How conflict with your kids can make your marriage stronger
April 11, 2022
[Kyle]: In today's podcast we're going to talk about something really exciting, about how the conflict with our kids can make your marriage even stronger, more intimate, even more connected. So, there's some intentional steps that we'll be sharing with you on how Sara and I have grown closer together through raising these three little kids.
[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 26 of The Art of Raising Humans podcast. I’m Kyle.
[Sara]: And I’m Sara.
[Kyle]: And today we are going to talk about a really big subject. I probably say that a lot, don't I? Because I think a lot of these subjects are big--
[Sara]: Every subject's is--
[Kyle]: Every subject's is gigantic! But no, seriously.
[Sara]: So exciting!
[Kyle]: I do think this subject is a big one that, all too often, pulls marriages apart, okay? So, something that I think is different about this style of parenting that I don't think is really talked about and almost any other style of parenting that, you know, we've been aware of or read about, is the power and the impact it has on making your marriage better, okay? That, lots of times when you see families that are going through conflict with their kids, it's really hurting the marriage and so, I want to talk about how an approach like this, moving away from fear and shame, trying to come alongside and disciple the kids by giving them skills, by connecting to them, by resolving conflict, you know, all these different things we've discussed in the other podcast, how inevitably Sara's and my marriage became even better because we had kids and sadly enough, that's all too often not the case.
[Kyle]: That typically you see a couple in the way I describe it a lot of times in session, they fall in love and they have some great times together as a couple and I know Sara and I did, we were without kids for 5 years, something like that, five to six years as we worked on getting our master's degrees and building a career and so, we were kind of older when we had kids because we waited a while, but it's because I was having a blast. I was having a blast hanging out with Sara. I liked that we had a rhythm, we kind of had a routine and I didn't really want to disrupt that and once you bring kids in, I wasn't quite aware of all the disruption they were going to be. I had some idea; I think my basic fears were “what if they weren't healthy? What if, you know, things happen? That would be really sad. I don't-- What if--? Financially it's going to be more restrictive, we can't just have the freedom to go whenever we want to go”.
[Kyle]: So, I’m sure every person kind of thinks about that, but I think a lot of them are unprepared for the amount of conflict that comes about by having kids and then, all too often this blessing ends up really straining the marriage. So, we want to talk about why it does that and then, how to reverse that trend, okay? That sounds good?
[Kyle]: You like that?
[Sara]: Sounds great.
[Kyle]: Okay, okay. So, first of all, I mean, this is kind of a big question for you, but how has our kids made our marriage stronger?
[Sara]: Okay, throw me a softball.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. How has it made it stronger? Well, I think there's all these things that you don't even know to talk about when you get married and then, they come up when you have kids and you don't even know they were topics, until you have kids.
[Kyle]: Yeah, or other topics you thought you already have the answers to. You already thought you already talked about this [Unintelligible]
[Sara]: You don't really– I mean, when you're really there in the middle of it, it's just different than looking at it from a distance, from “it's not here yet and we're talking about it”, to being in the trenches.
[Kyle]: It's all theoretical and then it becomes like, your hands are really dirty with poop on your hands.
[Sara]: And its-- And you're in a state of stress, you know? A good stress, bad stress-- I mean, it's just stress, right? You have these beautiful little people and you're entirely responsible for them and both physical and emotional, there's all these ways that you're being pulled on and that can bring you together or push you apart, right? Because depending on how you go to each other or are able to go to each other for that in those moments and if you have differences of opinions, but for us, we leaned into that.
[Sara]: And sometimes it might have been hard conversations, it might have taken years to get through some thoughts, you know? About parenting shifts and how we view things.
[Kyle]: It might have been arguments.
[Sara]: Maybe and you know, but we used-- We leaned into that and grew with it and so, it brought a closeness that wasn't there before.
[Kyle]: And I know we've talked about in previous podcasts about judgment, that can happen about parenting, where we can start judging each other and so, we won't necessarily delve into that, although that is a big part of it, you know? But I think specifically the conflicts you're talking about, so I wrote these down. Because I was-- You were much more ready than I was to have kids, you were probably ready maybe a year or two before I was and part of it was-- Is I like spending time with you and I really didn't want to share you with somebody else and that sounds really selfish, but-- And it really was, because I really I really was like “why would I have somebody else come in here and take my time away?” and I’d heard all these stories about that, about how you kind of lose your connection and so, I think some real easy ones that happen as soon as you have kids, is finances becomes a much bigger deal. I know our savings account just disappeared, because all of a sudden there was diapers all the time and there was all these kinds of things that we were needing to buy. Conversations about education, yeah? So, like I know I was raised in a public-school setting, you were raised home school and you were passionate about homeschooling the kids and I thought you were insane. So--
[Sara]: Just a small thing.
