Have your kids been acting out lately? Maybe your daughter has been picking fights at school or your son’s been wetting the bed. Well, according to David Code, author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First, your child’s behavior has more to do with the rough spots in your marriage rather than what’s going on with them.
That’s right. Read that one again. Your kid’s acting out because she senses the tension between you and your spouse, not because she’s just being a brat.
I know! Don’t shoot me on this one, I’m just the messenger. Read on for a fuller explanation:
In today’s society, Projection onto Our Children has become so common that few of us even recognize it as a problem. In fact…most of us believe making our children the center of our lives is a normal, child-friendly thing to do.
It maybe be common, but it is not healthy.
Psychiatrist Michael Kerr describes the dynamics between the couples he counsels and their children. A child picks up on his two parents’ marital discord via his attunement with one or both parents. The child senses something wrong and he feels anxious, but he is not sure why. The anxiety he absorbs eventually hits critical mass, and he develops a symptom. This makes him have a “problem” which diverts the parents’ anxiety away from each other and onto their child. (Code, 111)
Whoa, right? This isn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, either. But you know what? When I stepped back and took a look at what’s been going on around our house lately, I realized just how nicely we fit this bill. Ken and I have had a couple of nasty weekends lately, and sure enough, every time the shit’s hit the fan, the kids have started acting out (i.e.: beating the crap out of each other). As soon as we scaled it back and addressed what was really up with me and Ken, the kids settled down and became more manageable. (Well, somewhat, anyway–Gabriel’s fully hit his stride as a Testing Two-Year-old, which is another issue altogether.)
Anyway, Code believes we use the following three behaviors to deal with marital tension: Projection onto Our Children, Blaming Our Spouse, and Distancing from Our Spouse. (All of which I’ve been guilty of! Talk about hitting one out of the park!)
This of course raises the question, What causes us to resort to such behaviors when they clearly don’t serve our goals of raising happy kids and staying happily married?
The answer is anxiety, the root of all our negative behaviors (113-114).
Anxiety? Goody! Something I’m already familiar with!
Well, off I go to read up on the next few chapters, which I’ll then talk about in my next post. Cocktail, anyone?