Today, my husband and I had our first "heated conversation" in front of the kids. It came from a lot of frustration that had nothing to do with each other. Nick, jumping into his "fixer man" mode (which I usually love), came up with several solutions to try with the kids today. Unfortunately, instead of suggesting to me what I should do about my problem--he told me what to do. I, being the prideful, stubborn woman that I am, did not take too kindly to that. Since we didn't have time to talk about it, I resorted to childishly making comments about his ideas in front of the kids. Then, because he didn't know the whole story when he made his "suggestions," I smugly made note when his ideas didn't work out.
Thus, the "conversation" ensued (no yelling or name calling, just raised voices and a lot of "well you did..."). Nick and I are not ones to get worked up over much. As a result, I think the kids were pretty surprised to see us not being kind to each other. In the end, it didn't last long and we made up with a big hug and a kiss.
I say all this because I believe it is important for kids to see our flaws. That doesn't mean it is okay to excuse those flaws, or to have a "do as I say, not as I do" attitude. It simply means to acknowledge that they exist. Nick and I make it a goal to build a relationship with the kids we work with. The problem with relationships is that they make it hard to hide things. Kids see more than many adults seem to believe. Furthermore, it affects them more than we realize. Little things mean so much.
When we tell kids not to be mean to each other, but we are mean to each other, it confuses them. Not only do they not understand what kindness looks like, they also learn that they cannot trust our word. The problem is that we are not always kind, we don't always confront issues head on, sometimes we make mean jokes--the list goes on. It's just a product of being human. So how do we remedy that?
Here is what I think: be transparent. Yes I made a mistake. I am sorry for my mean words honey...and kids I am sorry that I didn't uphold my end of the bargain to be a good example to you. I have found that humility covers a whole host of sins with kids. It is hard, and VERY embarrassing, but I have found that it builds trust faster than any other mode of communication. Kids in my home are more willing to try working on something when they know I am trying too. More importantly, they are more willing to accept when I am not perfect and not use that as an excuse to quit. In fact, it gives them a reason to keep trying: because it is okay to fail.
The other positive factor of our "conversation" was that the kids see that our love is real and long lasting. We didn't let hurt feelings or disagreement get in the way of making things right. That was the way we approached the "conversation" and that is why it ended quickly. We didn't want to keep hurting each other, we wanted to get to the bottom of it quickly so that we could make each other feel loved and taken care of. Nick and I don't like to see each other hurting.
Allowing the kids to see the whole process also allowed them to see our commitment to each other. Most of the kids here at our Ranch have not seen healthy marriage relationships. Our goal is for them to learn how to build a healthy relationship based on our example. Therefore, it is paramount for us to exemplify a loving, others centered marriage at all times. But sometimes we don't. So, when we don't do it right, we need to show them how to do that too. We need to show them that mistakes are okay and that love runs deeper than those feelings. Beyond that, we need to show them how to be upset. Anger is not an excuse to yell, name call, or make threats.
I know all of this is common sense, but it sure is hard to put into practice. Nick and I have not always been this way. In fact, we were the exact opposite. When we became pregnant, we made a pact to change because we did not want to emotionally cripple our children. We had to work hard everyday for two long years until we got it down. Now, I can't even imagine ever yelling a him (or anyone really) for any reason. It just seems so pointless. If being conscious about the way you treat your spouse or kids is a struggle for you I want to challenge you to try a new approach. Start by apologizing for your previous actions. Trust me, the embarrassment of having to do that for your kids will be enough to make you think before the next time you say something mean. Just the act of apologizing is a kindness. I promise it will revolutionize your home and bring much needed peace. And it is the first step towards having an attitude of kindness.
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."