[Kyle]: Yeah. So, that was like--
[Sara]: Just insane.
[Kyle]: Yeah, and we never really talked about that much until we had kids and really took even a while to talk about that before they were ready to do that, right?
[Kyle]: How we resolve conflict. So, it's one thing for you and I to work on that, but it's a different thing when it's you're working on it with a three-year-old, which doesn't seem to really-- I was used to being able to talk it out with you and then I couldn't seem to talk it out with a three-year-old and figure that out, right? Eating, right? That's a big one like, I don't think you and I ever fought about eating when we were just married. It was when we had kids that were like “what why are they not eating this stuff?”, you know? I mean, typically it was like “do you like that?”, “I like that”, “Cool, let's go eat it”, you know? Or we went to a restaurant, we both ordered whatever we wanted, you know? And when you have kids and you're trying to feed them, that became a conflict.
[Kyle]: Sleeping was a gigantic conflict, because we both like to sleep, you know? We both think it's important and then we brought these little people, three of them into our lives, that didn't seem to care about it. So, they seem to want to be with us all the time, they seem to want to wake up super early all the time. So, sleeping was a huge one and then the last one was, just no time to connect. So, if you think about it, probably the strength of what we had before the kids, we spent a lot of time together and that actually helped our conflicts, but now all of a sudden, we have more conflicts and less time to connect to actually think positively towards each other and work through the conflicts, right?
[Sara]: Yeah, especially when you have little-- I mean, I think you're here you sort of can move into, I don't want to say survival mode, but it's almost like that, or you do this, I do this, we take care of this, we work our jobs, get-- You know, you're just trying to manage all the all the tasks that are at hand and take really good care of these wonderful children.
[Kyle]: And then I didn't even mention the biggest one, which is “how we're going to discipline?”, right’ And how we're going to parent. I know we've talked about this before in previous podcasts, but you and I both were coming from two different places. Now, we both had a master's degree in counseling, we both were working with kids, but we both had kind of different childhoods. Some of it was similar in how discipline was done, but you had really kind of bought into, because you had been working with some really, really difficult kids and found a bunch of new tools that I hadn't necessarily bought into yet, you know? And so, even that was starting to be a big source of tension and conflict between us, you know? And then, I think the thing that a lot of parents run into is, having children seems to bring out a different side of us, you know?
[Kyle]: Going back to the podcast before this, about using language like “it makes me feel whatever”, I mean, basically what we're trying to say in that or we're trying to convey is “that thing happened and it triggered this in me” and so, there's a lot of things-- The way we react to our kids is kind of hardwired in our brain by how people reacted to us when we were little, you know? So, a lot of times we've never seen that side of ourselves.
[Kyle]: Because typically couples--
[Sara]: Is not something that brings it out.
[Kyle]: Typically, we're not hanging out with kids all the time, you know? If we don't have our own kids, we're typically not spending a lot of time with other people's kids and watching them have--
[Sara]: Or a very stressful situations; it’s different.
[Kyle]: Exactly, and it's not as personal, you know? And if we are hanging out with other people's kids, it's not my kid, but when it becomes your kid, all of a sudden it hits you differently and so, there's parts of yourself that you might not even realize were there that come out, you know? And so, I think that also creates what could start to be a divide in family. So, I’m bringing this all up, Sara, because I just find it very sad that there are people who come to the practice and they want help because they're getting divorced and, of course, the big message you want to tell kids is “it's not your fault, there's nothing you could have done to change this. There's nothing you could do, there's nothing you did to make it happen”, but it does seem like in many cases, the conflicts really became much bigger when the kids arrived, you know?
[Kyle]: And so, that there is this kind of like, implied message, that maybe if that kid wasn't there, maybe they could have worked this stuff out, you know? Maybe they could have talked about it and so, I want to take a switch on that, that I think that is true. I think what you and I have seen is, once we had kids, these conflicts did become bigger. There were more deeper discussions that were sometimes scary to have, were hard to have, required a lot of vulnerability, you know? A lot of trust between you and I, but the kids are the reason we had those, you know? And so, the thing I’m wanting the parents to hear is, I think the shift we made and intentionally, we'll talk about intentional things we did to make that happen. You used the word “leaned” into it, but it was like we intentionally said “we need to be consistent on having conversations about this and here's how we need to have those conversations”, right?
[Sara]: Right, and I want to add in a little piece here. We are also in a position where we both-- The two of us decided to engage in those hard conversations.
[Kyle]: That’s great, good point.
