Celebrate Your Marriage
Make a big deal out of your anniversary.
If you are in a two-parent family, your wedding anniversary should rank high as one of the most important holidays of the year. After all, without your marriage, there wouldn’t be a family at all.
Marci and I have always made a big deal out of our wedding anniversary. We put it on the family calendar and start making plans weeks if not months ahead of time. Our kids always knew it was coming up. When they were children, we would sometimes do something special together as a family.
One year we took them out of school for the day and went to Disneyland. We wanted them to understand how special our marriage (and our family) was and by celebrating with something they enjoyed (as well as us) communicated that very effectively.
On other anniversaries, we left our children at home and went away for a weekend trip to a romantic getaway—which also communicated volumes to our kids. They knew that we were away being romantic, having fun, and doing what lovers do. That can be a very reassuring thing for children. Some kids (especially teenagers) can’t imagine their parents doing anything like that.
More importantly, the manner in which couples celebrate their anniversaries more often than not serves as a good indicator of the vitality of their marriage. It’s unlikely that anyone would celebrate something that is unhealthy, dying or already dead.
Love your spouse more than your kids.
The best gift you can give your kids is a strong and vital marriage. Children need to know that their parents love each other more than they love them. That doesn’t mean that parents love their children less—only that they love each other more. If you succeed at communicating that to your kids, they will also feel more loved. When children can see the love between their parents, they will know that there is plenty of love available for them.
There are many reasons why a strong marriage is important to your kids. Perhaps the most important reason is that a strong marriage provides the security that children need. This is especially important for teenagers. Adolescents experience a variety of internal developmental changes—physical, intellectual, emotional, social—and the last thing they need in their lives is an unstable external environment. It’s no wonder that the top worry of teenagers is the loss of a parent by death or divorce. Teens who live in homes where mom and dad are drifting apart often feel like they are losing their footing and are likely to seek solid ground elsewhere.
Second, a strong marriage also provides children with a model from which they can learn to eventually relate to their own spouse. Many young people today are reluctant to get married and postpone marriage for many years simply because they haven’t observed a healthy marriage relationship between their own parents. And those who do get married often struggle in their marriages simply because they are forced to overcome the dysfunctional family experiences of their childhood. It’s hard to build a strong marriage when you don’t really know what one looks like or how one works.
Third, a strong marriage also makes it clear to your kids that you are in charge, that you are in control and that you stand at the center of the family. This is very important. Kids who grow up believing that the family revolves around them are likely to be disobedient, disrespectful and dysfunctional.
It may sound noble for parents to say that they put their children first, but in reality, it’s a prescription for trouble. Parents who put their children ahead of their marriage run the risk of raising extremely self-centered kids who are manipulative and demanding. If you make children the center of the family, you communicate to them that their needs are more important than anyone else’s and that your role is simply to give them whatever they want, whenever they want it. This not only gives children an unrealistic view of the world but it almost always turns parenting into a frustrating and unrewarding experience.
Healthy families are parent-centered families.
In most cases, the marriage existed before the child (and produced it) and the marriage will exist after the child is gone. This is what makes it possible for kids someday to leave home and start families of their own. No one can be the center of the family and leave it at the same time. When children are at the center, they have no way to get out or grow up.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should withhold love, nurture and support to your kids, nor does it mean that you treat them like outsiders or neglect them in any way. The point is that you can’t allow children to rule the roost. You don’t want to mislead them into believing that they are the most important person in the family and that their needs come before everyone else’s.
Fourth, a strong marriage provides balance in parenting. Moms and dads bring different roles to the parenting process. Boys and girls both benefit from having moms and dads who complement each other. Boys, for example, imitate their fathers and learn masculinity from them while they get their manners and nurturing from their moms. Mothers tend to “hang on to their baby” while dads rescue their sons by giving them the confidence they need to make it on their own. With girls, the roles are somewhat reversed. Dads are usually more protective of their daughters, while moms encourage independence and self-reliance. The balance there is especially beneficial to kids during their adolescent years.
Protect and nurture the relationship you have with your husband or wife.
Don’t allow your career, your house, your kids or anything else to destroy the love that you have for each other. Celebrate your anniversary! Make your children bring you gifts! Don’t be afraid to leave your kids with sitters or with friends so that you can get away and be extravagantly romantic. If this sounds selfish, it isn’t. On the contrary, it’s giving your kids the best gift that they could ever have—parents who love each other supremely.
Does this benefit your kids? You bet it does. Teenagers especially need to understand that mom and dad have something special going. They need to see you and your spouse touching each other, kissing each other, saying nice things to each other and treating each other with love and respect. They need to know that there is nothing they can do to come between the two of you or to play one of you against the other. When your kids know this, they will not only be more likely to respect your authority, but they will have a solid foundation for their own views about love, marriage, fidelity, commitment and the entire range of human values.
A word of encouragement to single parents.
If you are a single parent, I’m sure that reading about the importance of a strong marriage could be uncomfortable or discouraging for you. But remember that I am writing here simply to encourage couples. Please don’t take this as an indictment of you or of single parenting in general. The Bible doesn’t make it a requirement to raise children in a two-parent home and actually provides us with several examples of single men and women who did quite well as parents.
I have never been a single parent myself but I am well aware of how difficult it can be to parent alone. You face unique pressures and challenges that two-parent families are most often spared—but I am confident that God is able to provide you with all you need to succeed with your kids.
Wayne Rice is a life-long youth worker, Christ-follower and bluegrass music nut who spends most of his time these days writing, speaking, consulting, playing his banjo and trying to be a good husband, father and grandpa. Wayne co-founded an organization called Youth Specialties, as well as a parenting organization called Understanding Your Teenager, which is now part of HomeWord.com. Wayne has written over 30 books, including the parenting book, Generation to Generation. You can follow Wayne on his blog at WayneRice.com.