I used to work in one of the poorest areas in Massachusetts. I supervised six doctoral students who did home visits.

All of the families received social services. They all had limited resources. However, they were quite different when it come to their child’s outcome.

Some offered their children a rich environment with a hot meal on the table each night. Some had cabinets that were bare. Some fed their children expensive fast food, so money ran out halfway through the month.

Now, as I work with highly successful couples, I see that they also offer a rich or impoverished environment for their children’s development.

A marriage impacts parent-child interactions. Parents impact a child’s:

  • cognitive development,
  • attachment styles,
  • values, and
  • a sense of self-worth and more

Mothers and fathers shape their children through not only how their parents engage with them but how they interact with one another.

Wealth and poverty

Children thrive or are deprived based on the families they grew up in. Some wealthy families are emotionally impoverished. Other families are not poor; they just have no money.

I was struck by stories of the great depression where over the holidays, some children were told, “We have no money, so you’ll get no presents.” Families, equally poor, delighted their children with cut-out paper dolls.

One woman, well into her eighties, told the story of getting a “new doll” for Christmas. It was her old doll that got new hair, a freshly painted face, and clothes cut from flour sacks and dyed. She never forgot that treasured gift.

Stability vs. Chaos

Some marriage provides a stable environment. Children feel secure and confident when their day is steady and predictable. Parents in that climate support and encourage their children.

Parents do that when they are emotionally regulated. When they are free of mental illness.

Kindness and respect

Children learn to trust and feel secure both by how they are treated and by what they see. If they see parents who show respect and kindness to each other, children assume that’s the norm.

Showing empathy, compassion, affection, and kindness, teaches children valuable lessons about how others should be treated. If your parents showed you a loving and supportive marriage, you are more likely to consider the world a safe place and feel good about yourself.

Equity and fairness

Parenting is emotionally and physically exhausting. Loving and supportive spouses feed each other. They give each other confidence and the emotional energy to parent well.

Are they able to share responsibilities equitably? Children watch how both adults work together within the home. They see how much time each parent spends cooking and cleaning. They also notice whether both adults get an equal opportunity to rest, relax, and enjoy their lives.

I’d like you to think back on the lessons your parents taught you about equity between men and women. Were rest and relaxation shared equally together? Were both parents home in the evenings?

  • Did you watch both of your parents work seamlessly to get dinner on the table and clean up the dishes?
  • Did they take turns directing you to your homework and getting you ready for bed? Reading you a nighttime story?

Communication and emotional expression

Does this family have members who are willing to listen to each other? Does one person hold more power than another? Can all emotions be expressed, or are some, like anger, only allowed to some people but not to others? Do you ever remember your parents arguing?

  • Were emotions well-regulated, or were voices raised, and children got scared?
  • Did adults throw or break things?
  • Did your parents hug and kiss after an argument or have days of icy silence?

Affection and Sex

If your parents liked each other, you knew it; you could sense it in your bones. If they showed affection to each other and to you, you valued affection. If they didn’t, you didn’t learn that affection should be a part of every family. You might be awkward in expressing it yourself.

Your parents also modeled sexuality to you. In psychology, we often talk about the oversexualized family. However, parents can also model an under-sexualized family. There is a deadness to these parents, who are more like casual friends than lovers.

Children in these families can believe that the world revolves around them. They don’t have any reason to be jealous of their parent’s relationship because their parents don’t show them anything to be jealous of.

Better marriage, better parenting

We work with couples that know that their children deserve better. They are willing to put the work in to make a better marriage. Many came from troubled families where they did not learn important skills. They want to invite more kindness, stability, or equity back into their lives to be good role models.

We can help.

Our couples therapy retreats offer sound science-based help to marriages. Contact us for a no-obligation phone call to learn more.