[Sara]: The two of us came into and said “all right, we're digging in”. Because, yeah, you're right, I said “lean in”, but it's intentional and unfortunately, not every couple has that.
[Sara]: So, we're not, you know, we know that there are situations that are just– But if you're-- But early on, you know, we weren't necessarily told this. I mean, I feel-- But early on, try to lean in, try to-- If you have a partner that will do that with you, lean into those conversations, engage them early on, don't let a lot of things build up, but get in the habit of having the conversations, because you're going to be very different and having children is really going to highlight those differences and so, you want to be able to embrace those and talk about those.
[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, so I think the habit we got into, okay? Is we decided early on, was every night we're gonna talk about what's going on throughout the day and that doesn't look like an hour-long conversation. Now, sometimes they were hour-long conversations.
[Sara]: Yeah, or more.
[Kyle]: And lots of times though, they're 15-minute conversations or 10-minute conversations and basically, it's just the habit of nightly checking in, right? And the thing that we are intentionally checking in, was specific things we're working on, yeah? So, whether specific things we were working on between you and I, specifically we're working on with the kids. So, we might be working on the skill of just helping a kid be able to put their plate next to the sink. So, once they're done “hey, one of the kids seems to be relaxing on that, let's just be more intentional about guiding them to doing that”, right? So, then I might follow up in the evening and say “hey, how's he or she doing with that?”, right? And then you could go “oh, he's doing much better” or “it was still kind of a struggle today” and then-- Or it would look like lots of times, like “hey, how did it go with Abby tonight?” and you might say “oh, it didn't go so well. We got into an argument and she seemed really upset about it” and then I would say to you “do you want me to follow up with her the next day?” and you might be like “okay, great”.
[Kyle]: And sometimes me following up, Abby was more apt to talk about it because I wasn't involved in the conflict and so, her and I early on when she was really little, I was in the habit of-- I was waking up early because they wake up early, but I would try to get up earlier than them and go sit outside and watch the sun rise and so, lots of beautiful conversations happen between me and Abby or the other kids, sitting on my lap, watching the sunrise, just talking about the conflict the night before and talking about what could have been done differently, and that only happened because I asked “hey, how did it go?”, right? And I think a lot of parents aren't having those conversations. Many times when the first things I ask parents to do besides connect and pour into their kids and enjoy them, right? Is start communicating on a daily basis how you are doing on this parenting journey and once you start sharing that, there's-- A lot of those conversations early on, we're like “why did you do that?” or “what is-- what's your purpose in saying that to the kid?” or you saying like “how come you did that with them?” or “you seem to be getting too upset with them”.
[Kyle]: So, there was a lot of like us having to hash out some of that stuff, but inevitably it turned into like “that was really cool how you did that” or you know, “Sara, I know you've been working on being more assertive with the kids, today you were fantastic with them, you know?” Or you saying to me “man, I thought you were going to get really upset when they did X, Y and Z, but today you didn't, you stayed calm” and I’d be like “well, thank you”, you know? And it turned into this time where we were using that conflict that was happening, in all of these areas, finances, education, com-- All these discussions, the intentional goal wasn't to just discuss them, but for us to understand each other better through that discussion.
[Sara]: Yeah, and I’m sure there's lots of times, we didn't-- It's hard to get a date night or to get out and have these big-- And honestly, I think you forget the little things along the way, you know, it just winds up being the highlights and so, even now, I mean, it's very true that kids all-- By the time when they all get into bed or they're in their rooms or something, we have a little 10 to 15 minute sit down, however long it takes and we got a puppy and now, honestly the puppy's part of that conversation too.
[Kyle]: Exactly, yes.
[Sara]: It's like “guess what? Aspen did this today, it was so great”.
[Sara]: Or you know, whatever a struggle that we're having. So, honestly yeah, I think that that daily check-in it's very rare that we would ever miss a day of that, just that brief little check-in. Even if we're on a trip. It may not always be in the evening, depending on what's going on, but we find little moments to mention things and to talk to each other and connect on our parenting journey.
[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, and we're very aware of what the other one is working on personally and with the kid too, you know? So, if there's some skill in particular like, I’m working on, maybe we do a special connection time with one of the kids. We come back and say “hey, here's what I learned about them” or “here's something that I really noticed”, you know? And we're able to sometimes cry together at those times, other times celebrate, you know? Other times encourage, but the main point I’m trying to make, Sara, in all of this is, I think too often-- You know, when parents are fighting, especially when they have kids and they're arguing, the kids know that lots of times it has to do with them, you know?
