I like to say that my children are enrolled in an 18-year course in my home, the university of relationships.
I just spent about a million dollars on school supplies and first-day-of-school outfits for three kiddos at Target. There’s also a little bit of my soul left somewhere between the plastic folders with brads and the pre-sharpened pencils. Now that school has started again, pick-up and drop-off bookend my days, and homework help consumes my evenings. I care a lot about my kids’ academic education. I make sure they’re properly outfitted, and I’ve agonized over choosing the best schooling options for our family.
Academics are clearly important; however, sometimes I have to stop and evaluate whether or not I’m giving my children’s relational intelligence the same attention I’m giving their ABCs and 123s.
Because I’m a pastor’s wife, I meet with many married couples who are struggling in their relationships. Do you know, by far, the number one problem I’ve seen among these couples?
Dishonesty? That’s not it either.
Dishwasher loading? It’s a close second.
Seriously though, the biggest problem I’ve seen among married couples is simply the inability to forgive and admit wrong. So many people have trouble allowing the words “I forgive you” or “I was wrong” to escape their mouths.
As a matter of fact, I’m confident that the early years of my own marriage would have been more pleasant if my husband and I had been freer with those words.
I’ve witnessed similar things from women who are having trouble at work or in relationships with friends or other family members.
As a result, my husband and I have created some standards in our home that we model for our children, and their precious little human natures allow them ample opportunity to practice.
Number 1: We are quick to forgive.
The number of people I’ve met with who are holding long-term grudges is, well, a lot. I refuse to allow a lack of forgiveness to infiltrate my home. Some parenting experts will recommend not forcing children to say, “I forgive you.” I understand why they recommend this, but I disagree. When we have kids ask for and grant forgiveness (even if it’s just with their mouths and not their hearts), we are teaching them to follow a respectful, others-centered script. We are teaching them an expectation of forgiveness. Children learn by doing and repeating.
We wouldn’t only expect children to say “thank you” if they’re truly thankful, so we teach young children the connection between our words and our feelings with the appropriate prompting, and with maturity and sincere modeling, a genuine feeling will emerge. In addition, I must be quick to forgive my children when they have misbehaved. Assuring them that nothing they could do could ever make me love them any less creates security. Also, my husband and I swallow our pride and grant immediate forgiveness to each other. We do this purposefully in front of our kids if they have seen us disagree.
Number 2: We admit when we are wrong.
In our house, we discipline prideful attitudes. Refusing to admit wrong or say “I’m sorry” is simply not allowed. I even tell them that I cannot permit them to grow up into adults who believe they are better than other people because that will be detrimental to their relationships.
The really tough part of this is that I have to be quick to admit my faults to my children. I have to get down on my knees, look that sweet face in the eyes, and ask my little one to forgive me when I lose my temper or yell or experience a moment of road rage. (But seriously, Albuquerque drivers!)
There is nothing easy about admitting wrong to our children, but it certainly goes a long way, way further than any lecture or tirade, in demonstrating how to behave in a relationship. When mom can say she’s sorry, the child is freed up to admit wrong as well. He or she doesn’t feel the need to “save face.”
Number 3: We fight fair.
I know some parenting experts will recommend never arguing in front of your children, but my husband and I do not hide everyday, appropriate disagreements from our children because conflict within relationships is a part of life.
If we shelter our children from conflict, they might not be able to handle conflict appropriately as adults. They may run from it or run to it.
We want our children to watch us come to a resolution quickly and fully without a great big blow-up. I know my husband’s hot buttons, and he knows mine, and we purposefully do not press those nuclear buttons because we are fighting fair. We prompt our children to do the same in their sibling rivalry.
So what about your home? What relationship qualities do you value in your home? How do you teach them?
Originally published August 2016