the more handy one and work in the yard. We hope to convey to our kids that the household is everyone’s responsibility and that tasks and chores are decided by discussion, not by gender.
Gross your kids out with a big smooch in the kitchen. Do it. Children need to see healthy displays of affection. Knowing that their parents are in love provides security, and affection is a great way to show that the flame of love is still alive (and a great way to keep it alive!). Say “I love you” to each other and hold hands. Give thoughtful little gifts or notes. Additionally, a little PDA can be a great way to model difficult topics like consent. If that kitchen smooch is actually in the middle of cooking, and you’re occupied, say no to it and have your spouse immediately acknowledge that no. Loving and tender relationships show children what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and can help guide our kids to pursue the right treatment in their own relationships.