This post is part of a mini carnival. Here’s Barefoot Betsy’s take on the subject.
A lovely lady at playgroup was enthusiastically telling me how helpful Growing Kids God’s Way has been to her and her husband, “especially what they said about putting our marriage first.” I have to admit, I was predisposed to be critical of almost any advice from Growing Kids International, as I’d been reading up on that particular ‘ministry.’ Otherwise I might not have spotted the flaw. Certainly, before I had children of my own, I would have simply nodded along. Instead, I said, “But in my experience, children are a source of intimacy – not a threat to it.”
I went home later and mentioned to conversation to my husband, who disagreed. His love language is Quality Time and he feels the effect of having toddlers constantly interrupting our conversations. I didn’t argue (unusual for me) – I watched and waited. The next day, he took the kids to the park for an hour or so while I caught up on some reading… I mean, housework . When he came home, he spent five minutes eagerly detailing all the cute and funny things our children had said and done in the last hour. I grinned. “See?” I said. “They provide us with endless conversation starters. We share the ups and downs of their lives together. They add to our intimacy.”
The idea that the needs/wants of our spouse should be a higher priority than those of our children seems to be very common in Christian circles.
Some preachers have been heard to say that a man ‘should love his wife more than his children’.
I think most parents would agree this is just silly. The love we have for our spouse is different from the way we love our children, and there is no way to measure or compare the degrees of those loves. No reason to ever diminish one love in favour of another. My mother-in-law was afraid, when pregnant with her second child, that she wouldn’t have enough love for two – she already loved her first child so much. But when her second son was born, she discovered that our capacity to love grows with each new object of love. In the same way, our capacity to love each other as husband and wife will not be diminished, in a healthy relationship, by the arrival of little people to love as a couple.
Some say it’s extremely important to go out for a date night without the baby soon after its birth to show each other (or maybe the child?) that you, the couple, still come first.
I can just imagine the newborn reasoning to itself: “Oh, Mummy and Daddy have left me with a relative stranger. I wonder where they went and why? I know! They must be going to have some special time together. Isn’t that lovely? I am so blessed to be the child of such a devoted couple!” Or maybe not.
I’m not saying it’s never appropriate to leave a baby with another carer for a short time. I know there are situations where a couple really does need to take some time out for themselves. But I’m not happy with the idea that it is necessary for all couples in order to maintain healthy functioning relationships. That implies that the baby is an invader, bent on coming between its parents who need to maintain a certain emotional distance, instead of being a precious person invited into our lives for the purpose of nurturing and growth.
Or there’s a hypothetical scenario in which you’re asked to choose whether to save the life of your wife or your child. Apparently, the correct answer is ‘wife’ – and apparently it’s very important that your child knows that you would hypothetically make that choice.
Now, I don’t really think there is a ‘correct’ answer to a scenario like that one – I’m the sort of person who starts asking complicating questions like, “Who is in the greatest danger? Is there a reason the adult can’t save him/herself? Who is easiest for me to reach? Is there a phone nearby? I’d probably be better off calling emergency services…” etc. But I have to say, the thought that I would expect my husband to choose my life over my child’s just sounds selfish to me. Jesus gave us an example of servant leadership that chose to die on behalf of his children. I would hope that, if I were given the choice, I would be willing to die so my children can live. I hope my husband would feel the same. I have a feeling if I woke up in hospital to discover my husband had (all other things being equal) saved my life at the expense of our children, our marriage might not survive the shock. Could I forgive him? I don’t know…
But regardless of how we imagine we would feel in such a hypothetical scenario, the idea that our child needs to be told, “I value your life less than your mother’s/father’s” is horrible. Every person and every life is of equal value to our God, and if he is willing to give up his most precious Son on our behalf, then we have no right to play favourites in our earthly relationships.
I realise there is some basic underlying truth behind these messages: A strong marriage is a good foundation for a strong family – I really believe children do thrive in an atmosphere of trust and loyalty and confidence in their parents’ relationship. BUT
Who says we’re in competition? Why not take the baby with you on the date night, or have a date at home? Why can’t we see ourselves as a unit – we are a family – no ‘us’ vs ‘them’, no hierarchy of importance – just ‘us’, a team, with Christ as our centre and coach, drawing us together as we draw near to him. Why not view our shared parental role as serving our growing children – as Christ came to serve?
Now, if that foundation of a healthy marriage is showing cracks, we need to work on repairing it. But we cannot neglect our children’s needs, especially their most basic need, for love, while we do that. Our children don’t deserve second-best just because they are children. Perhaps at times that will mean being creative in finding ways for everyone’s needs to be met. And sometimes it means realising that in any family there are times when, as the adults, my needs or my husband’s will have to wait.
After all, it is God who supplies all our needs, and we as adults can (and should) rely firstly on Him.