How to Create a Happy, Healthy Family
A few years back, my husband and I went to a popular social worker in our community to help us improve our parenting skills and household management. Our kids were having some difficulty functioning in school. In our minds, we needed to work with this therapist to give us techniques to get the kids to behave. Instead, she kept giving us strategies to improve our communication, organizational skills, and interactions with each other.
After a period of time, I finally asked her why she kept trying to encourage us to work on the marriage when we had come to her to help us manage our children. She told us that children’s earliest and most powerful example of social role models is their parents. They learn everything from them, like coping skills, frustration tolerance, the meaning of emotions, how to talk to other people, how to perceive the world around them, and social interactions.
This theory is supported by modern psychology, and it is a key method to improving not only your shalom bayit (peace in the home), but also to helping shape your children’s behavior.
I wouldn’t want to believe what she told me if it weren’t so true. I had always been told that women unconsciously seek out a man that is just like their father. When I was dating, I tried to go the opposite extreme of my father.
I ended up being bored and dissatisfied with the men I was being set up with. Lo and behold, I meet my husband, he asks me to marry him…and 11 years later, I realize more and more how much like my father my husband is.
Why am I even mentioning this within the context of this article? It’s because it addresses a key point. Your kids are watching you, learning from you, and are going to look for a spouse just like you. Do you want them to find a spouse who is respectful, loving, kind, caring, and calm under duress, or would you like them to find a spouse who is tense, neurotic, selfish, cruel, and unable to cope with stress in healthy ways? As hard it may seem to believe, the choice is all yours.
This drives home another point: “Well, I can’t always be a perfect angel in front of my kids! I am only human.” I once told my therapist that I yelled and screamed at my kids, felt bad about it, and then apologized to them. I told her I felt awful and that no matter how hard I tried, I sometimes tended to slip. Apologizing was probably so fake but I didn’t know what else to do.
She told me that it is actually a very powerful and important lesson to apologize to our children with sincerity. It teaches children that adults are not perfect, and that it is very important that they own up to their mistakes. In other words, you don’t have to be perfect. You can and will slip. Try your best to make the slip-ups be in as calm a manner as possible, and never let it get to the point of physical abuse. The power of an apology is an extremely useful and important tool in raising healthy, happy, and well-balanced children.
So, now that you understand how powerful a player you are in shaping your children’s identities and understanding of how to interact with others in the world, what are you going to do about it? My suggestion is to read a good book about parenting skills or take a good course. Dina Friedman’s “Chanoch L’Naar” course is an excellent resource. What I love is she not only teaches you about how to understand your children and properly discipline them; she also teaches you the function of each emotion Hashem endowed us with, how to understand what our emotions mean, and how to understand emotions from a children’s point of view.
By understanding our emotions, we can learn to understand why we have the knee-jerk reactions that we have when our children behave a certain way. Dina’s course then teaches you to understand why children behave the way they do and think the way they do, and what we as adults can do to properly react to those situations and guide our children correctly. The most powerful point she drives home is that the purpose of educating our children is so they grow up learning proper morals and boundaries.
Children naturally crave and need boundaries, rules, and routines. When we don’t provide these basic necessities within their education, we are depriving them of what they need most. We are setting them up to lack skills for navigating our complex world as adults and knowing how to function independently. Dina’s course is thorough and provides you with a plethora of tools to properly educate your children and create a strong stable marriage and home.
Another important and final point I’d like to address is the issue of arguing in front of your children. There is wide disagreement on this topic. Many people feel it is inappropriate and damaging. I am of the opinion, as are many others, that it can be very useful. However, it depends on how you disagree.
If your children see you insulting each other, screaming/yelling, interrupting one another, and being rude, then this is what you are teaching them to do when they have disagreements with others. If you discuss your differing opinion calmly and respectfully to each other in front of the children, then you are role modeling the art of the ability to disagree while still being respectful and calm.
I don’t think that children should never see their parents disagree. On the contrary, it is an excellent opportunity to role model healthy interactions that your children will carry with them throughout their lives. You may have heard how you should always present a united front when in front of your children so they don’t become manipulative. Well, this is a united front. You are agreeing to disagree, and in a positive way that can give your children healthy skills for social interactions and coping for the rest of their lives.
Tamar Shtrambrand lives in Monsey, NY with her husband and three children. She wears a variety of hats (and wigs :-)), including
homeschool mom, freelance writer, adjunct professor at Rockland Community College, and clinical psychology doctoral intern at CAPS at Bikur Cholim.