There is sometimes a tendency to prioritize our children to the neglect of our marriage. There are at least three reasons that make prioritizing our children over our marriage both foolish and dangerous:
1. Our children will eventually leave home. Prepare your marriage for the empty nest:
To my knowledge, I’ve never talked to a person who divorced after twenty-five or thirty years who didn’t say something like this: “Once the kids were gone, we realized we really didn’t have much of a marriage.” Building a marriage on the foundation of the preeminence of children is like building a house on a rented removable slab. You may have days or even years when you feel completely secure, but the day is coming when the lease will be up and the foundation upon which your home stands will be taken away. A family shepherd must not allow his family to fall into this trap.
2. Our marriage forms the cornerstone of our children’s security:
Ironically, those who prioritize their children above their marriage are not only jeopardizing their marriage, they’re actually depriving their children of the very thing they desire to provide them. The greatest source of security our children have in this world is a God-honoring, Christ-centered marriage between their parents. Putting the children first is like a police officer putting away his badge and gun in order to make the public feel more at ease. A family shepherd must put his marriage before his children in order to provide them with the security they both need and desire.
3. Putting your marriage first will actually prepare your children for marriage:
Prioritizing your children above your marriage is both foolish and dangerous because it sets a precedent that contradicts one of the greatest lessons you’ll ever teach your children—how to be good husbands and wives. We must first and foremost model a commitment to marriage. Failure to do this will communicate ideas that are contrary to what we believe—starting with the narcissism it tends to create in our children—including the pitfalls that may follow them into their marriage. For example, if we prioritize our children above our marriage, we teach our children that marriage exists for children. If this is the case, how will our children react to the early months or years of their marriage when there are no children? How will they respond if, God forbid, they should struggle with infertility? If the heart of marriage is “living for the kids,” these scenarios could be difficult at best.
Jesus our Savior—and our example of what a bridegroom truly is—laid down his life for his bride (Eph. 5:25). He doesn’t neglect her for another. And it’s this relationship of our Savior to his bride that governs our understanding of our role as husbands and family shepherds. We must give ourselves to and for our wives. We must view them not only as ours but as us! As I often remind myself concerning my wife, “She’s not just mine; she’s me. She’s bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (Gen. 2:23); she’s my body (Eph. 5:28–29), and I am her head (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23). We are one (Eph. 5:31; see also Gen. 2:24); and our union is a blessing to our children (1 Cor. 7:14).”
As family shepherds, our primary mission is to love our wives as our own selves. We must not allow anything to interfere with this mission. Neither our careers nor our children can be allowed to keep us from our task of modeling for the world the beautiful, mysterious, one-flesh union of our Savior and his bride (Eph. 5:33).