Check Yourself: Marriage & Parenting

“Thanks, that’s very kind of you.”

“I have a great idea!”

“I just love you so much.”

So many of my three-year-old son’s sweet phrases are spoken because they’re phrases I say often to him.

On the flip side, yelling when he’s angry and interrupting when I’m trying to explain something to him are, unfortunately, also things he’s picked up from me.

We all know kids are sponges and when it comes to relational behaviors and self expression, both their words and actions are often mimics of what they’ve seen and heard. In short, they give what they receive. When I am patient, helpful and encouraging, I see my son choosing to be patient, helpful and encouraging. (“Good job, coloring, mom! I like that you filled in all the white spots!”) Likewise, when I notice my son yelling more, interrupting more and being generally short tempered and moody, nine times out of ten I need to check myself, shifting my own words, actions and attitude before I see a shift in my son.

While I know this about kids, I tend to forget that this is actually just applicable to humans in general. When I show up to customer service with a problem and the attendant is friendly, patient and accommodating it’s easy for me to be kind and patient in return. But if I encounter someone who is rude and short-tempered, it takes a lot more self-control to not give them attitude right back.

And then, there’s marriage. No one wants to be the nagging spouse. If there’s anything I want less in life, it’s to be considered naggy to the man I love most. But, sometimes, I want to see change in our relationship. I want appreciation for my efforts around the house spoken out loud. I want to be asked how my day was and I want my husband to actually listen to my response. I want him to surprise me with just because flowers. I want him to grab my plate too when he goes to put his in the dishwasher. I want, I want, I want. And I’ve found, rather than approaching him with a list of things I want from him, I should first look at what I’m giving him. Do I speak appreciation out loud for the things he does for our family? Do I ask about his day and sincerely listen to his response?  Do I serve him or do I only help myself?

Before I call out my husband’s resistance to taking full responsibility for our kids on a Saturday so I can go to the city with friends, I need to ask myself, what was my reaction the last time he wanted *me* to be home alone with the kids for a full day while he did something fun for himself? I shouldn’t expect him to say, “yes! Absolutely, Trace, I would love to stay home solo with the kids; you deserve a fun day with your friends.” if I was dragging my heels and laying a guilt trip on him the last time he requested me to do likewise.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are conversations that are necessary to have in marriage. Communication is key. If I have hurt or upset my husband, I want to know. I want him to have those hard conversations with me so I can love, respect and serve him better and I know he wants the same honesty from me. We chose each other, we love each other but we can’t read minds. I’m not suggesting we play mind games with each other. But sometimes, even before having those bigger, harder conversations, it helps to look first at my own recent words and actions (and unspoken words and inaction) and approach the subject with humility. Because when we find our marriage has fallen into selfish patterns and negative habits, rarely is the reason one sided. It’s often that we’re just giving what we’re receiving, rather than giving what we *want* to receive.

Written by Tracey Dyck