The Holy Prophet (SAW) stated: The one most perfect in his faith is he whose conduct is best, and the best amongst you is he who behaves best towards his spouse. Showing care for your spouse is highly-encouraged within Islam.
But should casual loving interactions with one’s spouse happen only in secrecy? Or should children see their parents showing care for one another?
In this article, we seek to (a) discuss the impact that this has on children, and (b) describe appropriate ways that parents should show care for each other while their children are present.
How kids are impacted when parents show care for each other
It improves your children’s mental health
When kids see their parents in a loving relationship, they feel more secure. Licensed clinical social worker and outpatient therapist Amy Morin, LCSW says that witnessing “affection between their parents reassures them that their parents love one another.” To understand this further, it’s helpful to think about the inverse situation. If a child saw her parents arguing all the time, noticed that they avoided spending time together, and heard them complaining about the other, what would the effect be? The little girl would likely develop terrible issues such as depression, anxiety, and/or behavior problems. So if negative interactions have a negative impact on children, positive interactions between parents have a positive impact on children and their well-being.
Another way to look at this is through the lens of positive psychology. If parents interact in a neutral way and children are only marginally affected by this, then how can we improve our interactions such that children become even happier and healthier? After all, Islam is all about ihsan, striving for perfection through continuous growth and improvement. Family systems consultant Dr. Joanne Stern says that “modeling affection promotes positive and more resilient children.” That is, good outcomes can be expected in children when parents practice intentional care and compassion toward one another.
It sets an example
Another reason to show care for your spouse is to provide an appropriate example to your children. Parents are in a position to role model what a healthy marriage looks like, and show that marriage is fun and enjoyable. This is an opportunity to counter the influences of dominant society through which media normalizes inappropriate behavior between men and women, condones haraam relationships, and dismisses or scorns the institution of marriage. When a husband and wife demonstrate care and respect toward one another within the home, they are creating a culture in which high expectations are set. This also helps children to share their emotions and practice such behavior in a safe and supportive environment.
Zooming out slightly, showing care in general is an important value to instill in kids. According to a report from Making Caring Common Project of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, there is “a gap between what parents and other adults say are their top priorities and the real messages they convey in their behavior day to day...The power and frequency of parents’ daily messages about achievement and happiness are drowning out their messages about concern for others.” Once again, we should be aware of what we are communicating to our children.
It strengthens family bonds
By expressing care for your spouse, the love you have shown will, inshaAllah, be returned to you. This mutual concern strengthens the spousal bond which, in turn, strengthens family bonds. When children see their parents as a harmonious, balanced unit, they learn about values necessary for successful relationships such as empathy, cooperation, synergy, teamwork, and generosity. These are all essential lessons in social-emotional learning.
Appropriate ways for spouses to show care while their children are present
Family counselor, radio host, associate pastor, and author Dr. Gary Chapman contends that there are five emotional love languages, or ways that people communicate love. These include words of affirmation, quality time, gift-giving, acts of service, and physical touch. Dr. Chapman believes that discovering the ways in which people show and prefer to receive love can help to form and develop better, stronger relationships.
What should become apparent here is that there are many ways to show care for your spouse. It may be that in your family culture, a particular “love language” is most often used. Or perhaps another is not used at all. Whatever the vehicle for showing care, the key thing is actually expressly showing it in a way that kids can observe and imitate.
Words of affirmation
Put differently, this love language is using words that build up. Sincere verbal compliments or expressions of gratitude are a powerful way to communicate appreciation. For example, you might say, “That color looks nice on you,” or “You always make me laugh.” Or, you might leave notes on the bathroom mirror. Feeling affirmed by your significant other may seem superficial or insignificant, but the impact is quite deep and long-lasting. It’s no wonder then that we are reminded through Qur’an and hadith to “speak gently” (20:44), greet each other with peace and kindness (4:86), and to smile often.
Our days are filled with so many responsibilities all competing for our time, not to mention the distractions! Whether it is taking care of a toddler who is innocently unfolding the laundry you have just folded, or responding to the never-ending emails for work, or flipping through the latest Tasty videos on Facebook to find a quick and easy last-minute recipe, it often feels as though there just aren’t enough hours in the day. For someone who values your undivided attention as an expression of love, it is vital to make time to spend with them.
Giving and receiving gifts
Gifts are visible symbols of love. It is not the material object or the price of it that matters, but rather it is the thought that counts. Gifts also show that your loved one thought of you, made an effort to find something you would like, and actually followed through on that intention. That is what truly makes gifts special and makes it an expression of love. But gift-giving doesn’t always come easily to everyone. For some, it can create stress because it requires planning. It is, however, a skill that one can develop. Knowing that you are not a natural gift-giver, going through the extra effort to do it anyway is even more selfless. Here are some research-based tips and some light-hearted, crowdsourced tips to get you started.
Acts of service
For someone who communicates love through acts of service, actions speak louder than words. Doing acts of service means doing things to please your spouse. An example is massaging your spouse’s shoulders after a long, hard day. Often, acts of service can be undervalued because of their practical nature. For example, preparing your spouse’s favorite meal, scraping the ice from their car on a cold morning, or routine things such as maintaining a clean home, could easily be reframed as duties and then taken for granted. But when seen through a different lens, these mundane “chores” become acts of love. For more ideas, check out this list of 101 acts of service.
Last, but not least, physical touch is a powerful way to show love. Holding hands, embracing, straightening out a shirt collar - these simple gestures and small moments of physical contact communicate that one cares to have a close relationship with his or her spouse. The science supports this idea; when we touch our partners, we get a release of the hormone, oxytocin, which is nicknamed the relationship glue.
As parents, know that your children are affected by your attitudes, words, and actions. Through the world you have created in your home, your children are learning about the way the world works, including how relationships function, the role of care in interacting with others, and other qualities such as empathy, kindness, and generosity. In short, showing care for your spouse is beneficial for both you as parents and for your children.