"All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
How do happy families resemble one another? What are the characteristics they have in common? A number of years ago, a current affairs program covered the 40th anniversary of a special couple. Organizing the celebrations were their sixteen children. The couple re-enacted their bridal waltz, to the tearful applause of their large brood. They had brought up a close-knit, loving family, not without a great deal of sacrifice and hard work. Yet perhaps their greatest achievement of all was remaining close and affectionate to one another. Their children were justifiably proud of their wonderful parents. The number one characteristic of a happy family is a loving relationship between parents. It is consistently proven through research that parental conflict and hostility causes children to experience distress and disturbance. Yet today, when our busy lives often leave us stressed and exhausted, parental relationships are usually the first to suffer.
Research has also shown that marital satisfaction suffers a decline after the birth of children. The adjustment to motherhood is a huge one for women, leaving us tired, emotionally drained, and sometimes resentful. Fathers can feel the pressure of added financial responsibility, and a loss of intimacy with their exhausted wife. Unfortunately many bad habits can creep into a relationship at this time. Let's never forget the fact that parents are the glue that holds the family together. When we become unstuck, so does the family! Never before has it been so important to work at our relationships. As mothers, we are so concerned to give our children the best possible care we can. Yet we forget that the greatest gift we can give our children is to love their father. And the greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. While our children are growing up, they naturally absorb much of our time and energy. So much so, that the most important relationship in the family gets overlooked. Yet one day our children will grow up and leave the family home, so it is vitally important that we keep a focus on our partner, because one day they are the only ones we will see!
Recently a family comedy show highlighted in hilarious fashion the fact that parents so often treat complete strangers or acquaintances with far more consideration than they do each other. We are so "nice" to other people, then short tempered, critical and rude to one another in similar situations. In other words, we treat the ones, who we love and value the most, with the least consideration. Its time to take an honest look at the way we treat our closest relative on earth. If there is room for improvement, don't waste another day before instigating a change.
Remember that when we really want things to change, the first place to start is with ourselves. Start by asking this question, "how would I like to be married to me?" This will very often shed light on things we can change for the better. Look at your words and the way you say them. Replace criticisms with words of encouragement and appreciation on a daily basis. Use endearing names even if they sound silly. (Studies have shown long-lasting spouses using affectionate nicknames often characterize relationships!) Next, be more outwardly affectionate. Don't part company without a kiss and an "I love you". Remind yourself to say, "I love you" at least once every day. At dinnertime, or when the family is gathered together, tell the children how much you love daddy (and watch their delighted expressions!). Make time for one another, either by going out on regular dates, or having a candle-lit dinner together after the children's bedtime on a regular basis. My husband and I will soon celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. Never before have I loved and appreciated my husband like I love him now. Yet there have been times when we have argued, fumed, sulked, and just plain not liked each other. That is part and parcel of a normal relationship. But it is our determination to work through the problems, and weather the storms that makes what we have now even more precious. When you work at your relationship, you are laying the foundation for a happy family life, where your children will experience security, contentment, and the priceless gift of parental love. Many people philosophize on what measures true success. For me, an example of true success was the couple dancing together after forty years of marriage and sixteen children, still very much in love.
About the Author: Terri Hardwick currently runs an Australian network of support for mums and is the author of 'Parenting Inc'. Visit http://www.mothertime.com.au for more information or and join the discussion forum.