Your kids are sponges. They soak up your actions and your choices. Your exact words and tone pour out of them without you ever realizing they were drinking them in. They absorb your way of doing things, and use that to learn how to go about life.
Kids take in the core lessons you give them. It’s the impulses so deeply ingrained you barely notice you have them that have most impact. It's your automatic reactions; the words that are out of your mouth before they enter your brain, your immediate assumptions about good news and bad, what you do with powerful emotions, your style of conflict.
These are the values you live out. And your kids breathe them in.
You and your partner probably form your kids' first textbook on negotiating relationships. You might start to wonder what you’re teaching them. You can be sure they'll be noticing how you act, how you speak to each other.
You can trace some of your lessons by watching your kids. A no squabbling rule has zilch effect if your own behaviour contradicts it. If taking turns is a foreign concept in your relationship, your kids will likely be strangers to the notion. If the two of you are easy with praise and apology and thanks, your kids will let this flow too.
So what do you teach your kids when your relationship is coming apart at the seams? The process of parting is one of the most stressful times you can face. You might not like the look of the curriculum you have on offer.
When you find it hardest to behave admirably you can bet it’s hard for your kids too. These are the crunch lessons, the ones where they really need your help. Conflict happens. It's part of life and it's almost certainly part of separation. Your kids are going to learn about it. How you choose to behave will influence what they learn.
If your conflict is violent then that's the example you set. You teach about force and fear. If your conflict is scornful, you teach contempt. If your conflict is hidden, you teach suspicion.
If you want your kids to learn something more positive from a hard situation you might want to model responsibility. You could do this by acknowledging your conflict without involving your children in it, blaming them for it, or inviting them to take sides.
You might seek help. Friends and family might give you some time out. You might find a counsellor can help you be clear with each other and help you talk without creating more wounds. You’ll let your kids know they don't need to feel ashamed or isolated. If you can get help, so can they.
Conflict between partners may change the shape of your children's family, it doesn't automatically change who's in it. Different addresses don't impose a limit on your capacity to be active loving capable parents. This is the very best lesson you can offer. It's one your kids will absorb with joy.
If you would like help to work out a new shape for your family contact Relationships Aotearoa on 0800 735 283 or your local office which is listed in the telephone directory.