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Marriage and Parenting

By Bruce Linton, Founder of the Fathers’ Forum
The most important things in life are not things… our relationships are! The relationship that may have the greatest impact on our own lives is the one we observed about our parents. In the same way, our relationship with our partners, our own marriage will influence our children in many different ways.

Providing good schools, participating in community and sports activities, having a computer, offering music lessons these are some of the ways we help to nurture our kids as they grow and develop. Every father wants his child to grow up to be an honest and caring person. But how does that happen?

If we reflect on our own parent’s marriage, what was it like? Did they treat each other with dignity and respect? Were they considerate and understanding with each other? How did they handle the inevitable anger and frustration that comes not just with parenting, but with life? Did they seem to enjoy being married? Why did they have children?

Marriage and fatherhood is a relationship that forces us to reflect on the family in which we grew up. As children, we absorb so much of what goes on around us. We usually are unaware or what of how or when the events and relationships from our past may influence choices, relationships, and responses in our adult lives. Much of the work of dynamic psychotherapy is to help individuals become aware of the long forgotten, now unconscious responses we have to the relationships and events happening now in our lives.

Thinking about our parent’s responses in their marriages can go a long way in helping us understand not only how we may respond to our partners but also what value and meaning marriage offers us. And lucky for us today, more than ever, we can work with our partners to create the marriage that we want. We can evolve beyond the restricted structures and social constraints that may have limited our parent’s ability to find a more satisfying relationship within their marriage. But most important for us as a father is to understand that by caring for and loving our wives we can be offering a great gift to our children. Letting our child see our concern and interest in our partners tells them much about what human relations are based on. And when difficulties do arise, being able to bear the tension and disappointment allows us to stay in the relationship emotionally even when we may not be feeling positive about our spouse.

Think about that, that we can love someone and at the same time feel disappointed by him or her. How we encounter and work in our marriage lays the groundwork for what the potential of loving means for our children. The relationship between husband and wife is the center of a child’s developing morality. How he treats himself and others grows out of the observations he makes of the way his parents treat each other.

Many men who become fathers today take pride in their involvement, right from birth, in the nurturing and caring of their infants. This is a very positive change in our culture. Fathers’ involvement in active parenting is creating a new model for family life. I am always struck by meeting fathers who are so positively engaged with and excited about their children, but appear so uninterested in or disengaged from their relationships with their wives. I often comment to couples whom I see in my psychotherapy practice that they act like single parents who are living together. Everything in their relationship seems to focus on their child.

In many cases, as time goes on, the parents begin to work out many of their interpersonal difficulties through their children. Young children may begin to wonder why their parents seem to have so much love for them and not seem to care much about each other. What does an experience like that teach a child about interpersonal relationships? And sometimes marriages need to change. At times, for specific reasons, a couple finds out that they are not able to work out their difference. Most couples with children try to go the extra mile to make their family’s work, but it is not always possible. Sometimes the interpersonal issues from our family of origin are just too mismatched with our partner’s character, and no matter how hard the two people try they cannot resolve the tension and frustration they feel with each other.

If they can value their roles as parents, then they can make the transitions that are necessary not only to separate or divorce, but also to keep the parenting support their children need to survive and thrive. Some marriages are just not sustainable. It is no shame or cause for blame if a marriage can’t be maintained. We can try and provide our children with the example of two sincere and loving people who are trying to work at life’s challenges, while still considering their children’s best interests.

There is a great renaissance today for men, and today’s father is the cornerstone. A new developing sense of masculinity and gender identity is unfolding around the development of the nurturing father. It is important, rewarding and valuable to participate in the care giving to our children. But if we don’t also nurture our marriage, what have we really conveyed to our children about being a loving and caring person? One of the greatest gifts a father can give to his children is to love his wife. This is a lovely statement, but in reality a difficult and often lifelong adventure in understanding another person.