“This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 (HCSB)
This is the final post in the “Leaving & Cleaving” series on the importance of prioritizing the marriage relationship above all other human relationships. The first post discussed the reality that sometimes the marriage bond between husband and wife is not allowed to become a priority because the parents of one or both spouses are unable to let go and send their child out as an adult. The second post covered some of the ways married adults are unable to prioritize the marriage bond because they remain overly attached to their parents. In this post, we will discuss how married couples often allow their children to be the priority, rather than their marriage.
In my experience, the prioritizing of a child or children over the spouse is the most common of the three topics discussed in this series. Further, I believe prioritizing children over the marriage relationship is a key-contributing factor to the other two threats discussed in this series.
Sometimes parents can make this mistake by overwhelming their children with attention, giving them everything they want, doing everything for their kids, and making sure they are always happy and nothing is ever too hard or inconvenient. They arrange their schedules and finances around their children. The child is raised with “too much privilege and not enough responsibility” leading to a prolonged adolescence. Mom and Dad can’t see their child as an adult, because they’ve never allowed their child to become one.
At the same time, the children find themselves unable to function in the real world because they have no idea how to do anything for themselves. They don’t know how to pay bills, because mom and dad always paid for everything. They don’t know how to handle conflict at work because mom and dad always called the teacher to fix whatever problems there were, yes, even in college. They can’t turn work in on time because mom and dad aren’t standing over them reminding them it’s due tomorrow. They even struggle in finding employment. Believe it or not, there are college graduates whose parents call a potential employer to negotiate interview and compensation packages. Don’t believe me, click here.
After many years in youth ministry, I believe one of the greatest forms of idolatry we have in this country today is the worship of our children. We put our children ahead of everything and it is detrimental to our marriages and them. What we’re talking about is the child-centered home.
On Mother’s Day, our church celebrated a parent-child dedication. This is a special time for parents to stand before the church and commit to being the primary discipler of their children. It is also a time for the church to commit to come alongside the parents and support them as they raise their children, helping to point their children toward a personal faith in and relationship with Christ. Prior to the ceremony, the parents attend an orientation in which they are taught about the importance of a Christ-centered home, rather than a child-centered home.
A child-centered is a home where children are the center of the family. This kind of home is dangerous for a number of reasons. It fosters self-centeredness in the child. It attacks the husband and wife relationship, no longer allowing the marriage bond to be the primary human relationship in the home. This often results in a husband and wife looking up at each other after the kids have gone off to college only to realize “We are strangers, I don’t know you any more.” Sadly, this often leads to divorce it is a growing trend called the “Empty Nest divorce.” In 1990 one in every ten adults over fifty was divorced, today it is one in four.
The better alternative is a Christ-centered home. This type of home supports the husband and wife bond and encourages a Biblically based balanced approach to parenting. Whereas the child-centered home fosters self-centeredness, the Christ-centered home fosters a healthy level of interdependence, “We are a team, and mommy and daddy are the leaders.”
So, how can we prioritize the marriage relationship and avoid the child-centered home?
DATE NIGHT! Date night is not the only prevention/solution, but it is a great first step and will go a long way. A weekly date night communicates to your friends, family, and children that you are going to make your marriage a priority.
My wife and I recently completed a Date Night Challenge with our church. Before one of our dates, one of our sons asked, “Why are you going out on a date?” Smiling, I responded with, “Because we love you very much and one of the best things we can give you is a healthy marriage.” He giggled and said, “Okay. Have fun.” Leaving our kids at home for a few hours a week, with a babysitter of course, is a simple way of demonstrating that our lives do not revolve around them. It also is a great reminder that mom and dad won’t always be around, so they need to plan accordingly. They need to learn how to do things for and take care of themselves.
One of the things I pray daily for my children is that when the time comes and they begin their own marriage I will be able to send them out as adults, not on a journey to become one. That they will bond with their spouse as their primary human relationship and that, when they have children, they will continue to make their marriage a priority the same way their mother and I are seeking to do.
