If you look at the average 20 year old, the chances that they have had any real education about relationships and love are pretty slim. Growing up as kids, they probably learned a little biology about the male and female body; they've possibly read some love poetry by Shakespeare or some other great author; they've usually watched their parents relationship going through some significant ups and downs with little explanation about what's going on. But in terms of understanding themselves and their needs and requirements for love and relationship the average 20 year old is pretty unprepared for the real world.
The main thing parents have the power to change in this area is to become more honest with children about relationships while they are still living at home. With marriage ending in divorce at the rate of about 50%, it is unfair to teach children that every relationship is supposed to last forever. It is not true that when you fall in love with somebody - or find the right person - you will live happily ever after. Having babies is not the be-all and end-all of relationships and cannot save an unhappy marriage. The form and function of the modern family has changed and children are not responsible for their parents getting divorced (many of them feel they are).
Many parents want to hide what goes on in their relationship from their children in the desperate hope that their children will do better than they have done. But it doesn't work like that! It never has.
If you want to see your children have better relationships than you it is necessary to start by helping them learn more about the reality of love and relationship. You need to talk with them about how and why relationships work (and don't work). Make a commitment to being more honest about your own mistakes. You also need to realize that your children know far more than you may sometimes think. When you try to hide the truth it is only confusing to them - their senses tell them one thing while your words say something quite different.
This doesn't mean you need to spill all the blood and guts to young children and disturb them. They don't need to know all the ups and downs in your relationship. But it does mean that you need to start to help your children have realistic expectations about relationships, and this includes the fact that every family relationship has problems. Kids need and want to learn how to face up to problems and solve them rather than run away or hide from them.
If you feel afraid of being honest with your kids about relationships, you are not alone. The majority of parents mistakenly feel that kids need to be protected from the truth because it is often painful or disappointing. But they may not be aware that children see and feel what is going on despite all the things that are covered up or lied about. And to a child, that dishonesty is more painful than the truth. To top it all off, that dishonesty becomes their pattern for their future relationships.
On a more positive note, children can handle much more than we realize if they are treated openly and with respect. Kids who grow up with a more realistic picture of love, relationships and family living are much better prepared for life than those who are kept in ignorance and then are left to make the same mistakes as their parents.
By Sarah McCrum MA, PGCE, Dip LC
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