"Eeeewwww, SICK, they are kissing again you guys, DON'T LOOK."
A few hours later, as Lydia enters the kitchen but has not yet rounded the corner where we will come into her line of view, she makes our one syllable names into two, "Mooooom-mm and Da-aaad, you better not be kisssss-ing in there."
This is a game the youngest one plays frequently at our house.
It is a game of pretending she abhors her parents showing any love or affection toward one another. She fools no one, especially not us. She begs for more by declaring frequently how much she cannot stand to see it and how sick we are.
There are not many things that make kids feel more secure than parents that love one another. Children are reassured when they see their parents communicating well, getting along, loving one another, and maybe even grabbing a kiss or a squeeze when possible. (Case and point, that photo was taken in 2010 when Paige said, will you guys please let me take some lovey photos of you?)
The temperatures in our home seem to keep us from long embraces or any all out kitchen mack-fests. It is totally fine though, because our kids are sufficiently grossed out by the short (hot weather variety) of marital flirting.
The number one question asked by friends that visit Haiti for the first time... "It is SO hot and tiring here. We are hot. We are tired. We don't even want to be touching pinkies. Soooooo, like, how do you guys ever, you know ... (trail off while raising eyebrow)?" That is an excellent question. One that only the very brave ask, but I digress. This is not about getting it on in hot climates. This is about marriage and parenting - or more precisely - our kids watching our marriages.
We have learned over the years that any tension between us is quickly noticed by our kids. They get nervous and weird when they sense we are shorter tempered with one another or not working together well.
Whatever security they feel when they see us hugging in the kitchen, quickly diminishes when they hear us speak sharply to each other.
If kids feel secure when their parents are best friends that show one another respect and affection, what about when kids see their parents fight?
It is unrealistic to think they won't see us fight on occasion. Stress happens. Life is tense. People that live
What are we teaching our kids by the way we have conflicts with one another? How can we have conflict that teaches something? There must be ways we can make our children feel secure even in the midst of conflict. Surely we can teach them that it doesn't have to end badly.
Any person in a long term relationship knows that one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to allow resentment over unmet expectations or small things to pile up.
Instead of showing our kids how we fight about something that has nothing to do with the real issue, we hope to be honest and talk about things as they come up.
When we do things that disappoint one another, we can chose to deal on the spot, trying not to get to the point where we are fighting about something dumb and unrelated because we've been simmering in resentment sauce for weeks or months.
My kids can hear me say, "You never do what you say you will do, you always put work stuff first", followed by a list of things that aren't the real thing and don't express the deeper feelings underneath - OR - my kids can hear me say, "I feel sad and disappointed that we had planned a beach day and now we can't go - I was so looking forward to time with you".
It is less disrespectful to their Dad and it expresses my exact feelings without attacking him as a person. (I'm not saying how often I get this right. I'm just saying, I know which one is right.)
My job calls for a very flexible family. I feel bad about it, but it is a fact of midwifery that will not change. Sometimes I have just promised to watch a movie or go somewhere fun with the family when my phone rings and it is time to grab scrubs and run out the door.
I want to teach my kids that they don't have to stay quiet and let their annoyance (and hurt feelings) go unspoken. I want them to have seen that it is safe to say, "I am so hurt that you promised us a fun day and now you have to go to work." Even if I cannot do anything to change the situation and stay home or keep my promise, I want them to know that expression of disappointment or hurt in the moment it happens is a good and healthy thing. Resentment and letting it grow are the opposite.
During the years that there was a lot of change, transition, and financial stress, I remember them fighting. The most memorable fight for me was the fight we all call "the effing chicken sandwich fight".
All kids remember the first time they hear a parent drop a loud and angry F bomb.
That particular epic fight happened when I was probably 11 or 12 years old. I can tell you where I was when I was listening to it and everyone in my family knows right now exactly which story I'm going to tell.
My little sister and I were downstairs in our bedroom when voices were raised to a level we could clearly hear from the bedroom above us. There was stress about money and how to spend it and how to be careful with it and Mom was mad that Dad had taken us to Burger King for dinner instead of saving the money and just eating at home. Something was said about allowing us to order off the expensive adult menu and back and forth it went. Finally my Dad snapped and yelled, "If they want a ___ing chicken sandwich, they can have a ___ing chicken sandwich!!!" (Our four blue eyes popped out of our heads in unison! Did he just say that!?!?) Then he threw his keys at the wall and the keys hit the baby picture of me (my sister has always been their favorite) and the glass shattered in the frame. Then I think he left for a while.
It is hilarious now; we love ourselves an effing chicken sandwich whenever we can get one.
Of course the fight was not really about Burger King or what we ordered. Most angry words come from a place of fear and wanting to have control in order to feel less afraid. Because money was tight Mom was trying to control things and having control over things helped her feel less afraid about money and the future.
We all have those fights; the ones that later kind of make you laugh because in hindsight it is easy to see where you veered waaaaay off the path.
So much of parenting is about letting kids see adults work out problems and frustrations in a way that models love and open/honest communication. I cannot expect Lydia and Phoebe to stick to their "I" statements and talk to one another about their feelings during a conflict if I have spent the week doing the opposite when communicating with their Dad.