Child Development and the Parental Relationship — 2
by CHRIS WHITE on NOVEMBER 27, 2010
in THE PARENTS RELATIONSHIP
This is part two of a post written by my friend a colleague Steve Sulmeyer.
Given these (and other) potential pressures on the relationship, let alone the lack of sleep and other challenges facing new parents, it’s easy for the relationship to be neglected. Like a garden that isn’t watered, a relationship that isn’t cared for will wither and die. Many relationships that do die often trace the beginning of the end to the birth of the first child. So what can or should be done to prevent such a tragedy, and get parents back into the loving relationship that usually led them to decide to have children together in the first place?
First of all, water the garden! It’s essential that you make regular, weekly “date nights” for yourselves (without the children, and at a time when you’re not exhausted), as well as plenty of special occasions, surprises, gifts, flowers, etc., to keep the romance alive—and to communicate your appreciation. Don’t let this become boring or monotonous, like the usual movie and restaurant routine. It’s also necessary to nurture the adult interests that you share: concerts, plays, poetry readings, dance performances, discussion groups, hikes in the woods—whatever you love doing together. Perhaps most important of all is nurturing your intimate connection with each other, whatever that looks like for you. Certainly keeping the sexual passion between you alive is crucial. Yet it’s also vital to connect intimately in your communication—i.e., to set aside time and space for “timeless time” together in which you talk about your innermost truths, feelings, conflicts, fears, joys, growing pains, etc. This need for intimate communication must not be neglected. Parenting educator Patty Wipfler suggests setting up a childcare trade with another couple who need this kind of time too, so that the cost of getting away for a few hours isn’t prohibitive.
In addition to making time for the good stuff, it’s also vital to make time to address the bad stuff. It’s terribly important to tackle head-on the feelings, issues, tensions, and problems in your relationship. Don’t sit on resentments; don’t give in to feelings of futility and hopelessness. Such feelings may say as much about your own historic responses as they do about your partner and your current situation. Keep in mind that the added stress of raising children puts enormous pressure on what might be already barely adequate communication skills, and exaggerates the difficulties that existed in the partnership before the child was born. Learn how to fight fairly. Find a way to deal productively with your resentments and hurts with each other —as players on the same team.
Finally, through good and bad, nurture your spiritual life. Don’t look to each other for what only God (whatever he/she/it may be for you) can provide. Include each other in your spiritual life; use your spirituality to connect. Aspire to connect soul to soul, versus ego to ego. The difference between the two cannot be overstated.
Take home: When it comes to childrearing, we mustn’t focus myopically on the child. Maintaining and nurturing a loving relationship with the child’s other parent is vital to the creation of a loving environment in which the child can optimally unfold, and maximizes our availability to our child by meeting an important attachment need of our own.
Try: (This one from Patty Wipfler) Share appreciations openly and regularly, perhaps in a nightly “success and appreciation check-in.” Each parent takes several minutes to describe something they are proud of about what they did that day, and something they appreciate about their partner. No interruptions, no corrections, no disagreement allowed. This appreciation and success check-in can be extended to the children in the family, if they are able to talk. Some families make this a tradition at dinnertime.
Try: Given the inevitability of arguments and (verbal) battles, agree in advance to the rules of a fair fight. For example: Use a talking stick; only the holder of the talking stick may speak. Don’t hog the stick; make one main point, then switch. Also: Watch for the three phases of a good fight: (1) the spewing phase (in which one or both partners get to vent their anger; usually coming from identification with a young, hurting subpersonality); (2) the listening phase (this is where the deeper inquiry is done, as both partners explore what underlies the initial reactivity that was vented in the spewing phase, and actually hear one another); (3) the reparation phase (this is where the healing occurs—both partners experience being held and seen and accepted by their partner as they own their own part in the dispute, as well as apologize and have the apology received).
The ESSENTIAL PARENTING HOME COURSE
The course is set to be released within the next two weeks! I have decided to give everyone the first week of MP3’s and handouts FREE so you can get a taste of what this course is all about. I am very excited about it and hope that it will add to the already rich conversations conscious parents like you are having all over the world, so stay tuned for details.
I hope you all had a wonderful thanksgiving,