Leaving & Cleaving
Part 2: Leaving
Genesis 2:24 “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” (HCSB)
In part one of this post, we saw how this verse and its placement in the Scripture demonstrate the priority of marriage, the joining of one man and one woman for life. It was stated that Genesis 2:24 is as much a parenting verse as it is a marriage verse. From this one verse we see that the bond between husband and wife is to be stronger than the bond between parent and child. However, the bond between husband and wife is not always allowed to form as the primary human relationship due to the inability of one or both spouses to leave behind, in a healthy manner, the bond between themselves and their parents.
Part one of this series focused on the importance of the parents’ role of sending their children out of the home as adults, rather than on a journey to become one; avoiding prolonged adolescence, thereby helping young adults to be better prepared for the marriage relationship. Even in families where parents have done their best to prepare their children for adulthood and marriage, married couples may find there is still an attachment to the family of origin for one or both spouses. Whether you are a newlywed couple or have been married for decades, failure to separate (in a healthy way) from parents in order to bond with their spouse will cause difficulty in the marriage relationship. In this post, we will discuss four ways people stay attached to their parents, causing difficulty in marriage.
Money is one of the biggest ways a married adult, especially a young adult, may find themselves unintentionally still attached to their parents. Financial independence is a big part of severing the bond with parents and forming a new, stronger bond with your spouse. There is nothing wrong with parents blessing their children with a gift, as long as that is what it truly is, or helping in a major crisis. The difficulty arises when the parents’ financial contribution comes with conditions and expectations or is an integral part of the regular running of the household.
Money has a way of changing the relationship. A couple may receive a “gift” from one set of parents and when Christmas rolls around suddenly you hear, “Oh, you’re traveling to see them for Christmas. I guess that’s how you want to spend the money WE gave you.” Or, “We were hoping you would use that money for…” Always be careful when accepting financial gifts, be sure it is with no strings attached.
Usually, it is not the gifts that keep married couples attached to their parents. It is the smaller things that we may think are not really a big deal; staying on mom and dad’s cell phone plan, health insurance, car insurance, a little extra cash here and there to pay the rent or for groceries. These may seem small, however, they contribute to prolonged adolescence (too much privilege, not enough responsibility) and keep you from making a healthy break from your parents.
Some of my greatest memories in my marriage came in those moments when we were struggling financially and we had to rely on God’s provision and figure it out together. It made our marriage stronger and now we look back and laugh about the times when our only entertainment was to spend hours sitting at a folding table in a 400 square foot apartment playing poker with a $.99 box of Mike & Ike candies or watching a DVD we borrowed from the library because we couldn’t even afford to rent a movie.
“I am having an affair with…my mother.” Gross. I vividly remember hearing those words from a friend of mine who had been struggling in his marriage. He told me about how his marriage had been struggling and as he and his wife talked about what was going on a big part of it was that she felt left out. Anytime something big happened, good or bad, she was always the second call, his mom was the first. That’s when he realized he was having an emotional affair with his mom. He was turning to his mom for the emotional support and fulfillment he should be getting from his wife.
This is more common that we’d like to think. Emotional affairs can form with anyone, and they are just as damaging to a marriage as a sexual affair. However, it has been my experience that they often happen with a parent. It makes sense when you think about it. Mom and dad have likely been your biggest supporters and confidants for most of your life and old habits die hard. Yet, a HUGE part of bonding with your spouse is the emotional connection. To give the primary emotional connection to someone else is nothing short of infidelity.
What kind of church do you attend? Why? What kind of car do you drive? Why? How did you vote in the last election? Why? Perhaps you’ve never given it much thought, but many of us attend the churches we attend, drive the cars we drive, vote the way we vote, and think the way we think because of our parents. To some degree, it’s natural and to be expected. The problem arises when we find ourselves making decisions in our marriage based on what our parents will think, how they will feel, or how they will respond. If you make decisions based on the opinions and feelings of your parents, it will be difficult for you to rise above that and ask, “Is this the best decision for my spouse, my family, and me?”
