In my last post (Does Your Spouse Rank Before or After Your Pet?), I referenced how I had changed up my priorities after a lot of soul searching, praying, and discerning.
They used to be:
There was no time for a 6, leaving my spouse (and ultimately my marriage) nowhere on the list.
I changed them to:
5) other things (dog, friend, volunteering, etc)
For the purpose of this post I will focus on the first 3: God 1st, Spouse 2nd, Children 3rd and more specifically why Spouse is listed before Children.
Some of you might be asking, “Why should my spouse be listed before my children?” Putting my children third, after God and my spouse, took some getting used to. I too struggled with my spouse being ranked above my children. My spouse is an adult, generally self sufficient, capable of taking care of themselves; my children are innocent, dependent on me, and not self sufficient. So logically my children need more attention than my spouse and therefore they should rank higher. The ranking of God 1st, Spouse 2nd, and Children 3rd is not an indication of time spent or lack of importance (if not ranked 1st), it is a guide to help me live my life as God intended and to help me make decisions. My hope is that I can help you do the same.
Here are 3 reasons why our Spouse should be “higher” on the list than our children:
- TEACH OUR CHILDREN HOW TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE: Modeling a healthy, loving marriage is the best way to teach our children how to do the same.
- OFFER OUR CHILDREN SECURITY: Knowing their parents marriage is the most important thing, next to God, gives your children a since of security.
- MODEL UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: Loving your spouse through the hills and valleys of marriage will equip your children with the knowledge and example they need to do the same in their own marriage.
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN HOW TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE
When our children are little we teach them how to sleep, how to walk, how to talk, etc. As they grow up each stage is a new and exciting adventure. We know it is our responsibility to teach them. We as parents are the primary educators of our children. Sure, we rely on schools and our church to assist us, we even lean on family and friends when needed, but ultimately “the buck stops with us”. Even things like character and spirituality are also our responsibility. Not only will we teach them about character (following the 10 commandments and living in virtue) and spirituality (how to pray, attend church, etc) we also will teach them by our example. When they see us helping others, they learn it is good to do so. When they see us give back extra change (given to us in error) to the cashier, they learn the value of honesty. When they see us pray, in good and bad times, they learn to rely on God no matter the circumstances. All aspects of our children’s formation are formed not only by what we say but also how we live our lives.
Our children are God’s children. He is allowing us to help Him raise His children. The role of husband and wife, as parents, is to teach our children how to live a successful and Godly life. That includes teaching our children what marriage is, how marriage works, and why it is important as part of God’s plan. Just like they learn character and spirituality by our example they also will learn about marriage by our example. The challenge is we are still learning about marriage ourselves. With every new challenge within and around our marriage, we as a couple, are learning how to have a successful marriage. But, even while we learn we can teach about marriage through our example.
Our children need the best chance at a successful marriage and we need to model that for them. Our children will learn how to be romantic by our example, they will learn how to care for their spouse by our example, they will learn how to argue and reconcile by our example, they will learn how to rely on God (the 3rd person in their marriage) when in the middle of a crisis by our example, they will learn how to forgive by our example, and they will learn how to love unconditionally by our example.
So if we discount our marriage or devalue our marriage our children learn to do the same.
If we never make time for each other, our children will learn their spouse is unimportant. If our children never see us fight and reconcile, our children will not learn the skills needed to reconcile with their own spouse and they might even think their marriage, if it involves fighting or disagreements, is abnormal or hopeless if they did not see their parents struggle through the fights to find reconciliation.
The very best parenting advice is to have a successful marriage.
Our spouse is our life partner and through the sacrament of marriage our bond is permanent and indissolvable, or at least it should be. In this current age, divorce is very prevalent, even among good Christians. All of our children probably have a classmate or friend whose parents have divorced; realistically it is more than just one. When they see this happen, they wonder if it could happen to them? They wonder if they can do something to cause their parents to divorce? Or if their mom can stop loving their dad, can they stop loving me?
- Focus On The Family says: “Children (and adult children) have the attitude that their parents should be able to work through and solve any issue. Parents, who have given the children life, are perceived by the children as very competent people with supernatural abilities to meet the needs of the children. No problem should be too great for their parents to handle. For a child, divorce shatters this basic safety and belief concerning the parents’ abilities to care for them and to make decisions that truly consider their well-being.” For the full article which also includes research on the harm divorce does to children CLICK HERE.
Fighting for your marriage and letting your children know that no matter what, their parents will not get a divorce, offers them the security they deserve. You might be thinking, “I cannot make that promise to my children; more than half of marriages end in divorce and I do not want to lie to my children.” I am definitely not advocating that you lie to your children, but I am advocating that you make that promise to yourself, your spouse, and your children and then do whatever it takes to stay married and have a successful marriage. The only way to make that happen is to make sure our spouse, no matter the circumstances, is on our list of priorities and ultimately above everything else, except God.
