How to Grow in Marriage and Parenting

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

“I have no idea what I am supposed to do.”

That statement came from a very gifted and intelligent young man who was about to be married. I appreciated his honesty. He had never seen a marriage up close before. His parents divorced when he was very young. He deeply loved his mom and dad. Yet, he had never been close to a healthy marriage and so it was difficult for him to imagine what it would be like to be married.

Many other people have seen a marriage up close but it was a dysfunctional marriage with dynamics that were anything but healthy or even godly.

So what is a person supposed to do?

1. Plan to unlearn. So often, we are at a disadvantage because of our own faulty assumptions. “Surely this won’t last my entire life.” We also make assumptions about sex, parenting, and other roles. Our assumptions often come from a variety of sources and experiences. Yet, they sometimes set us up for failure.

For example, much unlearning often has to be done regarding sex and marriage. Some people enter marriage with assumptions borrowed from this culture. A person might think that sexual experiences with multiple people give one an advantage in marriage. Really? Where did that assumption come from? Did the creator ever tell human beings that this was a good thing or an advantage? Sometimes unlearning has to be done due to a long history with pornography. Such a history will often give a person some very unreal expectations regarding marriage.

2. Be intentional about learning. Maybe you have never seen a healthy marriage up close. Or, maybe you are realizing that marriage is more complex and more difficult than you imagined. Read good marriage books, particularly those that address marital concerns from a Christian perspective. Talk with people who have been married for many years and obviously love one another. Invite a couple who you admire over for coffee and desert and ask questions about marriage. Look for resources in your church. Bottom line: Be intentional about learning.

What Can I Expect from My Marriage and Family?

Some people think that all Christian families have it together.connecting-people.jpg

They step inside a church building and see people who they perceive as having it together. In fact, they may assume that these people do not have problems in their marriages or families. Some people wonder how they could ever fit in with such a group.

Quite often people in churches perpetuate this perception.

“How is everything going?”


“How are the kids?”


“How was your week?”


Yet the truth is that marriages and families are not always fine. In fact, there are seasons of marriage and family when there is much struggle.

Sometimes husbands and wives are very lonely within their marriages.

Sometimes children and their parents just aren’t connecting emotionally.

Some daughters wish their dads’ would make the effort to get to know them.

Some sons wish their dads’ cared more about their lives than about what is on television.

Some fathers wish they knew how to connect with their children emotionally.

Some wives really wish their husbands would be spiritual leaders.

Some wives wish they could completely trust their husbands.

Some husbands wish their wives would encourage them more.

Given these realities it is incredibly important that we learn to be honest and intentional. Families are notorious for covering up reality. They don’t want anyone to know that they struggle and have problems. Consequently, they spend much energy trying to create a certain image before their friends, their church, and their extended family. Unfortunately, more energy is spent on image management than changing the reality of their marriage or family. They become more concerned with what other people think than dealing with the reality of their lives.

We may be imperfect (and all families are) but we can be intentional about our behavior. If we are not intentional, we will resort to the default positions in our lives. In other words, we will continue bad habits and dysfunctional behaviors which feel natural because we have practiced them for so long. We may complain about certain behaviors of our parents or grandparents but then we perpetuate these same behaviors because we are not living intentionally.

(more later)


How would you describe the reality of being married? How would you describe the reality of being a family with children, etc.?

Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas

Yesterday morning I spoke with Christine, our older daughter. She and her husband, Phillip, are about to have their first baby.sacred-parenting.png

She has been reading a number of books on babies, child-rearing, parenting, etc. She referred to several of them in the conversation. Finally at one point, she said, “Do you know the one book that has meant more to me than any other? The book that has meant so much is Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas.”

She went on to say that this book spoke so clearly about the purpose of parenting. She said, “Having a child is important and special but life with God is even bigger than this. Life is first about our relationship with God.”

