Having children is a shock to the system. There’s no denying it. We look back on life pre-children and wonder what on earth we did with all our time. How did we ever feel busy when we didn’t have children?
Of course that’s a simplistic way of viewing it, but there’s a lot of truth in it.
For many people and (crucially for today’s topic) many marriages – crisis ensues when children step on to the stage.
It’s ironic really. Children are so often the focus of so many prayers, hopes and desires, and yet when they come along life can get really difficult. The potent mix of sleep deprivation, altered routines, new levels of noise and a sense of changed identity can impact our marriages in ways that haven’t previously been experienced.
This kind of crisis can be serious for our marriages, which can have a huge impact on how we point our children to the gospel, as our introductory post pointed out.
So all we wanted to do in this post is suggest three things that might be useful to you when you face the ‘crisis of children’.
Keep a running conversation
Both of you – Mum and Dad – will be experiencing a range of emotions when a child enters your family. Joy, wonder, anxiety, frustration, impatience and anticipation, to name just a few.
Talk about them.
God has placed this child in your family. He wants you to lovingly nurture them and point them to him.
But this new dynamic doesn’t mean that your marriage is not important. No, it’s as important as ever – perhaps even more so. With all the competing emotions and demands on your time, you might find it easy to put the brakes on investing in your marriage, but don’t! Now, more than ever you need to keep investing. And a crucial element of this is… talking. It’s simple, but so important.
Talk about how you’re feeling. Talk about the new things you’ve seen in your spouse since they’ve become a parent, and how you admire, respect and love them all the more for it. Talk about stresses and strains. Talk about how things have changed, and what life is going to look like going forward.
Listen really well. Remember that your spouse is going through as many changes as you right now. Listen to them. Try to understand them. Ask questions to help you listen even better. Do all of this even when you’re tired, because it matters.
And when you’re working through all of this, make sure you do our second suggestion too:
Pray for your spouse. Pray with your spouse.
Your marriage matters, and keeping your marriage spiritually fresh is really important. It won’t necessarily be easy, but try to do it. Even if it’s only a 20 second prayer as you lie in bed at night, try to keep at it.
Don’t let your longed for children steal your spiritual intimacy. And if you never had that spiritual intimacy, now is a great time to start. It’s often at the times when we feel most at our wits end – most on the cusp of a break down or like we simply can’t do it anymore – it’s these times that we are often driven closer to God. So let that happen. And let that happen for you together. Let it strengthen your marriage, not weaken it.
We could say lots of things here about keeping perspective. It won’t last forever – they will sleep through eventually (or leave home!). They’re only a baby for a short time – you longed for it, try to treasure it.
And so on, and so on.
But that’s not what we mean by keep perspective. What we mean is this:
Your marriage is a God-ordained one flesh union for life. Remember that, and protect it. Your children have sprung from that union, but don’t let them drive it apart.
One way that they could drive it apart is by becoming an idol. It happens so easily. You’ve dreamed about having children for so long. They’re so small and vulnerable and dependent. You have so many happy hormones surging around. They can quickly supplant all else in your affections, including your spouse and even God.
Don’t let them do that. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Love him more than anything. Obey his command to not let them drive your marriage apart (Matt 19:4-6), and don’t be fooled into loving them more than Jesus (Matt 10:37). In the end, it’s more loving to them to love them in their proper place (see our blog post on loving your child by loving them less for more reflections on this).
One of the key things God has given you to help you keep perspective, is church. He’s given you that community to point you back to himself, to remind you of the gospel and to love and care for you.
So even if you’ve not washed your hair all week, you smell of baby sick and you have a slightly crazed look in your eyes… try to make it to church. People will understand. And even if they don’t, don’t let that put you off. Because keeping perspective on the gospel will help you to perservere through this wonderful but tricky time, and keeping perspective on the gospel with your spouse will help you together have your eyes fixed on the right thing, and that can only be good for your marriage.
So there we have it. There’s no magic formula in this post, and no rocket science. But we do believe marriage matters, so do what you can to protect it during the crisis of children.