Sunday, October 12, 2008

Restoring the Center (Part Two)

Back in August I wrote concerning the problem of risky behavior amongst the youth of our community. At the root of the problem, I posited, lay the breakdown of the traditional family consisting of a husband and a wife (one man and one woman united for life) at the center with children as orbiting satellites. This breakdown has resulted in a fundamental restructuring of the family where the children have become the nucleus and the parents the satellites, with Husband (father) and Wife (mother) existing in entirely separate and increasingly distanced orbits.

This time I intend to focus upon the traditional nucleus – Husband and Wife, mom & dad, the marriage covenant. After God created man and woman He established marriage: And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:22-24. God instituted marriage that a man and a woman could share a one flesh union by each giving of themselves wholly, completely, and unconditionally to the other, thus mirroring God’s selfless and sacrificial love for humanity. God blessed marriage that it should be fruitful and life-giving, evidenced most completely in the birthing and rearing of children. But first comes marriage. And the one flesh union of husband and wife is not to be broken, diminished, or superseded by the subsequent gift of children.

Yet this is exactly what has happened. Child / Family Psychologist John Rosemond often asks attendees at his lectures (typically parents of young children) the following question: Of the time you spent in your family during the past week, what percentage was spent in the role of father or mother versus the percentage you spent in the role of husband or wife? He recounts that “the typical distribution is 90 percent parent versus 10 percent spouse” which, Rosemond says, “is the empirical definition of a child-centered family. […] That’s simply not the way God planned it.” To place children above the marriage covenant is akin to placing the creation above the Creator (which is idolatry; see The First Commandment). A man is Husband before father; a woman is Wife before mother – A Husband and a Wife are one in each other, one flesh. Children simply are not a part of the Husband-Wife relationship. The family instituted by God is marriage-centered, where husband and wife “parent from within” their marriage.

The center, the nucleus, is what holds a family together. The one flesh union of husband and wife is the command center of a family. Husband and wife share a love-bond in Christ that provides the strength, the discipline, and the single-mindedness necessary to parent. Rosemond summarizes, “For a family to work according to God’s design, the husband-wife relationship must be far more active than either parent’s relationship with any child. Husband and wife must be more involved with each other than either of them is with the children. Their lives must be centered on the bond of their marriage, not the children.”

“Nothing makes a child feel more insecure than the feeling that his parents’ marriage is tenuous, that it could fly apart at any second,” observes Rosemond. Rather, a strong marital bond is comforting to children. The consequences of an “inside-out, upside-down, and turned around backward family situation include,” says Rosemond:

· The children lack a model of what being truly married is all about. Therefore, when they grow up, they are likely to either avoid getting married (which more and more young people are doing) – running instead from one “fly by night” relationship to another – or enter into marriages for all the wrong reasons (e.g., sex, status, financial security, to legitimize children), in which case their marriages are likely to fail.

· The children develop a sense of entitlement as regards the disproportionate amount of attention and material things they receive from their parents. They become ever more demanding, disrespectful, petulant, and even outraged at the notion that they should actually lift a finger around the house. As adults, they are likely to bring this same expectation into relationships. Symptomatic of this is the self-centered answer many newly divorced young people give when asked what caused the divorce: “He/she wasn’t meeting my needs.”

· Because the parents are more concerned with having a relationship with than providing leadership to their children, the children do not receive adequate discipline. Behavioral problems develop, almost always involving one or more of the “three Big Ds”: disobedience, disruptiveness, and disrespect. Quite often, however, these parents have their heads so buried in the sands of a fourth “D” – denial – that they do not even see that their children are undisciplined. They think they’re “just being children” while other adults generally think they’re obnoxious.

· When the normal time for emancipation rolls around, the children do not have permission to leave home. Quite simply, a child cannot emancipate him- or her- self easily from the center of the family universe. The center is too cozy. Who would want to leave? Besides, the child in this situation knows that for as long as he can remember, he has been the glue holding his parents together (in psychological terms, this is called codependency). If he leaves, he knows they are likely to divorce.

Being marriage-centered is as important to the healthy rearing of children as being Christ-centered is to a healthy marriage. It is with the love of Christ that a husband and wife love each other; it is with the love of Christ that a husband and wife can be successful parents. This is because God has a blueprint for our lives, an order. The world denies this vehemently, the secular media says that you are ignorant, foolish, and uneducated to believe such, but it is nevertheless the truth. Rosemond states, “If you depart from God’s plan in any area of your life, you will experience more (and more seious) problems than you would have encountered otherwise.” And what Christian family, struggling to be faithful, has not experienced this truth? Further, Rosemond states, “If you adhere to God’s plan in your life, you will still experience sadness, pain, frustration, and heartache (since the Fall, there is no escaping this tribulation), but you will endure and you will eventually come out on top.”

One of the purposes for which God instituted marriage is so that through this covenantal relationship humanity might come to know better their God and the kind of relationship He wants to have with the pinnacle of His creation. The selfless and sacrificial love husband and wife have for each other is to mirror the selfless and sacrificial love of God for humanity. Likewise, the bearing and rearing of children is nothing less than a participation in the ongoing creative activity of God, bringing life and increasing love. Husbands and wives in a one flesh union also mirror their Creator in bringing forth new life. As humanity, the creation, is not above God, the Creator, so children are not above their parents, the marriage unit, one flesh, that is husband and wife.

All of the John Rosemond quotes above are taken from his latest book Parenting by The Book: Biblical wisdom for Raising Your Child (ISBN 1-4165-4484-4). I cannot recommend this book too highly. It is simply fabulous! I encourage you to read it.

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