What's the key to great children? A great marriage, author says
'Put The Kids Second'
Kenyon Wallace, National Post Published: Saturday, April 03, 2010
You can spot them from a mile away: the ones armed with a backpack and baby wipes a step or two behind their kids, or sitting in the front row at their child's dance recital with a look of sheer terror, or scheduling extra time at meet-the-teacher night.
Today's super-parents are an unashamedly conspicuous lot.
But all that devotion might be doing more harm than good, according to American family therapist David Code, in Toronto to promote his new parenting book.
The central premise of his book, To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First, is that parents who want happy, well-adjusted children would be better off spending more time ensuring their marriages are in good shape before devoting their lives to their kids.
"Today's parents seem to be marrying their children instead of their spouses," Mr. Code said on Thursday in an interview. "The truth is, we often find it easier to be with our children than our partners. I don't think we realize that we're using our kids as an escape from our spouses."
He says a major mistake parents make is that they believe the more attention they give to their children, the better they'll turn out. Not that he's advocating neglect -- he's just afraid that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.
"We're creating these kinds of dependent, entitled monsters," says Mr. Code, the father of a 10-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl.
In a parenting climate where the helicopter method is still the norm and there's no such thing as too much attention paid to a child, Mr. Code's advice to spend a bit more time with a spouse and a bit less time fretting about the children is particularly refreshing.
"We hide behind this myth that it's child-friendly to give all to the children, but in the meantime, we're butchering our marriages and thereby messing up our kids," he says.
Part of providing a good model for our children, he says, is becoming aware of our own "flight response" --the instinct to avoid conflict at any cost. He says classic flight responses include avoiding talking about touchy subjects with our spouses, working extra-long hours at the office, or switching on the TV to avoid an argument. He argues that today's favourite flight response is the urge for parents to "throw themselves into their children."
Dr. Marshall Korenblum, chief psychiatrist at the Hincks-Dellscrest Centre for Children in Toronto, says he partially agrees with Mr. Code's assessment of many modern families, but says it is often necessary to put children's needs over those of partners.
"It's a bit of a provocative statement to say you should put the kids second," he said. "I view the dynamic of a family as fluid and interactive, meaning that sometimes you are going to put the marriage first and other times you're going to put the kids first.
"Sometimes the kids are going to be in a state of higher stress, higher need and you have to pay more attention to them. But I would agree that healthy family relationships start at the top. If the parents are not happy or healthy, it's a lot harder to raise happy, healthy kids."
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