I’m writing this with my Christian brothers and sisters in mind, but I think this can have some good practical application for people of any faith, or no faith at all.
What I’d like to discuss is the morphing that a relationship undergoes from the dating stage, to marriage, to raising children and eventually to empty nesters/grandparents. In particular I want to zero in on that third stage, raising children, and the effect it can have on the foundation built in the first two stages.
When a man and a woman get married it is because they love each other, but more times than not it comes with the assumption that a family will grow from that relationship. But the relationship is always what comes first. That relationship may be strong or weak, but it is of primary importance in the family structure. That includes when children come into the picture.
I have the sense that this opinion is held by more than would want to express it. It just sounds a little harsh, doesn’t it? Love your spouse more than your children? Allow me to elaborate a bit using biblical models.
Search through the bible for parental direction in raising children and you’re going to find a couple of themes.
- Instruction and discipline are important (Eph. 6:4, Deut. 6:7, Prov. 13:24, 22:15, 29:15, Col. 3:21, etc.)
- Children are a blessing (Ps. 127:3-5, Mal. 2:15)
What you won’t find is any direction to love and respect your children. Now, it is implied as the motivation in discipline (Prov. 13:24), but all the direction we’re given in our parenting emphasizes instruction and discipline.
Now consider the various commands about our marriages:
- Marriage is to be held in honor among all (Heb. 13:4)
- Husbands are to exhibit sacrificial love for their wife (Eph. 5:25, Col. 3:19)
- Wives are to submit to and respect their husband (Eph. 5:22, 33, Col. 3:18)
That is a very different dynamic than described for raising children. Here, it’s a relationship based on mutual love and respect. It seems very clear that husbands are to consider their wives before themselves, and wives are to do the same for their husbands. They are putting each other first. We do not see a similar attitude toward children. If we are looking to Scripture for guidance in directing our families I think it is incumbent upon Christian mothers and fathers to prioritize their spouse ahead of their children.
Now, this is not the same as saying you must neglect your children at the expense of your spouse. I think that is a false dichotomy. We certainly love our children and we go to great lengths to be sure they are safe and provided with life’s necessities. Particularly when they are young, this means that your time commitment toward your children far outweighs that of your spouse. That’s just a necessity based on their needs at the time. However, it should always be clear to both your spouse and your children that you were with your husband/wife before your children came along, and it is your intent to be with them long after your children leave the house.
I mentioned previously that this can have good practical application for people of any faith, even people have no faith at all. If God’s word is truth, then His directions for specific aspects of our lives are true whether we believe the Bible is inspired or not. In the realm of parenting, I think it’s easy to see the pitfalls when mothers and fathers do not follow the biblical model of prioritizing each other before their children. In a scenario where children are placed before the spouse, it can result in a number of troubling things.
- The child may begin to believe they should be prioritized by everyone the way their mother and/or father have done.
- The child may witness unnecessary stress in their parents’ marriage due to one or both parties feeling diminished, leading to an unhealthy view of what marriage is or should be.
- Children eventually leave the home. When they do, and the parents had been prioritizing them for the last 20+ years, what is left of the husband and wife relationship when left alone?
- One or both parents may feel it unnecessary to continue a marriage centered on the children. After all, divorce would mean no longer having to worry about someone you’ve already de-prioritized.
Modeling a strong relationship with our spouse is one of the most important things we can do for our children. More important than getting them the latest handheld device or fashionable clothes. More important than stopping everything if they don’t get what they want. We want our children to know they’re loved, they’ll always have our love and we’ll always be there for them. Rather than simply telling them this, we can show them this level of dedication in the way we love and prioritize our spouses.