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.