Honestly, this is an area where I struggle. Not necessarily with my parents, but with approval in general. I’m driven, a perfectionist, and I’ve always been a high achiever. Along with that comes a desire for someone to recognize when I’ve done well. God is continuing to work on me in this area and I am constantly reminding myself of Galatians 1:10 “For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” I have to remind myself there is only One whose opinion truly matters. It is upon that opinion only that my wife and I base all our decisions.
Of all the ways you may stay attached to your parents, this is perhaps the stealthiest and most toxic. Your parents may have died years ago, yet you may still be attached to them through unresolved anger, resentment, and bitterness.
Anger can be stealthy. It may lie dormant for years until a memory is triggered by a word or experience and suddenly you are overwhelmed with a flood of emotions. The anger begins to consume your thoughts; it is the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing you think of before you finally fall asleep after lying awake for hours, tossing and turning. Soon you find yourself drained emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. It can also stealthily linger in the back of your mind for years, not overwhelming you but remaining just present enough to rob you of a healthy life.
This is what makes anger so toxic. You’ve expended so much, yet nothing has changed, meanwhile, the object of your anger is likely often blissfully unaware and completely unaffected. It has been said that unresolved anger is like drinking poison hoping the other person will get sick.
Forgiveness is the only cure for anger. Much could be said about forgiveness. For now, it is important recognize that forgiveness is not reconciliation and forgiveness is not an event, rather it is a process. Reconciliation requires two people. If your parents have died reconciliation is not an option, forgiveness still is. Lastly, forgiveness is not a one-time event it is an ongoing process. It takes time. Yet, if you pursue forgiveness, over time, little by little, you will find yourself experiencing freedom from the prison created by your own anger.
Finances, emotional support, approval, and anger are just a few of the ways a married person may find themselves bound to their parents rather than leaving that bond, in a healthy manner, in order to bond with their spouse. If you find yourself struggling to prioritize the bond with your spouse first, identify the connection that needs to be severed in order to prioritize the bond with your spouse and begin taking action. It may mean you find a more mature couple who will give you godly counsel and mentor you, seek out a professional Biblical counselor, or visit with your pastor about how to move forward. Do whatever is necessary to make your marriage bond a priority by leaving your mother and father in order to bond with your spouse.
Genesis 2:24 “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” (HCSB)
Within the first few pages of Scripture, we come across the first reference to marriage, the joining of one man and one woman for life. In the midst of reflecting on the account of God’s creation and the apex of His creation, mankind, having been created in His image and likeness, the writer includes this editorial comment on marriage. This verse is certainly not an exhaustive handling of the subject of marriage, but it is still an important one. The placement of this verse within the first few chapters of Scripture further illustrates the value and priority God places on marriage. The family becomes the first institution ordained by God. Before government, before even the church, God ordained the family as the first institution and ordained the relationship of the husband and wife as the foundation of the family.
Since God has placed such a high priority and value on marriage, we should too. How do we do that? The priority of marriage can be demonstrated in a number of ways, but a great place to start is by recognizing that the marriage bond is to be the strongest of all human relationships. It is important to recognize that this one verse contains not only insight into marriage, but also it also contains insight into parenting.
This verse tells us that once we are married our allegiance shifts from our parents to our spouses. Once we are married, our primary concern is our relationship with our spouse. The bond between spouses is meant to be stronger than the bond between the parent and child. The decisions we make ought to reflect the reality that our marriage relationship is the priority over any other human relationship.
There are many ways we can fail to prioritize the marriage relationship. This series of posts will focus in on three: 1) Parents who are unable to send. 2) Children who are unable to leave. 3) Couples who prioritize children over their spouse. In this post, we will only focus on number one.
I love weddings. As a former youth pastor, I am getting more and more opportunities to officiate weddings. I enjoy getting to know the couple through pre-marital counseling, seeing them grow as they prepare for a lifetime together, then celebrating them as the form a new family.
