There is a missing vow — and it’s a big one! It is the vow to love your spouse with kids in the house.
The missing vow has to do with our commitment to love each other when we transition from marriage as a couple to marriage with children. Without this vow, we lack the complete picture of God’s vision for marriage and family.
Without this vow, we are quite comfortable living a child-centered or me-centered marriage. It comes naturally to us! So we need this vow to remind us that God has something more — a God-centered marriage and family — for us.
It might sound strange, but one of the greatest challenges we face in order to live out the missing vow is our desire to be great parents. Most couples who have children have a sincere desire to be really good parents. Raising and releasing kids to love God and love the world requires an immense amount of time, energy, work, and prayer! So we pour ourselves into it with everything we’ve got. After all, what could be so bad about wanting to be great parents?
The Child-Centered Marriage
The problem arises when our desire to be great parents overshadows our desire to have a great marriage. Out of our desire to raise kids the right way, our love for each other gets kicked to the curb. Not intentionally, of course. It just happens. The effects are seldom seen or noticed immediately, but they can eventually grow into significant problems:
- A couple’s needs are neglected.
- Intimacy dwindles.
- Romance cools.
- Conflicts go unresolved.
- Meaningful communication becomes infrequent or nonexistent.
- Attention and affection shift from spouse to child.
- Financial decisions are dominated by the child’s needs and wants.
All of these indicate that a couple is moving into the arena of being too child centered. The child’s needs and concerns are being met at the expense of a once healthy and God-honoring marriage. This is completely normal! It is to be expected during times of transition, but it is not to become a way of life.
In our own marriage, we experienced all of the challenges of moving from married to married with kids. We loved being parents. We did Pizza Nights because Tyler loves to eat. We did Sports Nights because Noah is our little competitor. And we did Movie Nights because Sophia and Bella love a great story. We even tried a few Adventure Nights (campouts in the backyard), which didn’t go so well! In all of the fun of being parents, we needed the reminder that it was okay to continue being great lovers. We haven’t stopped doing some of these fun things as a family, but we have intentionally built in time for just the two of us.
It’s possible to have a great family and a great marriage.
When we dig a little deeper into how we function in everyday life, we may find some normal (but not always good) motivating factors that can lead any couple into trouble. Let’s take a look at these areas and renew our commitment to put love for our kids and our spouse each in its rightful place.
Many of us want to be great parents because we are fearful of getting it wrong. We genuinely want our kids to be healthy and happy as they grow up. But fear can lead us to believe that we need to be perfect parents. We can become so concerned and consumed about not doing everything right that parenting becomes everything to us. Like a giant vacuum, our fear of failing as parents sucks the energy and excitement out of our marriage!
Sometimes we think that being great parents means we must give our kids everything we didn’t have growing up. We want to do what we can to provide for our children and set them up for success when they leave home. On the surface, giving our kids the best of everything sounds noble, but it isn’t always the best for them. This is especially true if the pursuit of giving them the best creates distance between a husband and a wife. This distance can creep in if we are engaged in too many activities or continually justify extra hours at work for the sake of our kids. An expensive education, trendy clothes, training or coaching in specific activities, or a certain quality of lifestyle may all be good things. But we have to consider our motivation. If we feel driven to provide certain things in order to right what we felt our parents got wrong, it can drive a wedge between a husband and a wife.
Finally, our desire to be great parents may be driven by what our culture says our kids should have rather than by what God says they should have. Just like a bunch of middle schoolers who do what the crowd is doing, we can blindly follow what our culture says is normal. This might be in the area of education, clothing, experiences, and activities. Trying to measure up to what others are doing around us can lead us to place too much emphasis on our parenting and not enough on our marriage.
The Me-Centered Marriage
Having a child-centered marriage isn’t the only threat to living out the vow to love your spouse with kids in the house. The other greatest threat to living out this missing vow is “me”!
