The Tolls Parenting Takes on a Marriage



We are getting further and further removed from the crazy days of intense, hands-on parenting.  Before the memories fade, I need to spend some more time on this topic, as I know that some of you are right in the thick of it.

I write on this topic not because we did it all right.  Mostly, because we could have done it so much better.  Most parents can admit to this.  However in our case, we knew better.

At 35 and 39 we had our first child.  Eighteen months later we had #2 and #3– yes, twins.  Before our third anniversary we were parents of 3 babies.  Three cribs, three sets of diapers, three baths.  When people shake their head and ask, “how do you do it?”  or “how did you survive?”  SJ will joke, “we did it once, and then two  more times.”  He also will say, “I’m glad we have videos and pictures, because otherwise it was all a blur.” And yes, we were perpetually exhausted.

Three before the third anniversary put an understandably huge strain on our new marriage.  I need to say, my children couldn’t have had a finer father.  But in the trenches, we didn’t do so well as partners. Marriage got placed on the back burner.

I said we knew better.  Not only had we watched most of our friends start families a decade or more earlier, we had some great parenting helps.  We followed a Christian parenting program and ended up teaching the classes for years.  We credit most of our early sanity to the practical advice we got, which had all three babies sleeping through the night by about 8 weeks.  We learned that God is not a God of chaos but of order.  We had a lot of structure
and order in our home, and even when it felt insanely chaotic, we knew it was better than it could be.  By the time ours hit the preschool and elementary years, we were enthusiastically teaching a 17-week class on parenting which devoted at least 50 percent to describing the importance of the husband-wife relationship, and avoiding the snare of making children the center of the universe.  Almost all parenting fails could be attributed to the poor state of the most important and foundational husband-wife relationship.

This is where, in my humble opinion, we could have done so much better.

To the outside world, we seemed successful in raising children who would not only be a blessing to us, but to others.  Not to say we had perfect kids!  But our expectations of them to consider and respect others, and behave well was noticed.  To this day, teachers and counselors say incredibly nice things about our kids, and we feel quite proud of them and satisfied/grateful we did some things right.  Now young adults, we affirm that God blessed us with amazing kids.  I know our hearts were in the right place, and for that I think God redeemed our efforts in spite of our often ignoring his BEST plan for families. It remains to be seen whether our kids go on to have a healthier relationship with spouses than they saw for most of their formative years.

What did our kids see?  They saw two people who loved them madly, who wanted the best for them, who were very involved in their lives… who often didn’t operate as a team, or even as if they respected and loved each other.

Within the walls of our home it was quite another story.  Contrary to what we learned and taught about the husband-wife relationship, we didn’t make it a priority.  We focused in on our kids and nearly abandoned each other.  We were not as like-minded on parenting as we had hoped, and it was a constant source of stress and frustration for us (I was strict, he was less so–oh that we could have used those two traits to bring balance rather than discord!).  Before we knew it, we’d done the very thing we knew we shouldn’t.

We made our children the center of our universe. 

Not that they were spoiled brats.  They just knew they had our full, undivided attention, 24/7. As one counselor pointed out to us, after having spent hours listening to us bicker about the kids and parenting fails, was that our kids had been our escape from the marriage.

And, wise little beings that children are, they know how to play parents against each other; they know how to divide and conquer. They don’t do this with the purpose of dividing their parents; they just can’t help their innate selfish nature to get what they want when they want it, at almost all costs (a side note to all parents: to serve their purposes, children will attempt to divide and conquer any adults in their life, namely teacher and parents).

When I look back now, we had a deplorable lack of trust in God’s role and leading in our family.  Oh, we were diligent in “training up a child in the way he/she should go.” We prayed with our children, mostly before meals and at bedtime (something I grew up with; SJ did not, so I was so grateful he was willing to adopt this new practice in his family).  They were sent off to Sunday School.  Baptized and Confirmed.  Active in the life of our church.  Involved with youth ministry and missions.  We tried to practice  Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (which follows the Shema):

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

We thought we were DOING all we should.  However we were not BEING all we needed to be: a husband and wife submitted to God’s will, devoted to one another above all else, EVEN our children.

The image of a God-honoring family that has so stuck with me is the members of the family holding hands in a circle.  The children are not in the center of the circle; God is!  We all too often make our children into little gods.

Mistake number one: instead of inviting God in, and going to him during our tough parenting and marriage times, we gritted through them on our own.  SJ and I almost never prayed together about our marriage, our parenting, or our kids.

Mistake number two: we stopped preferring one another, and we ceased putting our husband-wife relationship as number one.  We allowed ourselves to get caught up into the tsunami of parenting, and in the process our love, passion, and respect for one another were drowning.

Mistake number three: (and I own this one) I was not surrendered to my husband, or recognizing him as Head of our Household (HOH).  I was controlling, second-guessing, superior, and disrespectful of his authority.  I was in “parenting competition” with him.  And I was palpably miserable in my rebellion against being a properly submitted wife.

Children need to see parents actively loving and respecting each other.  They need to see that Dad considers Mom as the love of his life.  They need to see that Mom respects and honors Dad.  They need to know that Mom and Dad prefer one another– from the inviolable closed bedroom door to the weekly date night; from the warm hugs and kisses and the sweet-sounding words of encouragement, appreciation, and praise; from a wife and help-meet living in loving submission to her leader-husband. When children witness a loving, honoring and Biblical relationship between their parents, they can calm down and just be children.  When they know that they are part of a God-covenanted, bigger relationship that preceded them, they can settle into their proper place in that family unit– not as the center but as a cherished member. In loving our spouse, we will never run out of love for our children.

Parents who don’t work at staying connected as husband and wife, and who do not seek God in all things, cannot provide an optimal environment for their children.  We can make a best effort to do it all on our own power, but it will be so much less than if we have God’s plan of order in place in the family.

God first.  Husband-Wife relationship second; children next.

A Few Quick Suggestions for Parents:

  • Pray together daily and seek God’s direction: for your marriage, for each other, for your parenting, and your children.
  • Husband leads family prayer and devotion time; children and wife gain confidence that HOH is seeking guidance from God.
  • Institute a weekly date night/time together for renewal (more ideas on that later).
  • Teach your children that within your home, “Dad and Mom time” is inviolable.  Whether it is respecting a closed bedroom door, or not interrupting when Dad and Mom need time together. 
  • Wives, although you may suggest parenting decisions to your husband (or give additional practical “extra information”), before your children support your husband’s headship.  He loves them every bit as much as you do; he is accountable to God; TRUST HIM!  The best thing you can do is have your kids look to their Dad for direction; Dad may choose to delegate certain parenting authorities to Mom.
  • Support one another’s parenting authority, and do not undermine it in front of your kids.
  • Demonstrate that you prefer each other through daily actions and words. 





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