Lately, it seems like infidelity is in the news even more than usual. While I was attending a training in Minneapolis, the Governor of South Carolina made headlines. When I returned, "Unfaithfully Yours" was the headline on Time magazine, along with the picture of a collapsing wedding cake, and this quote (also on the cover of Time) arrived in my inbox:
"Adultery is not about sex or romance. Ultimately, it is about how little we mean to one another." Leonard Michaels. Just what are we really teaching our children about sexuality and commitment in our culture?
Perhaps you are reading this as a single parent, or as one part of a couple in an unhappy marriage. Perhaps you are happily married, and reading for fun. Perhaps you are a feminist who believes she can be both mother and father to her child(ren). Or perhaps you are more traditional and think marriage should only be between a man and a woman, and that is what is best for children. Whichever best describes you, the research shows that children from two parent families out perform those from single parent families, regardless of ethnicity or education background, according to a Princeton researcher quoted in the Time article.
Furthermore, there is a growing trend for women, especially lower income women, to have children out of wedlock. Unfortunately, "the growing tendency of the poor to have children before marriage — the vast majority of unmarried women having babies are undereducated and have low incomes — is a catastrophic approach to life," says Caitlin Flanagan, author of "Unfaithfully Yours."
The implications for us as parents are many. Questions that need to be conscientiously considered are,
- What am I teaching my child about relationships with my behavior?
- How am I modeling getting support when times are tough?
- How do I treat myself in this relationship? My partner?
- How do we work out differences?
- How do we demonstrate respect? Persistence? That there is more to marriage than "happily ever after"?
- How do we celebrate and honor one another and each other's achievements?
- How do we use our strengths to build success in our relationship and family?
Having these discussions with your partner and with your children before you add sexuality into the picture is important. Children do best when they live with two committed parents, so do your best to give them that. If that's not possible, create the closest thing you can to that. Focus on the importance of relationships, of growing from dependence to interdependence. Talk about how we all have strengths, and we need to build relationships with people who have different ones than we do so that we can learn and grow together.
If you do this as a parent, then your discussions about sexuality have a strong foundation. The values of self-worth, sexual health, responsibility, and justice and inclusivity (from Our Whole Lives) are easier to embrace, model, and teach. Children tend to make healthier decisions, and we can hope to disrupt the cycle of parenthood without long-term relationships.
For more information about talking to your children about sexuality, and also about communication, discipline, and other issues, check out our book: Parenting by Strengths: A Parent's Guide for Challenging Situaions. You'll find chapters on each of these topics, and more. Available in hard copy or as an eBook.
Amy Johnson, MSW, is a Personal Life and Parent Coach who is passionate about working with parents regarding balance, self-care and faith and sexuality. She is co-author of the book, Parenting by Strengths: A Parent's Guide to Challenging Situations. To read more by Amy, go to Diligent Joy Blog. Amy is also a member of the Best Parent Coaching Directory. Click here to contact Amy.