What impacts your children more? Your relationship with your spouse or your relationship with your children?
After counseling married couples for more than 35 years it is my conviction that your relationship with your spouse—the strength of your marriage—equally impacts your children. The marriage is the backside of the parenting coin.
In marriage a man and a woman come together as a unit and God’s ideal is that this oneness be reflected in our parenting style. As a father and mother, we co-operate, co-labor, and co-ordinate. We are a team. As one husband wrote to me, marriage isn’t a competition to see who has the best ideas, “It’s a team effort. All for one and one for all.”
An excellent passage to remember is Ecclesiastes 4:9: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.”
Because Sarah and I had both known pain from the lack of teamwork by our parents, leading to divorce in both of our homes (fortunately mine remarried each other), we were determined to be a cohesive unit. We had each seen firsthand the truth of the motto: “United we stand, divided we fall.” Our parents fell, and we determined not to let this happen to our marriage and to our children. In my case, I had cried myself to sleep many a night as my mom and dad argued and fought. Sarah had experienced the same kind of emotional scarring.
So from the time our kids were very small, Sarah and I recognized the wisdom in parental teamwork and focused on unity. Did Sarah and I always agree? No, but we distinguished unity (a united and harmonious front) from unanimity (having to absolutely agree all the time on all aspects). We subscribed to the belief that if we always agreed, one of us was unnecessary. Often we would debate opposing opinions and ideas about the children behind closed doors. Sometimes the sparks flew, but we knew God had made us male and female to spark better ideas and insight. To slightly paraphrase Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, so one spouse sharpens another.” We were confident our differences led to better decisions.
When we came out to face our kids they knew they could not divide Mom and Dad and conquer by getting their way.
Another passage that inspired our unity was Mark 3:25: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not stand.” We must work at being allies or we could act like enemies. As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “A constantly squabbling family disintegrates.”
We never serve our children well when we serve each other divorce papers. Often parents tell me: “I love my children and really don’t want to hurt them or screw them up. I know how my parents’ divorce affected me. I never want to break my sweet children’s hearts…”
I agree. For this reason, working together to have a truly loving and respectful team is imperative. Displaying animosity and divisiveness creates emotional havoc in the child. Grown children from divisive, separated or divorced homes are often depressed and find it hard to trust in building a marital relationship of their own. Both a legal and emotional divorce hurt the children – they break our sweet children’s hearts.
I want to challenge and caution parents who may be fixating on their kids at the expense of their marriage. It is possible to unthinkingly put your kids on a pedestal like idols, and when we worship our kids, we desecrate them.
The right order is God first, then our marriage, then our kids. When we have this straight, good things happen in the hearts of our children.
This isn’t rocket science; it is a human love and respect relationship as God intended. Children feel far more loved when they know that their parents love and respect each other first and foremost. As one mom put it: “Our children have giggled watching us kiss, hug, play, and be a mommy and daddy who love each other and them. Taking a minute here and there to love each other brings smiles to their faces I didn’t expect. They love us loving each other!”
We must never conclude that we have to choose between parenting and marriage. We do not put the marriage on hold until the kids grow up and leave. God’s design is a family structure with two roles: spouse and parent. The encumbrances and inconveniences of trying to do marriage and parenting are taxing, but possible in His strength.
What are you doing to work on your marriage? Start today. It’s the best thing you can do for your kids.
Excerpts taken from Love & Respect in the Family by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.