It is impossible to describe to someone that is not a parent, the emotions that overwhelm you like a wave when your child is born. They really cannot understand it until they themselves experience it. The love we have for our children, beginning when they are growing inside their mother’s womb and then magnified when they are born, is so indescribable and so overwhelming. We look at them and cannot imagine anything they could ever do that would change our love for them; we know and understand that our love for them is unconditional and without bounds. But what if I told you that our love for our spouse is also supposed to be unconditional and without bounds? That no matter what our spouse might do, that God commands our forgiveness, our patience, our perseverance, our fortitude, our generosity, our charity, and our mercy? In Ephesians 5:25 Paul says “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Loving our spouse as Christ loves the church means we must die for them as Christ died for us! That means putting aside our needs for theirs, doing what is best for our marriage even when it means denying our own personal happiness.
Also in Matthew 19:6 he says “So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” A similar passage is also found in Mark 10:9. This means that neither husband nor wife can separate by will or action the bond that God has created. This unconditional love, that Jesus modeled for us, does not just apply to our children, it applies to our spouse. When marriage gets tough our children need to see an example of what it means to be a servant spouse; to die of oneself for the needs of our spouse and to die of oneself to save our marriage.
Most of my blogs, especially the ones on crisis marriage, address this issue. If you would like more information and support on this topic I would suggest you go to the One Foot Out The Door – Crisis section of the website.
But what about fights and conflict? Is it ok for our children to see us fight? Or work through challenges while we pledge to love each other unconditionally? Often couples will think that all fights should be behind closed doors, giving their children the illusion of a happy home. I believe that day to day conflict can be seen by our children, if done respectfully. Children learn what unconditional love is when they see their parents resolving conflict as servant spouses. The process of separation followed by reunion lets our children know that conflict is a part of life, but so is reconciliation. Letting our children know and possibly see that all challenges are reconcilable and forgivable, teaches our children what unconditional love is.
Of course there are some forms of conflict that should not be viewed or heard by children due to the subject matter or the severity. Caution should be taken to work through these conflicts in private.
If you would like some assistance in the area of conflict resolution or “fighting” productively, we have written a course on how to Resolve Conflict in a Christian Marriage titled Resolving Conflict with P.R.A.Y.
Why divorce is not the answer.
- Disclaimer: Please know that we recognize that some of you reading this blog might be divorced. Also know, we in no way want to make a judgment about your previous marriage but what we do what to do is give you HOPE for a possible reconciliation or HOPE for your current or future marriage.
But what if we are unhappy, and have been for a very long time? Doesn’t loving my spouse unconditionally mean letting them out of this unhappy marriage? And wouldn’t our children be better off?
Or what if my spouse sinned and harmed our marriage, does loving my spouse “unconditionally” really apply to all marriages? How is staying in this broken marriage really better for my children?
At different times in my marriage, I asked those questions and many more. I could have chosen divorce, I wanted to choose divorce, but I am very glad that I did not.
“If I had chosen divorce over a possible prolonged and painful reconciliation I would not have been doing what is best for my children, even though in the short term it might have seemed that way. My children seeing me weather the storm of a loveless marriage by relying on God learned unconditional love, selflessness, and commitment. They also learned what the grace of God looked like as well as the love of a marriage so great only God could have delivered it. If I had chosen to abandon a loveless marriage and avoid a possible prolonged and painful reconciliation, my children would have learned conditional love, selfishness, and abandonment. They also would have lost their family and possibly their father”
-by Melissa B. (Servant Spouse)
- Take a moment to evaluate some of the decisions you made today. Are you currently living God 1st, Spouse 2nd, and Children 3rd? Do your actions shine a light on how important God is to you? Or how important your spouse is to you? What is one change you can implement that would help support the priorities of God 1st, Spouse 2nd, and Children 3rd?
- Continue to evaluate your daily decisions to see where you can make some changes going forward.
- Stay Tuned – my next blog will help you with some daily changes you can make to elevate your spouse on your list of priorities.
- If you have not read the previous blog (Does Your Spouse Rank Before or After Your Pet?) you are missing part of the story. I recommend you read it too.
Recommended Prayer (by Melissa B):
Eternal God, Holy One, Master of my life! Awaken in me a desire to serve you above all else. Help me to put aside my ego and pride in order to hear your voice and your will in my life. Strengthen my marriage and help me to elevate both my marriage and my spouse to a place of honor in my heart and my list of priorities. Help me to embrace my role as parent, to be an example for my children in all things including a successful marriage. Give me the courage and fortitude to withstand all of the hills and valleys that test our marriage so that I can offer my spouse the unconditional love that you have modeled and my children the safety and example they deserve. Forgive me for the times I have not honored you, my marriage, my spouse, or my children. Only with your grace and strength can I live God 1st, Spouse 2nd, and Children 3rd. Without you I can do nothing, but with you I can do anything. Your humble servant. Amen!
Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Matthew 19:6 “So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Supporting Catechism of the Catholic Church
CCC 1612 The nuptial covenant between God and his people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant in which the Son of God, by becoming incarnate and giving his life, has united to himself in a certain way all mankind saved by him, thus preparing for “the wedding-feast of the Lamb.”104
CCC 1613 On the threshold of his public life Jesus performs his first sign – at his mother’s request – during a wedding feast.105 The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence.
CCC 1614 In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning permission given by Moses to divorce one’s wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts.106 The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it “what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”107
CCC 1615 This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy – heavier than the Law of Moses.108 By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ.109 This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.
CCC 2222 Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law.
CCC 2223 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:
CCC 2225 Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church.34 A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life.