[Kyle]: And even inadvertent ways, whether it's mom or dad seem in a more stressed out place because of all the things they're doing for the kiddos, you know? And the kids, because they're very self-centered and the world kind of revolves around them, their only conclusion is “they must be arguing about me, it must have been something that I had done”.
[Sara]: Kids tend to take all that on their shoulders, you know? They're “I’m supposed to bring happiness my parents and I’m bringing conflict” and they really do take that on as their responsibility, their fault, their identity.
[Kyle]: And so, I want my kids to know that, yeah, mom and I may at times argue and mom and I may sometimes even argue over stuff going on with you guys, but inevitably they can trust, that mom and I are going to use that conflict to move towards each other, rather than push each other away.
[Sara]: Yeah, we're going to resolve it, we're going to talk about it, we're going to move, you know, in a positive direction.
[Kyle]: And that's where we've said it before, that conflict is an opportunity for either intimacy or isolation. So, I want to challenge for anybody who's listening, like I said, we're all in different situations, so I’m not making that all marriages are equal. I’m just saying a choice Sara and I made that has been very effective for us and I hope you're in a relationship, where it's a mutual thing that you can do as well, but that there was a discussion we had where we were not going to let the conflicts with the kids, all these things that were popping up, to move us towards isolation. They weren't going to push us further away, we weren't going to avoid them, we were going to use them as opportunities to understand each other better. That Sara has found out things about me and I’ve found out things about me that I never would have known and she never would have known without these kids.
[Kyle]: And inevitably what the kids then can do, is increase you, grow you, expand you to be a more loving, more patient, more caring, supportive, understanding person and that's what I feel like raising the kids has done for us individually, but then has done for us in our marriage.
[Kyle]: And so, instead of us looking-- Instead of us going “man, look at all the ways in which the kids have taken from us, financially, time wise, you know, all this kind of--" instead, we look back and go “yeah, they did take some stuff, sure, but they've given so much more back” and I have been more in love with you because of seeing you as a mom and I believe you would reciprocate, right?
[Kyle]: Of course.
[Sara]: I mean, since you're asking on the podcast--
[Kyle]: I know, I know, yeah, of course, [Unintelligible]. But that that has happened because of them and I want them to know that, I want them to see that. Even if we didn't verbalize it, which I’m sure I probably will at times, but I want them to just know that “man, me being in the family has caused mom and dad to have an even better marriage”.
[Sara]: Yes, yeah, and when in that great.
[Kyle]: Yeah, and what a great feeling that would be, instead of bearing the burden of “every time mom and dad are unhappy--” or “every time-- Did we do something?” or “how did we cause that?” or “are they arguing about me now?”, you know? Like instead of like “oh, when I didn't get an A on that or my grades were poor and now, they're arguing. Look what I did”. Instead, mom and dad are coming together saying “how can we help the kid? How can we support the kid?” You know, “is there some places that we need to be more intentional and talking to him about that right now?”
[Sara]: And we're supporting each other and I’m supporting you out of being the dad to the kids and you're supporting me being the mom to the kids and I hope our kids, I think they do, see that, you know?
[Sara]: I’m there, I’m rooting for you as a dad, you're rooting for me and it's going to be messy, we're not going to do it all perfect, but we're going to help each other on that journey and in that process of parenting these kids and know that.
[Kyle]: If you want to-- If you aren't seeing it, this is actually what you want them doing to each other's siblings too, you know? So, you're modeling the very approach you want them to do as brothers and sisters, you know? Is to feel the same way.
[Kyle]: So, to wrap up, you know, if you want to make this shift to where the conflict is going to be an opportunity to move closer together as a couple, just a few key things. One, is a key idea that “I am for you. I am for you; we are not against each other”. So, anytime it looks like we're opposed to each other, I want to shift to “how can we be for each other?”. So, having that conversation and hopefully, you're able to with your spouse have an agreement, but then two intentionally making the habit of sharing these stories with each other, really being vulnerable with one another about your parenting journey and how it's challenging, but also how it's so rewarding, yeah?
[Kyle]: Anything else you would add?
[Kyle]: Okay, fantastic. Okay, so I really want to encourage you to please, you know, leave your comments. Tell us, you know, what some things you do intentionally to help make it more likely that these conflicts with your kids make your marriage stronger? We'd love to hear about some maybe, intentional things that you've done and maybe we can implement them in our marriage as well. Yes, I’d love to hear that feedback, love to hear how it's helping your family. Please pass this on to other couples who are maybe struggling in this area as well and hopefully, this can be a helpful resource and yeah, we thank you for your time and thank you for taking the time to listen these thoughts and we just really hope and pray that this helps your marriage be even stronger.
[Sara]: Have a great day.