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A Home without Harmony

Sarah Chana Radcliffe

Whether you’re in a troubled marriage or your marriage simply has a few troubles, it can dramatically impact your child’s development. Practical ways to diffuse marital tension — and create a safer, happier home for your family.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Here’s news that may not surprise you: Children thrive when their parents are in a happy marriage. Among other things, they grow up feeling emotionally secure, and leave home with a positive marriage model.

How much are kids impacted if their parents don’t fall into this happy matrimony category? The equation, say researchers, looks something like this: The greater the conflict between parents (married or divorced), the greater the dysfunction in their kids both during childhood and when they mature. As a result of marital discord, children typically exhibit more emotional and behavioral problems, more learning problems, and more relationship problems (see sidebar, “The Consequences of Conflict.”). The general hierarchy of repercussions can be broken down as follows:

1. The best developmental outcome occurs when children grow up with happily married parents. These kids have the greatest emotional stability and least social, intellectual, emotional, and behavioral problems throughout life.

2. The next-best scenario for children is an intact home that’s stable, functional, and respectful, if not exactly warm and loving.

3. A child’s development is compromised in the presence of regular marital friction.

4. Divorce presents a serious developmental challenge, particularly when it’s antagonistic.

5. A home that’s intact, but violent, poses the greatest threat to a child’s development.

An increasingly popular parenting belief today is that “the kids are happy when their parents are happy.” But, as these findings reveal, the parents’ happiness is not the most important factor for a child’s wellbeing. Fact is, kids are usually less concerned about their parents’ emotional state than they are about figuring out their own lives and facing their day-to-day challenges. Growing up with stability and security, even in a home in which the parents are not particularly thrilled with each other, does more good for a child’s development than swapping homes between two separate, but happier, parents (provided that the marital home was not characterized by physical aggression).

Even in intact frum homes, the unfortunate reality today is that trouble in marriage is becoming increasingly common. And “troubled marriages” — which are defined as ones with high levels of interpersonal stress — are relatively common as well.

It’s not always possible for a person to give his or her children the gift of growing up in the midst of a wonderful marriage because a relationship is not totally within one person’s control. You have a spouse to contend with — and also yourself, with all of the baggage and childhood wounds that often dictate how you instinctively act and react to stressful situations.

Nonetheless, there are certain things that you can do to minimize the damaging effects of a troubled marriage — and maximize the positive potential of your relationship.


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