One of the leading, most subtle issues in marriage can be the challenge that comes in the season of raising children. There's an age-old debate in the circles of the psychology of parenting--Child centered parenting? Or Marriage/God centered parenting? Believe it or not, the answer to the question can set the course for your success or failure in marriage.
Parenting children is the first command God gave when he told Adam and Eve to procreate the earth. He was saying, “Reproduce yourselves.” He didn't just want the earth to be populated for population's sake, he wanted us to have children that could grow up to be God honoring, world changing adults. Having children is the greatest opportunity we have to partner with God in creating something that can impact the world. That's why children are called arrows in Psalms 123:5, “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them (arrows).” They are meant to be shot forward into the future as warriors hitting the bull's eye for God's kingdom and in turn we are blessed by the impact of their lives.
As amazing as that might sound, somehow we seem to have lost our way as culture and child psychologists, whose methods didn't necessarily line up with God's original plan, began to tell us how to raise our children. We've been told to focus on our children, build their “self” esteem, and feed them whenever they want, or they won't grow up healthy and happy, I'm not sure if you've noticed but we're not growing up generations of healthy and happy children despite our goal to build their “self” image. In fact, what we are seeing in upcoming generations is people who want what they want, when they want it. Sadly, “self” centered children can make your marriage fall into destruction faster than you can blink and it can do a number on our society.
What does God's word say about our focus and children? Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” So how should we raise them in a way that actually nurtures them toward that goal while at the same time strengthening and maintaining our marriage? After all, marriage is the foundational relationship to all other relationships that exists. If covenant marriage falls so does society. If our marriage falls apart, our children will have a hard time making it to the bull's eye, failing to hit the mark.
When our first child was born, we had no idea how to parent. I remember getting in the car at the hospital to come home when Dan looked at me and said, “Now what?”. We knew we were about to begin the most challenging journey of our lives, raising and sharpening arrows for the future, yet we really had no idea where to begin. Once we were home, I started the process of learning how to care for a newborn. This involved feeding him whenever he wanted to eat, as directed by the well-meaning lactation nurse. For four months I focused on our son every waking minute of the day. By the end of that four months I was emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted with nothing left over to give our marriage. We needed wisdom and quick, and God provided. He sent a well-meaning friend with a book on parenting that was Bible based. It was full of advice with scripture to back it up. It proposed focusing on your marriage and not your children. It was an idea I had never heard before. The point was, if you focus on your children and meet their every demand, they will grow up to be demanding adults instead of healthy, happy arrows hitting the bull's eye of life.
This book challenged us to make God the center of our marriage and make our children welcome members to our family. No more child centered parenting for us! I was desperate and we were quick to change our course of action. We decided our children would be an added blessing to our lives but not the center of our lives. The Bible says God is to be the center of it all. Otherwise, we can end up with selfish children and broken marriages. Children are not to be our focus to the point we have nothing left to give our spouse. In fact, studies show that children are much happier when their parent's marriage is stable and strong.
Here are a few basic scriptures on what God has to say about our focus:
Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Isaiah 26:3 tells us, “He whose mind is fixed on the Lord, God will give perfect peace.” Psalms 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Marriage is meant to be a triangular relationship, with the husband and wife each on the bottom two opposite ends of the triangle and God at the top point. As each spouse moves closer to God by making him the center focus of their lives, they automatically grow closer to each other and their lives intersect. God created marriage to be the touchable, tangible example of Jesus' marriage to the church. That's why Satan has come to destroy it. He hates the bride groom, Jesus, and he doesn't want your marriage to reflect His image to the lost world we live in. How does he attack us? By causing us to lose our focus.
If we become child centered in marriage, the shape changes from God's triangular design to some other odd shape. An octagon, the shape of a stop sign, is a great example to use here. In an octagon situation, everyone's focus on God STOPS as they move around in circles of busyness with no one's life ever intersecting another. So where do the children fit into a triangular, God-centered marriage? They sit patiently on the bottom line of the triangle where they can watch and learn. They're focus is on mom and dad with God at the very top of their lives so they too will choose to follow Christ in a personal relationship and one day grow up to recreate the covenant of marriage with their spouse and reflect his glory. If we've never taught them to focus on anything but themselves and what they want while everyone caters to their needs, how will they do marriage and succeed? How will our marriage succeed?
What style parenting are you using? Here's a little check up to determine if you and your spouse have the right focus. Be sure and answer the questions on separate pieces of paper, then share your answers to see if you and your spouse are on the same page:
If the questions help you realize you have been way too focused on your children, shift your position now and implement new methods to put the focus back on your relationship with the Lord and your spouse. Here are some good ideas to get started:
How can your marriage bloom in the season of childrearing? Focus on God and each other and the covenant of that relationship and invite children to come along and observe and live in love relationship with you both. They'll one day be grateful you did!
Do you want to live in a war-torn castle or a peaceful palace? The decision is up to you. You are the child of a Great King and you have the power to change the world you live in!
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