From the time our children leave their mother’s womb and take their very first breath, they need stuff from us. It starts with the most basic needs – sustenance, warmth, shelter – and, at least according to friends of ours with older children, apparently never really ends (although I’m hoping that isn’t true – when my wife and I eventually retire to the Caymans we aren’t taking ANY of them with us!).
It all happens in stages, of course. They need basic sustenance for a while, then they need discipline, teaching on various subjects (how to tie a shoe and all that, unless we get lucky and they learn it in Kindergarten!), clothes that cost more and more the older and more fashion conscious they get, toys that likewise get more and more expensive, advice that gets tougher and tougher the older they get, refereeing (if you have more than one), taxi services (you know, to take them back and forth to activities and such), and countless other ‘parenting stuff.’
We provide these goods and services willingly, routinely, and even happily (sometimes, er… most of the time…) because we love our children and want them to be happy, healthy, successful adults who will hopefully not put us in a run-down nursing home when we’re too old to care for ourselves.
In the day to day hustle and bustle, we often become so busy providing all the physical things our children need and want that we sometimes forget to address what they need above all else – an example to follow. Of course, this would apply to every aspect of character, but in a day and age where the institution of marriage is constantly being attacked, disparaged, and seemingly relegated to the dung heap of history, our children need to see marriages that exhibit the kind of character they not only admire and respect, but want to follow.
Here are five character traits our children need to see in our marriage, so that someday they can exemplify them in their own!
1.) They need to see us put our spouse before ourselves – Selflessness doesn’t come naturally. We’ve already established the fact that we all come out of the womb squalling and wanting stuff. The problem is, most children who never come to understand the world isn’t about them grow into adults who think the world is about them. Then, sadly, they get married to someone who thinks, nay, the world is about THEM, and hilarity ensues… except this is real life, not a sitcom. Children need to see their parents putting each other first, even above the kids, so they will understand that, counterintuitive as it may seem, selflessness, not selfishness, is what will sustain the lasting relationships with those we love.
2.) They need to see us respectfully disagree – Disagree? Respectfully? Why, how can those two words possibly go together, you ask!? Isn’t marriage conflict supposed to be about throwing dishes at each other and making your TV debut on COPS? The thing is, two different people sharing their lives together will never agree on everything, but if you handle conflict with class, you can teach your children far more than whatever point you’re trying to make. And for goodness sakes, if you must throw dishes, please do it out of sight of the children!!
3.) They need to see us love each other – Some of the sweetest moments in our married and parenting lives have been when we’re standing in the kitchen or some other room hugging each other and one or more of the kids wander over and hug our legs, trying to wrestle themselves between us while they giggle with delight. There’s something peaceful and comforting about living in a home where your parents love each other and aren’t afraid to show it. I’m convinced the ripple effect goes far beyond the childhood years.
4.) They need to see us put God first – Exhibiting and fostering a reverent worship of God and adherence to Biblical principles will keep our families on a firm foundation and give our children a model for when they start their own families. If both parents are putting God first and doing their best to obey His commands, how can anything come between them?
5.) They need to see us be good stewards – In an age of instant gratification, living within your means is, as Dave Ramsey says, pretty ‘weird.’ After all, a $10,000 credit limit is just like having $10,000 in the bank, right? Wrong! Kids need to know that money doesn’t grow on trees. They need to understand that the only sure-fire way to get through this life without having living out retirement in a cardboard box on the East end of town is to work hard and be an intelligent steward of the resources God blesses us with.
Whether we are modeling these attributes to our own children or to other children who might not be so fortunate as to have such cool parents :), we’ll not only help them in their future marriages, but in every other aspect of their lives as well!