Inevitably, there is a point, at the rehearsal or on the wedding day, when one of the parents says something like, “I’m not losing a son, I’m gaining a daughter.” Much to their shock, I reply, “NOPE! You are losing a son.” That’s what is supposed to happen. Yes, you will still be a part of your child’s life, but the relationship is going to change, their allegiance will now shift from you to their spouse. This is by God’s design. Parents have to be prepared for this.
As previously mentioned, Genesis 2:24 is as much a parenting verse as it is a marriage verse. The first part of the verse says, “This is why a MAN leaves his father and mother…” Pastor and author Ted Cunningham has said, “Our job as parents is to send our kids out of the home as adults, not on a journey to become one.”
Recently, there were a number of articles stating that for the first time in modern history the most common living arrangement for those 18-34 is not with a spouse or in their own apartment or home, rather, it is with their parents. A major contributing factor to this is prolonged adolescence. Greg and Erin Smalley define prolonged adolescence as “too much privilege, not enough responsibility.” (Many have already written about prolonged adolescence, so I’m not going to cover it in detail here. However, it is worth reading about.)
Sending our kids out as adults isn’t as simple as saying, “Congratulations, you’re 18, you’ve graduated high school, you’re now an adult.” If we expect our kids to leave home as adults we must progressively give them more and more responsibility and ability to make decisions for themselves. The level of responsibility and decision-making should be age appropriate.
Our six-year-old triplets are responsible for making their beds every day and helping with other chores. They get to decide what to wear each day (mom & dad still get to the final say in what clothes are purchased). They each have give, save, and spend jars. They get to choose how to use their spend money. Our two-year-old is responsible for taking her plate to the sink after meals, cleaning up her toys, and other age appropriate tasks. She gets to pick her own outfits, which is why they often don’t match. She gets to pick which shoes she will wear. (Bonus parenting tip: Try telling a two-year-old “Go put shoes on.” And you’ll likely hear, “NO!” Asking a two-year-old which shoes they want to wear, “Boots or sandals?” will usually get a better response. It lets them feel like they are making a choice). As our kids get older, the responsibilities will increase as well as the level of decisions we allow them to make for themselves.
Sometimes, my wife and I see our children about to make a decision that will fail, we warn them about their decision and it’s consequences, if they choose to go through with it we let them fail. Then we have the opportunity to discuss what happened, help them learn from their mistake and hopefully help them avoid making that same mistake again in the future. I truly believe it is better to let them fail in some small things when they are young, when the consequences are far less severe, and my wife and I are there to coach them through the failure rather than to never let them fail or wait until they fail at a point in life when the consequences are far more severe. This process is how we learn to make better decisions in the future.
One reason parents struggle to let go of their children and send them out into a marriage relationship is because they have raised grown children, not adults. This, in turn, leaves parents trying to make decisions for their grown children who are now married. When the children do not do what the parents think they should do there is often a discussion about “honoring your mother and father.” Unfortunately, in these situations, the parents are looking for their grown children to obey them, not simply to honor them. Even in situations where the children do leave home as adults, parents may struggle with the expectation that their children will obey them rather than simply honor them. There is a BIG difference between honoring parents and obeying them. To obey means to “conform or comply with; to follow the command or guidance of.” To honor means, “showing esteem and respect to a person of superior standing.”
Parents must respect the reality that, by God’s design, their child’s allegiance is now with their spouse, and not the parents. Parents can be a great resource for married couples and can provide wise counsel. Just be sure you are providing counsel and not commands. If your adult child and their spouse make a decision you disagree with it doesn’t mean they are not honoring you, it simply means they made the decision they thought was best for their marriage. In fact, perhaps this should be celebrated as a demonstration that they have left home, bonded to their spouse, and are now prioritizing their spouse above any other human relationship.
