Family: Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
Recently I have read and heard several discussions about prioritizing love for spouse or love for children. Should we prioritize spouse or children? Is family focused around marriage or parenting? Do we create a “kid-centered family” or a “marriage-centered family?” Those siding with the parenting-focused, “kid-centered family” emphasize that we only have our children at home for a short time and they need to know how much we love them. Knowing we love them will make them more secure and confident, not only as children but as adults. Those focusing on a “marriage-centered family” stood on the principle that a strong marriage is the greatest gift you can give your children. A strong marriage creates a sense of security and stability for the children. Family is built upon a strong marital relationship.
Ultimately, both sides make good points. However, I believe the whole debate focuses on the wrong questions. We live in a world of specialization. Doctors specialize, engineers specialize, dentists specialize, ministers specialize, and teachers specialize. Our children go to college to specialize in their career. That works out great in society. I don’t want my dentist prescribing my glasses or a psychologist teaching my children accounting. This idea of specialization has crept into the family. However, specialization does not work well in the family. The family is greater than the mere sum of its parts. God did not create us to specialize within the family, to focus on various parts of family. He created the family to reflect His character. When you think of God, what “parts of family” comes to mind? What specialized role does He play? He is the Father (Romans 8:15, 1 John 3:1-2) who adopts us, makes us His children, and disciplines us to help us grow. But, He comforts us like a mother comforting her child (Isaiah 66:12-13). In Jesus Christ, God becomes our Husband or Bridegroom (Ephesians 5:25-33) yet we are also “fellow heirs” with Him as our Sibling, a “fellow child” of God (Romans 8:16-17). Within the Trinity, God is Spouse, Parent, Child, and Sibling. He does not specialize in a single role within the family–He focuses on the whole family. In every role He fills, He encourages and lifts up other members of the “family.” As the Father, He glorifies the Son…as a Child, He glorifies the Father…as a Spouse, He sacrifices His very life for His Bride…as a Sibling, He raises us up to fellow heirs with Him.
If we want to carry out the image of God within our families, we will strive to become the same type of “renaissance-family-member” He portrays. Like God, men will become good fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers. Women will become comforting mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. We will no longer ask whether the role of spouse or parent takes highest priority. Instead, we will ask, “How we can become a family in which each member honors, encourages, and comforts the other members?” As we answer that question, we will discover that we become better parents as our marital relationship grows stronger and our marriages become stronger as we parent together. Women will become more confident in themselves and their parenting as their husband becomes more supportive and involved. Husbands will become more involved with children in relation to the support of a loving wife. Spouses will compliment one another and bring out the best in one another when parenting from within a loving relationship. Our marital relationship will grow as we parent together. Many experts focus on the drift and strain that can occur in a marriage as children are born. However, marriages can become stronger as spouses negotiate and work together for the common goal of raising healthy, mature children. Partners grow more appreciative of one another as they observe the sacrifices made in order to help in the parenting process. Women, in particular, grow more attracted to their husband when he remains actively involved with her children. Men become more admiring of their wife as she manages the multiple tasks involved in parenting.
Marriage grows stronger through parenting. Parenting becomes more effective as we parent within the bounds of a growing marriage. Parenting and marriage are not specializations we assume during different times of our life, but merely parts of a whole that we call family. And, family is greater than the sum of parenting and marriage. Both remain important, but neither rises above the priority of family. Let’s take the family back from the culture of specialization and focus on the family as a whole, not a collection of parts.