Thursday, September 18, 2008

Marriage-centered or child-centered?

This question seems to come up often for new parents. I've heard variations of it several times, and usually, the correct answer is supposed to be "marriage-centered". After all, at some point your children will leave the house, and if your marriage isn't strong, then you will be left with nothing. The small minority that chooses "child-centered" usually defends that by saying that their spouses are mature adults whereas the children, particularly babies, are helpless and need us more.

In my opinion, the question is all wrong. I think it is based on the adversarial view that Ezzo and some others have where the mom must choose between her husband or her children, as if one or the other is the enemy. What a horrible outlook!

We are family-centered. All of us are on the same team. It isn't a power struggle where someone has to win at the expense of others. We all have important needs (and emotional needs are valid for everyone), and we want to work together to see that those get met.

For our family, the correct answer is really "Christ-centered". How are we called to show His love to our family? If we are really "Jesus with skin on" to our family members, what does that look like? How do you balance "laying your life down" for others, and "loving others as yourself" (which must mean that we should love ourselves and treat ourselves well, too, or else it wouldn't be worth anything to love others that way)?

Obviously, we are still figuring out the minute-by-minute application of this. It is particularly hard when there doesn't seem to be enough time or energy to meet everyone's needs. Most of the time, though, those moments are the ones where God is giving us two special opportunities: 1, to tap into His awesome creativity and look beyond the obvious. Our kids are good at helping with this when we ask them to brainstorm with us. I'm also finding that Carlos and I each have a unique way of looking at things, and that this is good, because we can complement each other. 2, it is an important reminder that no person can fulfill all the needs of another. Ultimately, only God can do that. We can't make anyone happy. If we make ourselves responsible for that we are just asking for frustration and resentment when our best efforts somehow fail and the other person is unhappy anyway.

Ariana is the one in our family who is quick to take on the burdens of others. Last night, Joel was cranky and threw his flashlight out of bed because it was green and he wanted it to be blue. Then he began to cry because he wanted it. Carlos and I figured that since he chose to throw it, it could just stay there unless he wanted to get it himself. Ariana began to cry and got it for him. He threw it again (it was still green). She was so sad that she wasn't able to "fix it". Carlos began to stroke Joel's hair, which he loves, and he was comforted and quickly fell asleep, and Ariana snuggled Elena, who happily received the extra cuddles. But sometimes we aren't enough.

Our marriage needs time and attention. So do our kids. (As an aside, I HATE the phrase "S/He's just doing it for attention." If the need for attention is so great that they are willing to risk our anger, maybe they just aren't getting enough). We need time and attention for ourselves, too. It isn't a competition between our marriage and our kids, where one will "lose". We need to shift our thinking. It is just a series of chances to practice love for each other and ourselves with creativity.

I know, I'm simplifying. When I write these things, it is because *I* need to be reminded of it, not because I believe others are in great need of my wisdom. ;) I screw up daily, but I need ideals to reach for. After all, "Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it. Yet."

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