Each week in February, your Work/Life team has invited therapists and dating professionals in the community to respond to questions about relationships. For our second blog in this series, we asked our experts...
How do you prepare your children to have authentic romantic relationships?
Kate Freiman-Fox, Ph.D.
Matchmaking, Date and Relationship Coaching
We all know it, but it is true - children learn by example. If you want your children to have authentic romantic relationships, you need to be in one. You also need to be in authentic relationships with your children and with everyone else. Authentic relationships are characterized by being vulnerable and connected. It is where two independent people come together to enjoy their interdependence (see Stephen Covey), meaning we can function well on our own, but we value the beauty and expanded potential of living together and counting on each other. A common misconception about authenticity in relationships is that you are completely honest with each other to the point of saying everything that comes into your mind; the good, the bad and the ugly. In an authentic loving relationship you are real and honest, while steering clear of what Terrence Real in The New Rules of Marriage calls “unbridled self-expression.” Being authentic doesn’t mean being unnecessarily critical and cruel.
If you have children, you know every day is an opportunity to learn and to love! The biggest gift we give our children is to love them where they are. When they are born, we often have preconceived ideas of who they will be and what they will do. Without fail, they will defy our expectations. Letting go of our parental expectations and allowing our children to be what they came into this world to be, that is breathing life into their souls! They can fly when they know they are loved – no matter what. They also learn to love others with a depth and kindness that can heal the world.
Carrie Roberson Fasola, MS
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist,
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist
It’s a question on every parent’s mind. Are we giving them the tools they need to flourish and succeed as an adult? No matter a child’s age, we can begin to offer them a framework for building and sharing authenticity.
As young children, begin conversation that explores emotional intelligence. Labeling our children’s feelings as they grow and learn gives structure to their emotional selves. Make it safe to share of themselves by validating difficult feelings and celebrating successes. Help them identify their interests and desires; then work together to build confidence to go after what they want.
When children are older (tween and teen years), follow a popular television series together. Discuss what each character might be feeling and experiencing. Offer alternatives when pop culture depicts relationships in unrealistic or limiting terms. Continue the coversation by asking them what is going on at school in relationships they are observing.
Whether you have young or adult children, strive to model heath in your own relationships. Offer your children an example of the fundamental element each relationship must have to succeed: a balance of independence and autonomy along with intimacy and connectedness. Develop boundaries and be vulnerable.
Teaching your children to be authentic in relationships starts when they are toddlers and continues throughout their lives. These messages can and should be comminicated verbally, but as with most things in life, actions speak louder than words. Here are some messages I strove to give my daughter, now 18, about how to be authentic in relationships.
You are in control of your body and you get to decide who touches you (for example, you don't have to hug family members just because they want you to). On the other hand, if someone tells you to stop touching them, you stop immediately. Everyone gets to decide and have that decision respected.
Your emotions, even the negative ones, are valid and should be respected. For example, it is ok to be angry and still love someone. It doesn't put the relationship in jeapordy. Anger and other negative emotions tell us something important, maybe that our boundaries are being crossed. There are ways to express these emotions respectfully and authentically.
Investing in yourself is as important as investing in your partner or children. Have a hobby, have friends, don't depend on a partner to meet all your emotional needs.
Be able to financially support yourself before you tie your life to someone else's. That way you (and your partner) will never worry about whether staying is a necessity or a choice.
As theologian Rosemary Ruther said, "love is about right relation." It doesn't matter if you love a man or a woman (or someone who identifies as nonbinary). If you and the person you love are kind and honest and respectful to each other, that "right relation" is the most important characteristic of an authentic relationship.
Tune in next Thursday for our 3rd Relationship Series Blog... How do you authentically share your sexuality in a relationship?