I read an interesting study today; a disturbing, inspiring, insightful study.
Psychologists in Chicago found that babies aged nine months could tell when two people were disagreeing through facial features and voice tone. Nine months old.
We know that children are observant, insightful and sensitive – even from a very young age. But the reason I find this study disturbing is because of the number of couples I know have challenges at home.
It’s easy to think the kids won’t notice. It’s easy to put off getting help because you have ‘other priorities’. It’s easy to think you can put up with it ‘just until the kids leave home’.
But I have to ask: What are you teaching your children about relationships?
What this study is saying is that even at 9 months old children notice – we’re wired to pay attention to the relationships around us.
They might not understand the context or the words, but what this study shows is they understand when something isn’t right between two people. We also know from neurobiology that early relationships and the household situation affect the way a child’s brain develops. This will in turn affect the way they cope with emotions, challenges, situations, and form relationships throughout their life.
Think about the kind of relationship you want for your child when they are an adult. Is that the kind of relationship you’re living at the moment?
What are your tone of voice and involuntary facial features telling your child about how you feel even before they can understand the words that go with it?
How often do you argue? How often is there tension in the air? How often do you show affection to each other?
Putting off going to marriage counselling or sex therapy is a valid choice, especially when there are bills to pay and the kids want an iPad for Christmas. It can feel like it’s not the ‘right time’ or it’s better to just ‘get ahead’ a little more first. But the longer tensions exist, the harder they are to fix. And my hunch is that as much as you try to hide it, your children have a fairly good idea.
Staying together ‘until the kids leave home’ is a noble ideal and one that has many benefits. Of course we want our children to grow up in a home with both their parents living in it. But staying together ‘just for the children’ also has consequences.
If you are experiencing challenges in your relationship, ask yourself what you’re teaching your children about their relationships. And take action. You have the power to show them something different.