I (Patrick) met with a couple in the middle of trying to manage their marriage with kids in the house. The husband looked at me and said, “It’s just so hard! I want to come home and enjoy some peace and quiet.” Who doesn’t want that? The problem was, he always wanted peace and quiet. Over time, his continued desire and demand for an easier road was becoming an excuse for avoiding the hard work of loving his wife.
Another couple I met with had fallen on hard times, not financially, but relationally. The couple had a rocky relationship. The wife’s expectations for marriage and family were so high that not even Dr. Phil could have met them. Her husband was trying, but her ideal picture was too demanding for anyone in the real world to achieve. It was not God’s picture she was chasing after; it was her own.
We understand these emotional needs and desires. My (Patrick’s) office is only five minutes from our house. While the short commute might be good for saving money on gas, sometimes it’s not nearly enough time to decompress after a long day! There are plenty of days when I think, It would be really nice to just go in the house and hop on the computer, go for a run, take a nap, or just veg out! Then I remember I am driving a minivan for a reason. I am married. I am a husband and a father. So much for “me” time!
I (Ruth) have to admit that it’s easy to just want to hand the kids off to Patrick the second he walks in the door. I want to instantly enlist him to help with letting the dogs out, helping a child with homework, finishing dinner, or running to the grocery store. After a long day of my own, I wouldn’t mind time to myself either! After all, I’d rather be shopping. Let the chef and maid take care of things! Then I remember I am married. I am a wife and a mother, and we don’t have a chef or a maid.
We all feel the challenge of trying to have a God-honoring marriage and family. Because of the personal sacrifices we make for our spouse and children, we may feel we “deserve” something more for ourselves. But one of the greatest threats to experiencing God’s plan and purpose for marriage and family is our own selfishness. We can become too me-centered.
As a result we may:
- neglect responsibilities because we feel we’ve done enough;
- disengage emotionally or physically — check out when we should be checking in;
- become too busy at work for meaningful time with our spouse or family;
- base all our decisions on what we want instead of what is best or right for our spouse;
- become too demanding or controlling — insisting that things be done our way and in our time;
- act with pride, as if we are always right;
- lack compassion and understanding when the unexpected happens.
The threat of a child-centered marriage or a me-centered marriage can lead a marriage and family astray. This can cause us to live out of balance and out of sync with God’s vision. His picture of marriage and family can become distorted. To fully enjoy what He has given us, we have to come back to what He wants.
After being gone for a weekend speaking at a mom’s conference, I (Ruth) arrived safely on the ground at our nearest airport. Still an hour and a half from home, I began to dread the responsibilities awaiting me. There’s probably loads of laundry waiting, I thought. I wonder if anyone has done the dishes? Did anyone think to feed the fish? On and on I played the tape in my head of what I would walk into. Much to my surprise (sorry, honey), I was wrong. When I got home the house was clean, laundry was done, fish were alive, and the kids were even bathed!
I (Patrick) wish I was always this much of a servant. On this occasion, I was on my game! We must become selfless lovers of each other if we are to be successful in living out the missing vow. God intended for us to have both a God-honoring marriage and a God-honoring family. Both are possible, but they are impossible without a foundation of selfless and sacrificial love. Jesus is our ultimate example of how to live out a life of sacrificial love.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! — Philippians 2:5–8
Jesus was a selfless lover.
He sacrificed power, position, and pleasure to move in our direction. He gave us what we did not deserve. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves. In Christ, God selflessly and sacrificially served us to save us, and He commanded us to follow in His footsteps as we humbly love and serve one another. We are to be Christ centered so that we do not become too child centered or me-centered.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our kids is a healthy, loving, and God-honoring marriage.
Children will join us on the journey, but we have to be careful that they don’t come between us on this journey.
Excerpted with permission from For Better or for Kids by Patrick and Ruth Schwenk, copyright Patrick and Ruth Schwenk.
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What good things have you and your spouse made a priority for your kids that might not be good for you as a couple? What can you do to pay better attention to your marriage and balance that priority? Come share with us on our blog!