We were excited to be meeting our new babysitter, a high-school senior with great references and her own car. As I showed her the house, our 9-year-old son, Aidan, tagged along.
In the kitchen, I said, "For dinner, you can make macaroni and cheese," and pointed to the box I'd left out for her on the counter.
The girl paled. "I can't cook."
"That's okay," Aidan told her. "I'll cook for us."
That was the moment when I knew my son would make a great husband one day -- the result of a secret master plan I'd been working on for years.
It started taking shape after I heard Aidan tell a kindergarten buddy, "You can just leave those toys on the floor. My mommy will clean up." His remark set my hair on fire. Never mind the fact that all kids should learn independence and responsibility. Hearing Aidan say that led me to see that I was raising a boy who might morph into a lazy husband -- one whose wife (if he was lucky enough to dupe someone into marriage) would have to nag him endlessly as if she were his mother.
Setting a good example through your own relationship will probably have the most powerful impact on what kind of husband, wife, or partner your kids will grow up to be. But it's never too soon to focus on instilling those values that foster strong relationships -- and it's easier than you'd think.
Chores Don't Do Themselves
The moms complaining about their husband at the bus stop are the ones married to guys who don't pitch in. Not surprisingly, studies show that couples who split housework and parenting tasks more or less equally are happier than those who don't.
Men are doing better in the housework department -- the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research reports that the amount of housework done by women has dropped since 1976, as more women have gone to work and men have doubled their time doing chores at home. Yet there's still a gender divide. For instance, husbands create an extra seven hours a week of housework for wives -- but men spend an hour less on chores weekly after getting married.
Discussing the division of labor early in your own relationship can head off resentment and sets an example for your kids, says Jennifer Anderson, of Newburyport, Massachusetts, author of the parenting blog ourmuddyboots.com. She and her husband divide chores evenly despite the fact that she's a stay-at-home mom and he works full-time. "My kids don't have any bias about certain jobs being male or female," she says. "They know that all members of a family work as a team."
Everyone Deserves Some Respect
We all dread seeing couples who criticize each other about everything from snoring to driving skills. The cornerstone of a good marriage is respect for each other, and modeling that for your children gives them a better shot at forging happy adult partnerships, says Parents advisor Harley Rotbart, M.D., author of No Regrets Parenting. "We like to think that we can relax and just be ourselves at home, as long as we put on our best manners in public. But what our neighbors think about how we treat our spouse is actually a lot less important than what our kids think."
Amy Ames, of Raleigh, North Carolina, teaches her two sons how to respect others by treating her husband respectfully -- and her children too. For example, if she wants to use the family iPad and one of her sons has it, she asks for it politely rather than telling him to turn it over. "Even when my boys are with their friends, I expect them to speak and act nicely," she says. In my own marriage, my husband and I strive to stick to this simple rule: No matter how tired or cranky we are, we keep the eye-rolling and sarcastic remarks to a minimum and try to treat each other the way we'd treat our best friends.