We often forget how perceptive our children are. I am reminded of this regularly when my kids, 4 and 3 years old, say something like, "Dad needs coffee" when we pass Kaladi's on the road or "Ooh, daddy needs that guitar for church" when we're browsing through a music catalogue. The reality is that although kids are loud, difficult to understand, and incapable of sitting still, they perceive many of the things you do, say, or feel.
While we had a spell of sunny days last week I dug through my closet and blew the dust off of my shorts so my pasty white legs could be on display. I came out of our bedroom and my wife said, "You look really good honey." My son, who was eating breakfast at the table started laughing and said, "Yeah, Daddy's cute!" We began to laugh at my son's proclamation, but something really stood out to me at that moment: children perceive their parents in the manner they are portrayed to them.
As parents we need to be careful how we communicate to and about our spouses, especially around our children. Failure to do so can result in a loss of respect and a minimizing of their parental authority. I've seen this many times as a pastor: a parent constantly belittles their spouse or ex-spouse either to their child or in front of them and sure enough, that child has absolutely no respect for the other parent. As a result the belittled parent often disengages from even trying to be an influence which just further frustrates the relationship with their spouse. I've even seen parents get on Facebook and publicly berate their spouse to everyone on the Internet -- it's pathetic and immature and there is no excuse for it.
I want my children to respect my wife. A lot of that respect will be earned by my wife's relationship with them. Some of that respect will be learned by what I demonstrate to them about her. Sure, we all get frustrated and say things we don't mean at times, but we need to be careful to guard our emotional explosions from our children who may not be around to hear us apologize for what we said and didn't mean. The Bible tells us, in James 3, that our tongue is much like a spark that ignites a forest fire and also can set the entire course of our life on fire. Unfortunately, children are often victims of smoke inhalation as a result of parents' fires.
My kids have challenged me to make sure I honor my wife in front of them. What about you? What message are you sending about your spouse? Even if you're not married to your child's other parent, are you speaking things about them that will help them have a place to contribute and have positive influence? It may take some work to get a healthy habit established, but it will be worth it in the long run!
Nick Higgins is the Youth & Worship Pastor at Kenai New Life located on the Kenai Spur Highway across from the Challenger Center. Their services are Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
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