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The Best Gift for Your Children

January 19, 2016 | by Rabbi Raffi Bilek

The most important thing you can give your kids is a happy marriage.

The best gift you can give your children is shalom bayis (marital harmony – literally, “peace of the home”). Here are some of the reasons why good parenting starts with a good marriage.

1. Kids need stability.

Parents in conflict shake the emotional ground underneath their children. Imagine trying to do your job next to an active volcano. Every tremor would send you into a panic, and in between you’d be waiting for the next one! When parents erupt frequently, waiting for things to erupt is part of the instability.

Kids thrive on routine. They fare much better when they know when circle time is, when lunchtime is, and when bedtime is. When they are perpetually worried about the next fight, children end up using too much emotional energy dealing with their fears and with the problems of their parents, and not enough on the tasks that face them as children.

Building a marriage where the conflict is kept to a minimum gives children a stable platform to grow from and allows them to go about the business of being children without having to worry about the problems of their parents.

2. Kids run on emotion.

Children tend not to be very rational. Young children can cry for hours over something like a lost Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. The fact that they have more in the pantry makes little difference to them; they are consumed by their grief and disappointment. This is normal.

When children live in a home where the emotional temperature is frequently high, they absorb the heat. They are like emotional reptiles, matching their internal state to the temperature around them. If you have an out-of-control child, take a look at what the general feeling in the house was today, or yesterday, or last week. The relationship between the parents determines a large part of the emotional temperature of the house, and therefore working towards consistent shalom bayis and a calmer household is of tremendous benefit to the children.

3. Kids do what their parents do.

We all know that “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work. Children learn much more from imitating others – and most of all their parents – than from lectures and rebukes. That’s how they learned some of their most important skills (walking and talking). So how do you treat your spouse when the two of you disagree? Do you raise your voice? Roll your eyes and condescend? You can expect that kind of behavior from your kids as well.

By modeling the kind of behavior you want to see in your children, you are giving them the tools to have their own successful relationships, now and forever.

4. Kids would rather live with happy people.

Happy marriages make for happy people, and happy people make for better parents. They can offer more love and more attention, two major ingredients in successful childrearing. They can focus better on their children’s needs and respond to them with more patience. There’s nothing better for making happy children than making a happy home – which means making a happy marriage.

Parents who think they can do the best for their children while ignoring their marriage are missing something important. Kids want and need their parents to have shalom bayis between themselves. If you have challenging children, take a look at your marital challenges first. And rather than trying to teach your kids to be good people – be one yourself.

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