While visiting some friends at their home once, I was introduced to a young couple expecting their first child. Upon learning that I write a column about parenting in a magazine, they immediately wanted my input on a very interesting question I’d never been asked before. They asked me what one piece of advice I could offer that I think would lead to a happy child. When I looked into the eyes of this couple, I could see a familiar expression of fear and concern behind the surface, indicating that they were wondering if they had what it takes to do this. It was obvious they needed some encouragement as they took this next step in their relationship and lives together.
After pausing and thinking for a brief moment, I made a disclaimer that there are obviously a variety of factors which can impact a child’s overall happiness, and it wasn’t always related to the parents’ actions. However, knowing they were nervous and very interested in getting any advice they could, I indulged them with something I knew was very important.
I looked at them with a reassuring smile and advised the one thing I knew for sure—if you want a happy child, you need to have a happy relationship with your partner. This may sound overly simple, but it’s true. Children are incredibly observant and not just when they’re little. Psychologists advise that children develop their sense of security at home. Part of this development stems from what they see and feel from their parents. Therefore, if they witness two people who really care for one another and go out of their way for each other, they learn some valuable lessons from it. They learn to live their life not just for themselves. They also learn the satisfaction you get from helping others, and the importance of empathy, compassion, and caring for others, all traits that will benefit them greatly in the future.
Also, related to security, the children feel a closer connection with two parents who show a genuine love and affection towards one another. As they witness this behavior being modeled by their parents, it makes them feel more secure in their surroundings.
Think of it this way: for the child, his or her parents are the nucleus of the home around which everything else is formed. A stable, strong, supportive and calm nucleus is a solid foundation for children to grow healthy and to mature with the characteristics they’ll need to face life’s challenges head-on.
It’s also true that maintaining this type of relationship over the years helps the parents, as well, cope with the many challenges of parenting their children. They achieve their own level of security and support, knowing they’re both in this together, which is important. By no means does this imply that parents never argue or disagree with one another from time to time; it’s perfectly normal, within reason. Although they may not have always agreed on the same things, we children knew that my parents still had great affection for each other. Watching them allowed me and my three siblings to grow up appreciating the importance of remembering to be romantic and caring, and of making an effort to do the little things that make an ordinary day extraordinary. I don’t pretend to be as good as they were, but I continue to try.
The young couple was surprised to hear me say their child’s happiness could be achieved in large part simply by showing love for one another. After all, at this special time in their lives, they assumed it would be all about the baby. I think it made them feel a sense of comfort, knowing it wasn’t selfish on their part also to continue to give attention to each other. As a matter of fact, it’s necessary for parents to maintain mental and physical health through the years. Children, after all, can be trying for all of us at times.
So, if you’re a new parent, try this advice, and if you’re an older parent who’s forgotten, may this be a reminder to rekindle the flame in your relationship. After all, everyone benefits!