“I want to marry YOU, Mommy,” my 3-year-old son said to me the other day.
[Insert my heart melting.]
“Well, you can’t marry me, buddy, and when the time comes for you to get married you certainly won’t want to. But I hope you marry someone who makes you very, very happy.”
When my husband and I got married, my in-laws told me that they’d been praying for me—their son’s future spouse—for a very long time, long before they knew who I was.
So now I do the same for my two children, praying regularly that someday they find themselves in thriving and supportive relationships.
I want each of them to end up with someone who doesn’t just love them, but also respects, encourages, and challenges them to be better—and I want them to do the same for their partners.
Here are seven ways my husband and I are intentionally trying to teach (and more importantly, show) our kids what a healthy marriage looks like, in the hopes that they’ll have one someday themselves.
7 Ways to Strengthen Your Child’s Future Marriage
1. Make a fuss over your wedding anniversary.
Sneaking in a date night—much less a weekend away or other special excursion—is quite challenging for us moms and dads. We have to find babysitting, deal with scheduling conflicts, beg our kids to be on their best behavior, and pray the baby goes to sleep easily.
There have been too many times when my husband and I ultimately decided it just wasn’t worth it.
But on our anniversary? It always is.
And not just for us, but for them. Why? Because if our kids see us celebrating our union in earnest year after year, they’ll realize that marriage truly is worth celebrating.
2. Kiss in front of your kid!
Sure, they might say, “Ewwwww! Gross! Stop it!”
But deep down kids love to see their parents (or step-parents, as the case may be) showing each other affection. It makes them feel secure, and teaches them what it looks like when partners are really in love.
3. Share family responsibilities.
I don’t know how it works in your household, but for many families of my generation, the old-school stereotypical gender roles are out the window (thank goodness!).
Often Mom can fix the sink just as well as Dad can, and Dad is perfectly capable of loading the dishwasher or folding a load of laundry. And in families where there are two moms or two dads, the traditional roles are even more blurred.
When children see all of the grown-ups in their household sharing the responsibilities of making that household run smoothly, they come to understand that it’s not necessarily about who does what; rather, it’s about everybody working together and finding a system that works for everyone.
4. Disagree respectfully in your child’s presence.
We all know that we shouldn’t be screaming at our spouse or calling him/her names in front of our kid (or at all, really!).
But it’s not enough just to not fight in their presence—we should also be showing them what to do instead. That is to say, we should be showing them how to disagree respectfully and work out conflict responsibly, together.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you should always air the dirty laundry between you and your spouse in front of your kids. But when children see adults disagree with one another while still obviously loving and respecting each other, they’re learning how to do the same thing with their future partner.
5. Talk about your dating days.
Again, you don’t have to go into the nitty gritty details, but share with your kids how you and your spouse met, what it was like getting to know each other, etc.
Why? Because what you’re modeling for them right now is a healthy marriage, but there’s a lot that needs to happen before they even get to that point. Share your story as a way of letting them know how a healthy dating relationship ultimately leads to a healthy marriage.
(And if you had your fair share of unhealthy dating relationships, tell them that, too—within reason—as a cautionary tale.)
6. Thank your spouse in front of your child.
A simple act of gratitude can go a long way in a relationship, can’t it?
Model it for your kids.
Even better, make sure both you and your spouse are modeling it for your kids.
That way your children learn that it’s not only important to thank their future partner, but that their future partner should also show gratitude to them in return. You don’t want your kids to feel unappreciated in their marriages.
7. Talk openly about traits you hope your child looks for in a partner.
This will vary by age, of course, but consider these:
“I hope you find someone who is loving and kind to both you and others.”
“I hope you look for a spouse who treats you with the respect you deserve.”
“My wish for you is that you marry someone who makes you laugh.”
“I pray you and your future partner always lift each other up.”
Our children need to know that our wish for them isn’t that they find someone who dresses like we’d like them to or is on the fast track to a six-figure salary; rather, our primary concern is how our children are treated in their marriages—with love, respect, and kindness.
What’s one thing you’re doing to teach your child about healthy relationships?
image via Monkey Business/Dollar Photo Club
*I wrote this article specifically to two-parent families, but I recognize that many families are single-parent ones. I’d love to feature another article specifically from the perspective of a single parent; if that’s you, let’s talk! Email me at katie[at]pickanytwo[dot]net.