Christian Counseling: Putting Parent-Child Relationships Above One's Marriage

There has been and always will be those individual spouses or couples who believe children come first, before self and their marriage. It greatly concerns me to see how the ranks of these believers have swollen in recent years. For a few years now I have heard or read about them challenging nonbelievers to get on board with their truth that children are more important than their spouses. Some will go so far as to say, "My children are my life!"  To those who hold such beliefs I say, "Thank you! I feel secure knowing I will always have a job." 

Putting children before marriage in a family is a mistake. I do not mean that a spouse or a couple never decide in favor of children and never sacrifice for them, but to do it most of the time or almost all of the time is the mistake to which I refer. It can happen as the result of an unsatisfying, unfulfilling marriage where closeness and need-meeting in the primary family relationship is given up on or avoided and then created with one or more children who become central in their thoughts, feelings and actions. Sometimes a person simply believes children are more important than a marital partner, but this is not supported in Scripture. Actually, the marriage is the priority. It is the first relationship and first commitment made in any family, and Revelation chapters 19 through 21 no longer refer to us, the saints, as God's children, but as His bride who is wedded to Jesus. 

Consider the consequences of placing children ahead of a marriage relationship. In such a situation a marriage takes a backseat and couples feel it. Most couples want to know and experience being number one in the eyes of their partner; that is, after their relationship to God. Ultimately, this position of putting children before a spouse guarantees marital distance and staleness. The marriage won't likely grow and the commit to marital vows of placing and keeping one's partner first before "all others" is lost in favor of a subsequent commitment to children. It can also lead to one or both being vulnerable to a surprising temptation when they suddenly discover they have emotional or romantic feelings or thoughts for someone another than their marriage partner. The only situation in which I have heard a couple say they have a great relationship, having put their children before their marriage, is when they both want it that way. Yet, with these couples their relationship seems quite removed from one that is alive and rich.

Further consequences of prioritizing children over marriage is seen in the lives of the children themselves. We know humans are oriented toward being self-centered from birth and it is easily verifiable in observing children. Parents' responsibility is to educate their children about being thoughtful, generous, cooperative, empathetic, and the like. But what children learn from "children are first parents" is the validation that "I am the most important person in this family." Because they believe "the world revolves around me" they are easily led to develop a sense of entitlement, not only in the family, but in the world, at school and with a sugar-daddy government.  No good parent wants their children to believe that and suffer the pain of such a dependent producing and destructive idea. Add to that children's difficulty in coping with disappointment, depression, anxiety and anger when life doesn't go their way, especially after being taught it should, just like mom and/or dad erroneously modeled for them.

On the converse side is the great benefit children derive when they see parents who are happy and loving each other and who know they cannot come between them to divert their love to themselves and frustrate the marriage. But that many will try, repeatedly. Listen to comments from kids about how gross it is when parents kiss, but don't miss the smiles it brings to their faces. Children, especially today amid many divorces, need the sure security of observing healthy marriages and their parents' commitment and love for their mother and father.   

Spiritually and psychologically, marriage is the backbone of a family. If one's marriage is going well, chances are good that the family is also going well. After all, what family can function well if the marriage is dysfunctional or falling apart? 


How might you be communicating to your spouse and your children that the parent-child relationship is the most important one in the family? How is that impacting your children, your marriage and you?  

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