Parenthood is a lifelong commitment and couples must ensure that children do not pay for their mistakes
In a TV series, a man having an extra-marital affair tells his brattish grown-up daughter regretfully, “I was supposed to keep you safe from men like me. And I failed in that duty.” He failed because he couldn’t keep his own impulses in check. Instead of leading by example, he fell into the regrettable space where his children goaded him by indulging in the worst they could, and then challenged his right to upbraid them. All this as the mother stood by and watched with wounded, reproachful eyes, encouraging the children’s feelings of angst. What a waste of a family!
But that was fiction and the makers of the series find ways to give you feel-good endings. In real life, you can seldom find your way back from such an emotional cul de sac. Once you lose respect in your child’s eyes and are exposed as someone who does not follow what you preach, it is a very tough climb back up indeed. It is important not to expose your Achilles heel to children, for they are bound to use it as an excuse for their own misbehavior.
This can only be managed if both parents are on board to ensure the children’s welfare. A responsibility that comes with having children is to lead by example — with its attendant pressure of walking the straight path. Or even if you stray, not letting your children see it. You cannot teach a child to be honest, and then be caught in a lie yourself. You cannot tell children to care for others and then be seen as uncaring. You cannot expect them to be sincere and faithful, and then be caught being unfaithful yourself. In short, anything you expect your child to learn or value has to be seen to be practiced and valued by you first.
Nor must parents encourage children to take sides by playing blame games. If one partner errs, the other must not use the children to take sides. Watching the two people you love most in the world bickering can wreck a child’s world and leave him/her fighting feelings of insecurity, guilt, inadequacy or low self-esteem for life, sometimes leading to self-destructive behavior or suicidal tendencies. As they grow up, such children either become rebellious and flirt with danger to attract their parents’ attention, or withdraw completely to nurse their wounds and become loners. The first kind may jump from one relationship to another, while the second may steer clear of any relationships at all.
I do not believe that it is better for children that parents part rather than stay in a bad marriage – at least not till children are old enough to fly the nest or stand on their own feet. It is better that they try and work out their differences and once committed to parenthood, do their best to keep peace and the family together. Unless there is abuse of any kind involved in a marriage, for children it will always be better that parents stay married and together – even if in a semblance of normalcy.
(The writer is an associate editor with the ToI. [Courtesy – ToI])