Happy Marriages, Happy Children

Happy Marriages, Happy Children

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Strong and mutually satisfying relationship with your partner is the greatest gift you can give your child.

Throughout the pregnancy and early formative years, a child's emotional development and the sense of self depends on how the two parents relate to each other and how both in turn relate to their young one.

Simplistic it may be, but the truth of the following is undeniable: Strong and satisfying relationship between partners helps them to cope with the challenges of life, and brings happiness. Happy couples make happy parents. Happy parents raise happy children.

Psychologist John Gottman, author of The Relationship Cure observed fifty couples and their babies and found that that the babies of unhappy marriages showed a markedly lower capacity for joy, concentration and self-soothing (when crying or upset the ability to soothe self without parental intervention,). So, what is the connection between an unhappy marriage and a child's poorly developed emotional capacity? Gottman's videotaped observations of couples' the interaction with each other and their babies, offers some insights.

We all know that unhappily married couples exhibit emotional withdrawal, conflict and acrimony. However, what may not be so obvious is that their interaction with babies also changes as a result of their relationship with each other. Gottman observed that when unhappily married couples played with their children, they didn't smile as much. These couples were not in sync and tended to exclude each other.

The effect of their disharmony on the babies was even more striking. The babies showed accelerated heart rate even though the parents were not arguing or fighting at the moment. How the tension between the parents is communicated to a tiny infant at a physical level is not yet scientifically understood.

In another study involving children of 3 to 4 years of age, whose parents exhibited hostility towards each other, Gottman found that those children carried higher levels of stress hormones as evaluated from their frequent urine samples. Those children were indeed "stressed out" by parental conflict.

Unfortunately, our understanding of the relationship between parental interaction and children's emotional and physical health, academic achievement and success in adult life is woefully limited at this point.

Some parents think that because they don't fight in front of the children or send them away to their rooms as soon as they start fighting, their children are not impacted by their conflict. This, perhaps, provides a false assurance. Children absorb parental tension as surely as they breathe the air of the household they live in.

In a family, everything connects with everything. The emotional state of parents begins to affect a child's physical and emotional state right from the time of pregnancy. For instance, marital tension or another major stressor doubles or even triples the chances of post-partum depression ("baby blues"). Mother's depression or another major stressor puts the child at risk for future problems.

Some appear to be totally unaware of a relationship between their own behavior and that of their child. They may be totally complaisant with their own problematic behavior, but, when their child displays similar behavior or mirrors their own emotions, attitudes and weaknesses, they feel horrified.

Children from troubled marriages have a higher incidence of aggressive behaviors, truancy, peer conflicts, depression and lower academic achievement. That's the bad news. The good news is that the children of happily married couples possess better social skills, have lower incidence of aggressive behaviors and depression, possess better social skills and receive better grades.

Natural parents, step-parents, single parents, foster parents and other caregivers, the following applies to all: The greatest gift you can give your child is your relationship with your partner. The strongest protection you can offer him or her is a lot of your time and attention and a strong emotional connection and involvement.

Even a teenager who appears to be totally peer directed and peer involved, somewhere inside, wants and needs that emotional connection with you.

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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