Anyone married or in a relationship for more than a minute can attest to this fundamental truth: it’s hard work. Add kids into the mix; some days can suck the life out of you. And it’s often during the messy moments and most tumultuous times that we forget about our marriage or relationship. Or put it at the bottom of the priority list. But our kids see these choices we make. Our kids watch and learn how to treat their spouse or partner by our example. They see us when we are kind to one another and when we are not. When we cheer our partners on and when we let them down. They see our acts of love and hear our words of insult. It’s on us, their parents, to show them what a respectful relationship looks like.
In those hard, exhausting days when we are stretched thin, we can feel ourselves snapping. Those days, we need to turn to our partners and lean on them, let them lean on us, join hands, and feel the strength of getting through the most challenging bits of life together. Because then, and only then, will our kids see what marriage and relationships are about. So, knowing we are our children’s first teachers, the ones responsible for molding much of their view on life, here are 21 things your kids should see you and your partner do as you show them how to love someone truly.
21 Things to Let Your Kids See You and Your Partner Do
Make sure you let your kids see you and your partner:
1. Support Each Other’s Passions
Chances are that you and your partner won’t have the same interests. Maybe your partner loves baseball or plays in a band, and perhaps you’re a runner or sing in the choir. That means you watch baseball and go to their concerts, and they’re at the finish line and in the audience to hear you sing. You don’t have to “get” each other’s passions, but your kids should see you support one another.
2. Be Strong for Each Other
Life can hit you hard sometimes. You’ll need your partner to be strong for you when you get knocked down, whether it’s an illness or injury or losing a job or a parent or a friend. Marriage and relationships aren’t always 50/50 (in fact, it seldom is). Sometimes one of you needs to carry 75% or even 90% of the weight, and your children must see you in those moments, being strong when the person you love is weak.
3. Laugh Together
Even if it’s about the silliest, most nonsensical thing in the world. Laugh about that time you got lost on a road trip. Or a funny meme you found. Or about how you wore two different shoes to work because you were so tired that morning. Let your kids see you laugh together and find joy in the small moments of life.
4. Cry Together
Despite the laughter, there will be tears, too. Our kids must see our emotions, including sadness, tears, and grief. Because they will undoubtedly encounter pain and sorrow in their lives, they need us to model for them that it’s okay to have these feelings. To let out the tears. To hold each other in times of pain and to know that eventually, the sun will come out again, but we can count on our loved ones to be there.
Yes, really. Not screaming matches or hurling insults, but our kids should see us have normal, healthy spats. Someone was grumpy with someone else, and feelings got hurt. Someone came home late, and the whole evening was ruined. These are ordinary life circumstances that our kids will experience as adults, and they have the right to be frustrated and vent and must also learn their partner may get frustrated with them, too.
6. Make Up and Talk It Out
They also need to see us make up. Talk it out. Hug it out. Hold hands after. A healthy relationship can handle disagreements and come out united on the other side, so make sure your kids see that part, too.
7. Apologize to Each Other
They don’t necessarily need to know all the details of why you are apologizing, but it’s good for kids to hear their parents say “I’m sorry” to one another. Whether it’s because one of you snapped after a long day or because you forgot to stop and pick up milk. Kids need to learn the value of this word because they’ll need to use it throughout their lives.
8. Forgive Each Other
And then, after you’ve hurt one another and apologized, let your kids see you forgive. Come back together, kiss, hold hands, hug, sit together, smile, say “I love you”—whatever forgiveness looks like in your relationship. They’ll have to ask for and grant forgiveness many times in their lives, so this is a big one for them to see in action.
9. Make Time for Each Other
We all know it’s easy to de-prioritize our marriage or relationships when life gets how life gets. But that’s also how things begin to unravel and eventually fall apart. Let your kids see you go for a walk or go to dinner or even away for the weekend—just the two of you. They’ll be seeing two people make time for their marriage or relationship. So no, sometimes the kids aren’t invited to wherever the parents are going, and that’s okay.
10. Show Kindness
This one should be easy. Sometimes, we must practice intentional kindness in marriage or relationships, especially when life gets challenging. Or when we are exhausted or stressed. For example, when we see our spouse working long hours, we can bring them a coffee. And when our partners see we’ve been up all night with a crying baby, they can say, “Go lie down. I’ve got the kids.” Our children see these acts of kindness, and they matter.
