Recently CBC host Stephen Quinn interviewed an author whose book affirms an idea I believe is central to building a healthier community. We need to reduce stress on parents, increase their opportunities for socializing and recreation but also, improve their intimate relationships. David Code, an Anglican Minister who describes himself as a marriage and family coach, spoke about his new book, Kids Pick Up on Everything; How Parental Stress is Toxic to Kids. His message is, when parent focus most of their energy on the kids and not enough on themselves, ironically, they may be hurting their kids.
As his book title gives away, he makes a case that kids are sensitive to the rumblings of distress in their parents and the parental alliance. The most critical time of course is when the developing human is in the womb. Through out development, humans pay attention to the needs to those who care for them. This carries on to workplace. If the bosses are distressed, it has an effect on all those under them. Divorced parents; don’t spin out of control here. The research suggests it is the conflict between parents, not whether they live together or not that does the most harm.
Investing in parents to help kids is one of the reasons the Ministry for Children Development in Chilliwack partners with Ann Davis Transition Services, UFV and Trinity Western University to offer courses that help couples improve their relationship. This is the 15th year we have regularly offered courses, all of them evidence based.
Our first course, Couple Communication, teaches skills that soften interactions and lead to more hearing and less speaking over. Parents tell us is that they find themselves using the same skills with their kids and it makes a world of difference.
The second course is Handing Conflict. Based on the scientific research on marriage by Dr. John Gottman of Seattle, this course not only helps parents understand conflict, but how to build a relationship on friendship. These same principles carry over into making a more friendly family. Some are now using these concepts for developing healthier communities.
Last year we added a new course to the lineup, going beyond skills to the deep need we feel for connection. Entitled “Enhancing Connection”, this workshop is inspired by the research of Dr. Susan Johnson whose marriage therapy model has demonstrated that 80% of treated distressed couples became un-distressed.
Because the courses are short, just a Friday night and Saturday per month spread out over three months it isn’t a huge time commitment for a significant injection of new and refreshed ideas for the parental relationship.
We spend a lot of time fixing problems in our society. These courses are a way to go “upstream”, to the source or beginning point of families and make a difference. Remember the chocolate and dinner for Valentine’s Day, but think about a couples’ course too!
Dr. Robert Lees, R.Psych, is the Community Psychologist for the Ministry for Children and Family Development in Chilliwack