I was sitting with our group of teens at church this week and it occurred to me how many of them have commented on our marriage at some point. Most remarks have been in the ‘perfect couple’ category. Meanwhile, they have no idea that we may have just battled it out all the way to church! I have mentored girls for years and my husband has mentored guys, yet I’m not sure if we’ve given enough thought as to what our marriage says to the young people in our lives.
Recent studies I have read estimate that 50% of all kids in America will experience the divorce of their parents, with another half of them witnessing a second divorce of one or more parent. 40% of kids are growing up without a dad in the picture. Even if kids haven’t personally experienced divorce in their family, they are observant enough to be effected by the trends.
I knew a pastor who coined a favorite phrase of ours; he’d say, “Young people – it works if you work at it!” This is the wisdom that I want to display to all of the young people in my path, whether they are my own kids or someone else’s. While airing our personal struggles can be vastly inappropriate, we must not overcompensate by putting up a facade of perfection. Sure, most kids and teens are a ways away from marriage, but there are some realities we can help them to understand early.
1. There is no PERFECT match. With a young daughter of my own now, I am very skeptical of overplaying the ‘knight in shining armor’ fairy tales. Make no mistake, she knows she is daddy’s princess and I am his queen, but she also knows that ‘happily ever after’ does not mean problem free. We must help young girls understand that while God may ordain a match for them, that man will still be sinful. Perhaps even more important, no matter how much he loves her, he will notice her sinful imperfections too! We must approach marriage understanding how much we need God’s grace, not man’s attempts for perfection.
2. There is no such thing as ‘fair’. The give-and-take of marriage is never 50/50. There will be seasons of life where you are giving 95 and waiting patiently to receive your 5! As I serve my kids and mentor those around me, I must be careful not to foster an attitude of self-centeredness. As I serve the young people in my life, I can encourage them to serve others. This way, they experience giving as well as receiving. Kids who are catered to in excess often grow up with attitudes of entitlement that make putting someone else first an overwhelmingly difficult quest in adulthood. Simple measures like unpaid chores, community service, and letting go of ‘me first’ can help teach how to consider others before yourself.
3. Conflict is not the end of the world. While I do not believe that my kids, or anyone else’s kids, should be privy to my marital disputes, it is okay that they know we have them. It is important that personal matters are kept between a husband and wife, and that conflict is private enough that kids never feel compelled to take sides. However, it is sometimes helpful to explain to kids that living together can be stressful at times and sometimes conflict needs to be resolved. We work out our differences because we love each other. Any kid with siblings can understand that fighting doesn’t mean loss of love. They just might need a little coaching to get it.
4. Marriage is a bold commitment. My husband has said to me many times, "You can leave me, but I'm coming with you!" We should not speak of marriage as an insecurity, but as the commitment that it is. I have pledged my life to someone - forever. That's the whole point of marriage. Speaking of that confidently will help foster a healthier view of marriage as an institution.
5. Marriage is a spiritual journey. I believe this is the greatest oversight that we have failed to teach regarding marriage. Marriage is given to us as a picture of God’s love for his people. We can never fully understand the dynamics of marriage without understanding our relationship with our Savior. The New Testament is filled with these parallels. If we want to see young people who have the ability to persevere in marriage, we must first teach them to persevere in their walk with the Lord. It is Christ who teaches us the meaning of love, service, and unending Grace. As we openly model our walk with God, we can share the wisdom that His Word offers and how it strengthens every relationship we have.
- Kathleen Bryan