You might these thoughts regarding Sacred Parenting from Gary’s website:

Parenting is a school for spiritual formation—and our children are our teachers. Instead of discussing how parents can change their kids, Gary Thomas turns the tables and demonstrates how God uses our kids to change us. You’ll be encouraged by stories that tell how other parents handled the challenges and difficulties of raising a godly family. Grow closer to Christ and your children as you learn to:

  • Freely enjoy your kids for who they are.
  • Build a closer, grace-based family.
  • Reduce the pressure felt for your kids to turn out perfect.
  • Manage anger and negative responses towards your child’s behavior.
  • Increase your sense of worth and respect as a parent.

You might also enjoy watching some of Gary’s videos as he answers questions and discusses issues related to parenting.

These include the following:

“My children are stretching my patience and everything within me. Did God intend parenting to be this tough?”

“What is the most effective way for parents to influence their children?”

13 Ways to Really Mess Up Your Children

Now here is a recipe for disaster!   Children_Church.jpg

Of course the last thing that most of want to do is to mess up our children. Yet, we can neglect some basic realities while we rationalize other behaviors.

So here it is: “Thirteen Ways to Really Mess Up Your Children.”

1. Break your promises to them regularly.  After a while, they will learn that they cannot depend on you. In fact, such regular promise breaking may even say something about where they fall on your list of priorities.

2. Be unavailable emotionally.  Many, many children grow up in homes where they have no real emotional connection with one or both parents. This seems to happen far too often between boys and their fathers. Fathers can mistakenly believe that boys just need to know how to catch a ball or how to fish. Helpful? Yes, but not enough. Boys and girls need an emotional connection with both parents. Children who do not have that emotional connection often grow up alone (emotionally) which does not prepare them for marriage or parenting.

3. Give your children no moral or ethical guidance.  Some parents do little or no teaching at home in the course of life’s experiences. The failure to teach at home coupled with little or no teaching within a community of believers results in moral/ethical illiteracy. Without such guidance, a child has little or no sense of moral boundaries. One parent came home to find her daughter and her boyfriend in bed. Her concern? Is he wearing a condom? Then there were the parents who allowed their daughter’s boyfriend to spend the night with her every Saturday night in their home. About noon the couple would come out of the bedroom in time to join the family for Sunday lunch. One friend asked, “Isn’t that awkward?” “Oh no, my parents are ok with it.”

4. Always do what you can to keep your children from having to experience the consequences of their behavior.  Pay their traffic tickets. Pay for overdue books. Pay their parking fines. Run interference for them. If their paper is late, insist that a teacher is unfair for picking on your child.

5. Ignore disrespectful behavior toward you or your spouse by your children.  Laugh while a child talks back to his mother. Sit in silence while a child makes fun of her father. Allow them to talk down to him.

6. Confuse your child through your humor.  Laugh at dirty, lewd remarks on television or in a movie. At the ball game, make a suggestive comment to a friend about an attractive woman seated nearby. Then wonder why your daughter will not listen to you as you try to talk with her about how she might conduct herself with a boy she likes.

7. “Go to church” but have no love for God.  Show your children that you will pay any amount to get the tickets you want for the big game. Yet, when a missions opportunity comes along, explain to your children that money is tight right now so we won’t be able to give.

8. Let your children hear you talk about how important God is in your life. Then let them see that being able to purchase the things you want is really what is most important to you.

9. Walk out on your spouse for another man or woman.  Let your child experience emotional abandonment even as they hear you say that you haven’t been happy for quite some time and now you have found someone who makes you happy. Meanwhile, they are left to sort through the wreckage of their family.

10. Quit parenting before your children leave the house.  Let them do what they want.

11. Be more concerned about being a cool parent than being a godly, encouraging, mature parent.  Be more concerned about what they think about you than simply being the parent that you need to be.

12. Never teach them responsibility.  Continue to do for them what they could actually do for themselves. Baby them. They will forever be overly dependent on you and will remain immature far too long.

13. Buy them anything they want.  Why should they have to wait or work? If you’ve got the money and they want it, get it for them! Tell them about the importance of waiting for sex while you also teach them that they don’t have to wait for anything they want to buy.


What else would you add to this list?

So What Do Our Families Value?

