After the excitement has died down and the wrapping paper is put in the trash, what remains after another great birthday or Christmas celebration in many homes is often sugar-filled children — and gifts that are discarded.
Funny how we parents toil over the choice of what to give our children, sometimes for days or weeks or even months, only to have the actual opening of these gifts take mere seconds.
Sometimes our kids embrace their new gifts — but more often than not, after a few days our kids focus their attention elsewhere and forget about what we’ve chosen with such care and thought.
Let’s remember, however, that we parents have the power to give our children a great gift every day — a gift they will appreciate and hold dear for life. It might not get much positive media attention — but it’s the healthy marriage of their parents.
Nothing can have more of an everlasting effect on our children than this. Seeing how people act in a healthy marriage on a daily basis in many different types of challenging situations gives them a positive frame of reference for years to come.
Here is what a child gets from living with parents who are in a healthy and strong marriage:
1.) They have security.
Children know what to expect when they wake up in the morning and when they go to bed at night. With that knowledge and confidence, they’re more at ease. They don’t have to worry constantly about the state of their household or just “survive.” They’re calmer in general and can spend their energy on pursuing their education, their interests, their friendships.
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2.) They learn how to love.
Kids can read about loving relationships or watch them “unfold” in TV shows or movies — but nothing is as effective as the real thing. The parent-child relationship is naturally rife with opportunities to teach love, but kids need to see and experience strong role modeling of a healthy marriage right in front of them. When their dad does nice things for their mom on a regular basis, or they see their parents showing genuine affection toward each other no matter what else they’re handling, kids have a model for their own future adult relationships.
3.) They realize that love takes effort.
Kids learn that sometimes, despite best intentions, things don’t always go as planned. Even those who love each other disagree or have bad days. Getting back on track takes concerted effort. When children observe this unfold, they have hope even when their own days or relationships don’t go as planned.
4.) They learn what’s most valuable in life.
There is so much vying for our attention on any given day — school, work, the media, friendships, sports, clubs, the internet — to name a few. In a healthy marriage, two people have chosen to make each other the priority. Nothing is greater for children than to see their dad caring about their mom’s interests, and vice versa. They go on regular dates together; their nurture their relationship and put it first. The smiles on their faces and their laughter together is more instructive than almost anything people could tell children about love and marriage.
Bottom line: Material gifts don’t last — or they’re forgotten in the mists of time.
Giving a child the gift of a healthy marriage between his or her parents is beyond compare.
Malini Bhatia is founder and CEO of marriage.com, which provides resources, information, and a community of support. She has global experience in international management and communications,and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.