Maybe it’s just a stage,” Brad said. Brad and his wife, Traci, were having dinner with me (John) and my wife, Barbi. They were concerned with 7-year-old Will, one of their three children. He was a handful, full of energy and life, but also out of control. The school had called them with concerns that Will was too aggressive with friends and that he was not respecting his teachers. Traci had taken Will to a doctor, but there was not anything wrong medically. So they were trying to think through what was going on.
“It could be a stage,” I said. “But if it is not going away, it is probably something else. What if you looked at Will’s behavior as a reflection of your relationship with each other?”
“What do you mean?” they asked.
I explained that children depend on their parents’ energy, love, and resources to develop their own. They also are affected by the struggles parents have. If parents are under a lot of stress, they sometimes become disconnected from each other. In turn, this disconnect can influence a child to pull away, feel insecure, or even act out.
This should not make parents feel guilty. But the parent relationship is the background and structure for parenting. It creates the emotional world that children live in.
Traci and Brad looked at each other. “That does sound like us,” Traci said. “We have been really involved lately in Brad’s new job, remodeling, and trying to take care of the children. And we have not had much couple time lately.” Brad agreed.
A few weeks later, I saw Traci and asked how things were. “A lot better,” she said. “Brad and I just didn’t realize that we were drifting apart. Not a lot, but enough that we started catching up with each other better. And Will is better, too. Your idea worked!”
Marriage is the Soil of Parenting
If you have experienced what Traci and Brad have, you are not alone. Your child is influenced by the state of your marriage connection and intimacy. Basically, the more warmth and love between you and your spouse, the happier and healthier your child is. The more alienated your relationship, the more your child can be affected.
This truth is a result of God’s design. God created marriage to connect people in a deep way that reflects His passion for people. Children are a fruit and response to that love and connection. There is a reason that Ephesians deals with marriage connections in chapter 5 (“Husbands, love your wives”) and parenting issues in chapter 6 (“Children, obey your parents”). That is the proper order of things.
It is much like growing plants. If the soil you use is rich, fertile, and full of good ingredients, the plant will most likely flourish. However, if the soil is depleted, empty, neglected, or has toxins in it, the plant will show that also.
In a way, this is a win-win situation. You were married because you love each other and want to be connected to each other forever. So whatever you do to reconnect the love, intimacy, and passion is not only good for you two, but also for your child. You cannot overstate the parenting benefits of a loving marriage.
That is why, when you see behavior issues, attitude problems, withdrawal, aggression, clinginess, or a host of other “child issues,” it is always good to look at the state of your own union with each other. Children are often the warning signal that you need to address your own love and trust within the marriage.
So let's tend to our first priority among our human relationships--our spouses. Let's really "hold fast" to each other and be "one flesh," setting an example for our own children and the children in our church.