How well are you doing at preparing your kids to leave home as adults? As they get older and mature, are you adding to their responsibilities? Are you allowing them to make age appropriate decisions for themselves? Do you let them fail in some small things so you can coach them through how to make better decisions in the future? Have you let your adult children leave? Do you find yourself asking your adult children to obey you rather than honor you? How can you help your adult children prioritize their marriage? How can you better prioritize your marriage?
Maybe you grew up with too much privilege and not enough responsibility. Are you lacking in any area as an adult? Consider asking your parents to help you grow in that area or seek out a mentor from your church.
In my next post, we will discuss ways that adults stay attached to their parents instead of leaving home and bonding with their spouse.
One of my two-year-old daughter’s favorite things to do is to play in the backyard. She loves being outside, especially when our 13 year-old lab, Tex, is out there. A few weeks ago, she asked me to play with her outside. It was a nice Spring day, perfect for playing outside. I had just finished picking up after the dog, but as they so often do, he ran outside and left a nice new mess.
It was just one pile and we have a good size backyard, so before going outside with my daughter I made sure she saw where the dog pile was and gave her one instruction, “Don’t step in the poop.” As soon as I opened the door, she ran to the back of the yard, where the pile was, and began trying to straddle and jump over the poop, laughing the whole time. On her second attempt to jump over, squish.
Laughing quickly turned to crying. Playtime was over. What should have been a nice afternoon outside was quickly cut short and not only was there a mess to clean off the shoes there were also consequences for disobeying.
In that moment I was reminded of Genesis 1-3. In the first few chapters of Genesis, we read about God’s creation of the earth. After each day of creation we read that “it was good.” Then, on day six, God creates mankind in His own image and likeness, the pinnacle of all His creation and as He views all He has created it is said to be “very good.”
Everything was perfect. Adam and Eve walked with God through a perfect garden He created just for them. Even worth a thousand words, no picture could possibly capture the brilliant colors of this perfect creation teaming with life, joy, and hope. There was no sickness, no pain, no hard labor for food. No mosquitos or ants biting. No allergies to make the eyes itch and water and the nose run. God walked with Adam and Eve through the garden. They desired to be with them and He desired to be with them. But then something changed.
In Genesis 2 God gives man one command, “you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” One simple command, yet, in Genesis 3 we read that Adam and Eve are tempted and eat. They willfully disobeyed, rejecting the Word of God and rebelling against Him. They stepped in it. Play-time ended and the consequences were more than they imagined.
They weren’t just kicked out of garden. Weeds now grow in the garden & in our lives, creation groans with birth defects, disease, & poverty. Cars break down and hard drive crash, usually in the middle of important work. We have difficulty understanding and relating to our spouses, children, and friends. Insects bite and swarm, viruses attack and mutate. We suffer from heart disease, cancer, depression, unhealthy attachments, and develop addictions. Everything around us is broken. Broken because of sin.
Sin is bigger and more powerful than we know. If it wasn’t Adam and Eve it would have been you or me. We often try to feel better about ourselves thinking, “My sin is not that bad,” but it is. In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus tells us that calling someone a fool or moron out of anger it is the same as murder. If you’ve sat in traffic in the past week, I’m willing to bet you may have called someone a moron (or worse). It seems small, but that is because we don’t have the same perspective as the perfectly holy and just God. Obviously, the earthly consequence is not the same, but it is in the sense that it is enough to separate us from a perfectly holy and perfectly just God. If we’re honest, we know we haven’t just stepped in it; we’re steeped in it.
While God is perfectly holy and perfectly just, He is also perfectly loving. In fact, He is love (1 John 4:8). When Adam and Eve willfully rebelled and disobeyed they soon realized they were naked and even though there were still consequences for their sin, God made a covering for them. In the same way, He made a covering for all humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 6:23” For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This gift is freely available to all who will simply trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sin.
I am grateful that God would use something as simple as a poopy shoe to remind me of the sticky, smelly messes I step in regularly and of His abundant grace in my life through His Son, Jesus.