Parents will raise happier children ‘if they put them second to their marriage
US therapist David Code argues that an over-focus on kids creates demanding offspring and anxious, exhausted parents
Want better-adjusted, more successful children? The answer is not to cram their free hours with Kumon maths, Mandarin lessons and violin classes. Nor is it to be a “helicopter parent”, forever hovering.
Devoted parents do not produce happy children, says a new book that has become a bestseller in America and is about to be published in the UK. Adults who want the best for their children should spend less time trying to be the perfect parent and more time striving to be the perfect spouse, according to David Code, author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First.
“Today’s number one myth about parenting is that the more attention we give our kids, the better they’ll turn out. But we parents have gone too far: our over-focus on our children is doing them more harm than good,” said Code, a family therapist and writer for the Wall Street Journal. “Families centred on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children. We parents today are too quick to sacrifice our lives and our marriages for our kids. Most of us have created child-centred families, where our children hold priority over our time, energy and attention.
“But as we break our backs for our kids, our marriage and self-fulfilment go out the window while our kids become more demanding and dissatisfied,” he added. Code believes today’s children are troubled because they receive too much attention. “That’s why children seem to have many more problems nowadays than we did, or our parents did,” he said. “By killing ourselves to provide a perfect, trauma-free childhood for our children, we’re wasting our energy. The greatest gift you can give your children is to have a fulfilling marriage yourself.”
But what if your child has problems and issues that demand a parent’s full attention? Code believes that any worries parents have about their children are much more connected to their anxieties about their marriage than they realise. “We often believe we just don’t have time for our spouse. But when two parents drift apart, often one parent will drift closer to the kids,” he said. “We parents convince ourselves that putting our children first is child-friendly, but we make two main mistakes by doing so. First, it becomes harder to respect and enforce the boundaries that shape a child’s character, so he simply badgers his parents until he gets his way. Future bosses and spouses may not be so patient with this behaviour.
“Second, we put tremendous pressure on our children to fulfil our emotional needs, which may lead to the child acting out. This draws even more attention to the problem, as parents seek a diagnosis and physicians increasingly rely on medicating children. What had been a molehill becomes a mountain, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that can cripple the child’s development,” he added.