What is the most effective glue in marriage? Many modern couples would answer, “our children.” The Atlantic recently published an article stating that modern marriages are becoming more child-centered. It is an emerging trend for several reasons. Most notably, more marriages are starting with children who pre-date the couple. What may be less obvious are the unconscious motivations underlying this trend. Simply put, the love of a child seems more trustworthy than the love of a spouse. In a climate in which marriages regularly fail, it seems unwise for a woman to put her “emotional eggs” in the fragile basket of her husband’s love. He may be another woman’s husband in ten years, but her children will always be hers.
The trend of child-centered marriage is troubling not only because of how it impacts a husband and wife but also because of the effect on the kids. Children were never meant to be the glue holding a mom and dad together. Yes, the challenges of raising kids can be a unifying experience. However, the teamwork and mutual trust demanded in parenting must derive from a source other than their shared love for their offspring.
When children are placed in the center of marriage, they become self-centered and insecure. Researchers have noted the rise of “narcissism” among the younger generation. They are more likely to have an inflated view of themselves and feel indifferent towards others. Why? Because they are raised in families, that revolved around their moods, their desires, and their happiness. Rather than teaching them to adapt to challenges in their environment, we are raising children with the expectation of life (relationships and jobs) on their terms. Hence, children exhibit insecurity and anxiety stemming from their me-centered homes. When a child senses that he or she has the power to disrupt the family unit, this breeds insecurity. Deep within, children crave stability and the knowledge that someone greater and wiser is running the show.
What’s the Alternative?
It may surprise you that I’m not advocating a marriage-centered family. Replacing the romantic love of a husband and wife as the foundation of marriage is almost as misguided as putting children in the center. We are fickle people. Even with the best intentions to keep our marriage vows, none of us will be great lovers, capable of sustaining a thriving marriage through all seasons of life. Just like our children need “someone greater and wiser” to run the show, so do we.
Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Without a doubt, you know couples that began marriage in love and with a deep friendship, but who are now disillusioned in marriage. No two humans are capable of the self-generated love, forgiveness, patience, kindness, and humility to sustain intimacy throughout five or six decades. They may be able to stay married, but staying “in love” is quite another fete.
Building upon the Rock
Making a Christ-centered marriage is an easy concept to write about but a much more nebulous one to put into practice. How can you practically invest in the Lord as the foundation of your marriage and family?
- Invest time in your relationship with God. In Christian circles, we throw out words about having a “quiet time” or “doing devotions.” Sometimes we become so familiar with the pressure of this discipline that we forget why it is even important. We spend time with God – praying, learning from His Word, and worshipping Him – to know Him, to grow in trust and to keep an eternal perspective in a temporary world. They may seem like trite traditions, but prayer time and regularly going to church together as a couple is a consistent step toward saying, “God, we want you to be the center of our marriage.”
- Turn to God’s Word and Spirit for wisdom. Where do you run when you and your spouse fight? How do you respond when you child yells, “I hate you”? To whom do you turn when the bank account can’t satisfy the credit card bill? Alcohol? A friend? A mom blog? Advice spewed on Facebook? When King David wrote about God being a refuge in times of trouble, he wrote from personal experience. God promises to give peace, wisdom and counsel when we run to Him.
- Don’t be surprised when human love fails. Oh, I love my three boys and my husband! I’m so grateful for seasons of connection, intimacy, and harmony. I know better than to build my personal security and emotional well-being on the love of my family. Would it devastate me to lose the love of my husband? Of course. There is more to me than my marriage and children. The love of God and His plan for my life are not just nice thoughts, but the foundation of my security.
- When faced with a dilemma, choose God. There will inevitably be times when pleasing your children, or your spouse is diametrically opposed to pleasing God. It may be the pressure to forgo church so your son can join a Sunday soccer league. Or it may be pressure from your husband to watch porn together. God is a “jealous” God. He sometimes tests even our strongest allegiances, as He did with Abraham and Isaac.
My friend, if you have either a child-centered or marriage-centered family, you are building on a shaky foundation. Jesus told a parable about two people, one who built a house upon the sand and the other who laid a foundation of rock. Both homes looked safe and cozy when the weather was favorable. However, when the storms came, only one house survived.
The storms will inevitably come. When illness, financial stress, a wayward child, or betrayal come, will your house stand or will it fall? The most secure foundation for your children and your marriage is one that is not dependent upon the frailties of human love and wisdom.