Posted by: coachingparents | February 14, 2010


By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

In five days, we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day.  Perhaps you will
send out cards to those you love.  More likely, you will let the
children in your life exchange cards with their friends.  After all,
Valentine’s Day is mostly for kids anyway.  Or is it?  I want to
recommend you send only one card out… to your spouse/significant
other.  Most kids don’t appreciate what Valentine’s Day is all about

Most of the psychological/behavioral malfunctioning in families
comes from the notion that “children should always come first” and not
just on holidays.  Perhaps that sounds like heresy.  However, during
the past 30 years of working with troubled families, I have come to
believe that making the children the center of a family, creates a
general atmosphere wherein nobody emotionally thrives.  So today, I am
asking couples, who are also parents, to make their relationship the
primary focus of their families.

Some of the difficulties resulting from viewing the children as the
center of the family are:

Children are blamed for family-troubles.

Parents develop the expectation that the children should address the
emotional needs of the parents rather than vice versa.

Children are given responsibility beyond their maturational
capability and thereby feel guilty when they can’t fulfill that

Parents react to their children, rather than acting out of what they
judge to be the best interests of the family.  Their lifestyle becomes
based upon accommodating the children.

Parents punish children for their behavior (usually what the child
does in imitation of the parents), rather than teach them, by example,
to behave in acceptable ways.

The parent/child relationship develops into an adversarial one,
rather than a cooperative one, which would develop a sense of

Obedience of “the rules” becomes the primary target of parent/child
interactions, rather than the emotional health of the child, or the
skill-development of the child to fulfill his own hopes and dreams.

Conflicts become power-struggles, rather than the crucibles for
creative new habits to develop.

Conformity to parental wishes is the object of discipline, rather
than the welfare of the child, or the child’s best interests.

The list of difficulties could go on.  However, for this Valentine’s
Day, instead of focusing on the children in your family, I want to
declare it a day for focusing your love and attention on the primary
family relationship…the one shared by the adults in the family.
With that thought in mind, here are some alternatives to the
consequences of having a child-centered family.

Psychologically healthy children, and families, come from healthy
couple/marriage relationships.  When the relationship between the
grown-ups in the family is emotionally satisfying, the children within
the boundaries of that relationship develop healthily.  This does not
mean you stop caring for the needs of the children if they, in truth,
cannot care for themselves.  It does mean that the best thing you can
do for your child’s emotional health is to make certain of your own
emotional health within the spousal relationship.  When you love each
other, the child feels loved as well.  When you invite the child to
join your fulfilling marital relationship, the child feels secure,
develops a sense of belonging, and will want to behave in ways that
are approved of by the parents.

When a family is marriage-centered, children are shown where they
“fit” into the relationships of the family.  They learn to trust the
parents (a basic need for any child).  They can count on parental
dependability and feel safe within the family.  They will learn and
practice the skills they observe in their parents’ relationship, and
at the same time, feel free to become truly “themselves.”

In a marriage-centered family, parents expect emotional fulfillment
from their partner rather than from the children.  They take full
responsibility for the well-being of the family, rather than looking
to the children to determine it.  They usually develop and demonstrate
the behavior they wish their children to learn, rather than talking
about it without doing it.  This list could go on and on.

When you learn how to be a good spouse to the parent of your
children, you will design a spousal relationship that is enjoyed by
both partners.  That relationship is the foundation for a loving,
healthy family.  Invite the children to join you in that foundational
lifestyle, and you have created a very happy Valentine’s Day…and
family life thereafter.


Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life
coach.  He serves on the faculty of the International University of
Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams)
the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and
Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton
2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on
Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. has 30+ years experience as a Life Coach and
Licensed Psychologist.  He is available for coaching in any area
presented in “Practical Life Coaching” (formerly “Practical
Psychology”).  Initial coaching sessions are free.  Contact him by E-mail: or


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