11. Show Romance
It can be as big as a surprise beach getaway for just the two of you or as small as a kiss on the cheek. Let your kids see you dance in the kitchen. Let them see your partner wrap their arms around you and pull you close. Let them see you get all dressed up for a date night out. Let them see a surprise bouquet appear on your anniversary. Or Mother’s Day. Or just a random Tuesday because someone wants to say, “I love you.” Show your kids that romance can mean many different things, but even in those grueling baby and toddler years, it’s still possible to be romantic, and it’s an essential piece of a relationship.
12. Listen to One Another
Our children should see us ask our spouse, “How was your day?” and then watch as we genuinely listen to the answer. If something important happened for either of you, the person you love and have pledged to spend your life with would want to hear about it and share your joy, pride, frustration, or grief. This way, our kids know they should listen to others, including a future partner, and choose a partner who listens to them.
13. Give Each Other Space
I don’t know a single person who doesn’t need a little space now and then. Some need more than others. But respecting each other’s needs and boundaries is a big part of marriage and relationships, and it’s good for the kids to hear Dad say, “Let’s give Mommy some alone time to go upstairs and read,” and watch as Mommy does just that.
14. Make Mistakes
Because we are all going to make them. So will our kids. Mistakes are a part of life; if our kids watch us mess up and then make amends, they’ll learn to do the same. They’ll learn to forgive themselves and know that apologizing and learning from our mistakes is a life lesson for everyone.
15. Cheer Each Other On
Whether it’s running in a race or applying for a promotion, it’s invaluable that our children watch us be cheerleaders for each other. They will learn to believe in themselves if they have parents who believe in each other and model that support in front of them.
16. Show Commitment to Each Other
Marriage and relationships take work and commitment. Yes, sometimes they don’t work out, but often they do if you dig your heels in and do the work. Go to therapy. Practice self-care so you can be a better partner. Give to one another as much as you can. Show each other that you’re in it to win it, that relationships are worth fighting for, and let your kids see what that journey looks like.
17. Show Love and Affection
Whether holding hands in the car or kissing as you get home from work, make sure your kids see that you genuinely love each other and like to show it. They’ll grow up with a healthy idea of what love looks like.
18. Take Breaks From Each Other and Do Your Own Thing
As much as our kids should see us do joyful things together, they should also see Mom go out with her girlfriends or see Dad go fishing with his buddies. It’s healthy and normal to have different interests and friendship circles; modeling that part of a relationship is another valuable example we should show to our children.
19. Show Appreciation for One Another
Our kids should hear us say “thank you” to each other, but we can also show appreciation in different ways. We could say, “Dad’s been working hard, so let’s surprise him with his favorite dinner,” or “Mom has had a long week. Let’s go out to breakfast and let her sleep in. We can bring her home a doughnut and coffee.” These acts of appreciation won’t go unnoticed by our kids and will set the stage for the type of relationship we want for them someday.
20. Say Kind Things About Each Other, Even When Your Partner Isn’t Around
Having your kids witness a statement like, “Isn’t Dad the best? We are so lucky to have him,” will have a tremendous impact. But kids are intelligent and intuitive; they might know when compliments are all for show and aren’t authentic. However, if Dad isn’t even around to hear it, they’ll know that Mom must mean it. Dad rocks.
21. Have Each Other’s Back
Your kids should see that your partner is your “person,” and you are theirs. When you know what goes down, that person you’re doing life with—will be there. Even if it’s hard or uncomfortable, or scary. Your kids should know that you will emerge from the wreckage together.
There is no playbook for parenting or marriage and relationships. I’ve looked! Raising kids is often the most demanding job in the world. On top of that, we are supposed to nurture and maintain a healthy relationship. Seriously? Yes, seriously. Because of all the positive messages your kids will receive watching you do or say these things, the damage of neglecting your marriage or relationship has the potential to wash it all away. And then, rather than feeling the safety and security we want our children to feel as they close their eyes at night, everything they know feels scary and unsettled as the walls of the house begin to crumble. But if you remember one thing, let it be this—be good to one another. And let your kids see it. If you can do that, life is bound to be beautiful for all of you.