Some families seem to value comfort and ease as top priorities. One almost gets the impression that they live by mandates such as:

  • Life should be pain-free and low stress. Something is wrong if there is pain or stress in our lives.
  • My children should not be hurt, frustrated, or denied. Consequently, as a parent, I will go to any length to prevent this from happening.
  • If we have the money and our children want it, why not buy it now? If we don’t have the money, we may just get it anyway. We will just put it on the credit card and deal with it later.

Contrast this thinking with the mindset that focuses on the importance of developing the character of our children. Families that flourish actually value character over comfort.

Yesterday, I sat in front of a class of first graders. This was the next to the last day of school and I was there to read to them. My wife, Charlotte, is their teacher. She introduced me and then told me (in front of them) that this was one of the finest first grade classes in all of Waco. She went on to say, “These boys and girls love to read!” They all sat on the “reading carpet” while I sat on a tiny chair and read to them. I read. They listened. There was lots of back and forth conversation.

I thought about these children as I left. Each one has an individual story. Each one comes from a particular home with its own story.

Later I thought about how some children are blessed by families who choose to put character over comfort. What a blessing to be reared in such a family!

The following are a few suggestions for being a family that values character over comfort:

1. Choose to bless your family with the knowledge of God. Allow your children the privilege of knowing their creator and their loving Father. Children who grow up knowing and loving God are blessed.

2. Choose to bring both grace and truth to your family. Families need to be places that are safe, secure, and where children can develop good memories. Far too many children grow up in families that are threatening, unpredictable, and chaotic.

Yet, children also need truth. No, I not talking about these families where people run over one another, and hurt one another with words as they are “just being honest.” Rather, I am talking about families where problems are dealt with and resolved instead of being swept under the rug and ignored.

3. Choose to be a family that serves others instead of living for themselves. I spoke with a woman the other day who told me a story about a friend of hers who was going shopping that day to purchase an expensive piece of jewelry. She said that as her friend spoke, she found herself feeling jealous. She wished that she had the money to purchase such an expensive piece of jewelry.

Later that evening, she and her husband had a conversation with a single parent mother who was barely getting by financially. She told them that her commode was stopped up and she didn’t know what to do. They went to her home that evening to see if they could help. Before leaving, they gave $100 to her so that she could call a plumber.

The couple went home that night grateful for what they had. This woman then said, “After this experience and seeing what this person and her children were having to deal with in their house, my jealousy over the jewelry went away. I knew that we had been a part of something that really mattered.”

What kind of daughter or son do you want to produce?

Charlotte and I have experienced much joy in rearing our children. There have been, and continue to be, moments that bring joy. Yet, rearing our children was also difficult and challenging at times. At least some of the difficulty was because we were constantly thinking about the kind of daughters that we wanted to produce. More importantly, we believed that these children had been loaned to us by God and we were responsible to him for the way we reared them. We attempted to take the long-view of things which is not necessarily the easiest.

What do you think is most important about building a family that values character over comfort? What makes this challenging?

Question: What Would You Have Done Differently?

question_mark_778895.gif.jpgI have two questions.  One is for you if you are a mother.  The other is for the rest of us.

First question: As a mother, what is one thing you wish you had done differently with your children?

Yes, Sunday is Mother’s Day.  It is a day for sending cards, giving flowers, and saying nice words about mothers.  I want to think about this on another level though.  If you are a mother, I am wondering what you have learned about being a mother that you would like to do differently if you could do it over?

Perhaps your children are grown and have moved out of your house.  Or, perhaps your children are in college or in high school.  After thinking about the years that you spent rearing your children, what would you have done differently?

Second question: What did your mother do right?

Can you pinpoint something that your mother did well?  Is there something she did that today is especially meaningful to you?

Yes, I know that some people had very unpleasant experiences with their mother, dad, or even both.  That is a tragedy and a loss.  Yet, I think it is important to learn from those who are mothers and can now reflect upon the experience.  It is valuable to learn from one another as we remember our own mothers.

I learned from my mother the importance of service and helping others.  She did this with her children, again and again.  I realized later on that she had often put her own welfare and her own desires behind the needs of her children.  She saw to it that her children had clothes, school supplies, and money for lunch.  All of this seemed to be placed before her getting the things she wanted and no doubt needed. 

What about you?