As a parent, I am keenly aware of the daily opportunity I have to mess up my children. We’ve all got our horror stories of what our parents have done to us! We’ve heard about bad haircuts and ridiculous curfew rules. We’ve heard about being dragged to church and forced to play sports regardless of the complete lack of talent. We’ve heard about unfair treatment of siblings and having to endure visits to relatives that bored us to death. We all laugh at our parents odd quirks and how we survived their dysfunction to become our own version of dysfunctional parents. It’s part of life and, much to our dismay, our kids will have similar stories that they tell to their counselors.
However, after being in ministry for 15 years, I can tell you the one thing that really messes up kids (of any age) and creates unimaginable insecurity and struggles in their marriages. Here it is: talk negatively about their other parent. Yep, that’s it.
Time and time again I encounter parents who feel the need to divulge into their offspring a sense of “reality”. They unload on their kids their struggles and point out all of the character flaws in their spouse (or ex-spouse) that have ruined their life. Let me translate that for you into realtime: Dear child, I know that I tell you that you’re alot like your dad, but he’s the reason I’m miserable. Here’s a list of all the things I don’t appreciate about him and remember…all of those traits pulse through your blood everyday.
I think we would all like to believe that what I just said isn’t true, but it is. When our parents aren’t kind about each other in our conversations with them, it changes our very self-image. It changes how we think about ourselves and it changes how we think about our marriage. When a parent cuts the other parent down to a child, whether they are 4 or 44, it undermines the value of that child in their mind’s eye. They cannot separate themselves from who their parent is and who they are.
I hope my kids think amazing things about their dad (and me!). I hope they pick up on the wonderful and Christ-like traits that belong to them as part of their molecular inheritance. Without ever saying a negative word, they will already know both of our faults anyway, because when you live with people, you just know. However, in knowing our faults, they will also see that we didn’t make that the defining factor of our marriage. They will find security watching two imperfect people love each other in spite of our shortcomings.
If you are frustrated, irritated, and stuck because of the person you chose to be with, find the appropriate path to relieve that tension. Get a counselor, talk to a pastor, decide to shake it off…whatever…but don’t think that God gave you your children to play that role. They are not your marital sounding board. And when you put them in that role, you will damage their marriage as well as your own.