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Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

Marital Discord: How Passive Aggression Hurts Children


Studies show that kids are sensitive to quiet marital resentment—not just all-out shouting matches.

Couples can communicate anger in all kinds of nonverbal ways: giving each other dirty looks or the silent treatment, for example. And while it’s widely understood that heated arguments and shouting matches in front of the kids are a bad idea, research suggests that, for kids, nonverbal conflict can be just as upsetting as verbal conflict.“Children are like emotional geiger counters,” said E. Mark Cummings, a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame who has conducted extensive studies on the effects of marital discord on kids for more than 20 years. Children, he explained, are incredibly attuned to parents’ emotional communication with each other; they’re keenly aware that, for their parents, nonverbal expression is key to communicating feelings.

For many couples, holding onto a grudge—smoldering but not letting a disagreement erupt into a fighting match—may seem like the best way to deal with a conflict. But research shows this kind of discord can significantly interfere with a child’s behavior and sense of emotional security. When exposed to prolonged unresolved conflict, kids are more likely to get into fights with their peers at school and show signs of distress, anger, and hostility. They may also have trouble sleeping at night, which can undermine their academic performance. In fact, according to various studies that measured children’s emotional responses to interparental hostility, disengagement and uncooperative discord between couples has shown to increase a child’s risk of psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, and aggression.

The findings also revealed that preschoolers coping with intense levels of family conflict struggled emotionally—so much so that they had physiological reactions such as elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Kids may also be forced to mediate and negotiate parental conflicts.To analyze some of these effects, researchers for one of the studies collected datafrom 232 families, using several methods to examine how parental conflict affected children. They brought parents into the laboratory and recorded videotapes of them discussing difficult topics, subsequently showing the recordings to their children and noting their emotional responses. The evidence indicated that nonverbal hostility—like dirty looks, sulking, or refusing to answer one’s partner—was just as upsetting to kids as watching their parents verbally fight or lash out at each other. “It’s not a simple matter of what they see visibly—I think people underestimate the sensitivity of kids to their environments,” Cummings said.

In another experiment, parents were asked to maintain diaries at home in which they kept track of conflicts that happened both in front of their kids and behind closed doors. Children, the researchers concluded, understand when things are happening outside of their view. In other words, children are sophisticated analysts: They can tell whether parents are only pretending to resolve their problems as opposed to actually solving them. These fascinating studies raise questions about traditional parenting assumptions.

In their book Marital Conflict and Children, Cummings and the University of Rochester psychology professor Patrick T. Davies detail the many different kinds of harmful tactics couples use when they’re angry with one another which undermines the family’s stability. A partner who uses avoidance, for example, will walk away during an argument or “give in” while letting her anger simmer. These strategies can create a negative family environment that may end up having a cumulative effect on the child’s overall adjustment. The book makes a powerful case for rethinking parental tactics for managing anger: It’s not just about what parents say to each other verbally—it’s about how they react to one another on a daily basis.

It’s understandable that parents would only associate “marital discord” with hostile language and openly fighting in front of the kids, but according to Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist in California, “marital resentment creates a greater likelihood for a child to blame herself for the problems.”

She noted in an email that a child who witnesses this kind of behavior learns to repeat it in future relationships as she enters adolescence and adulthood. Durvasula’s observations echoes another study from earlier this year, which found that when such conflicts occur in kindergarten, that child is also more likely to have coping difficulties into her teens. From the perspective of psychologists, there’s a whole cascade of psychological problems that can develop over time from ongoing exposure to unresolved discord, such as heightened emotional insecurity and maladjustment.

Still, some researchers have also concluded that children actually benefit from seeing parents deal with conflict—at least when it’s handled well through problem solving and compromise. Although conflict is necessary for healthy marital functioning, when it comes to their children, the critical distinction is whether it’s constructive or destructive.“People don’t handle things poorly on purpose,” Cummings said. “They think they’re doing the right thing, but there [are] actually ways to do it that can be good and not so good for their kids. … The good news found over and over again in the research is that if partners work together toward a resolution and kids see that positive emotionality, it wipes away the negative impact.”

Of course, resolution alone can’t salvage every marriage, but there are resources available that can help couples better navigate their relationship and set a good example for their children. In the book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, for example, the authors, John F. Gottman and Nan Silver, note that couples who exercise emotional intelligence and embrace each other’s needs rather than constantly disagreeing with and resisting each other are far more likely to transmit this skill on to their kids. This factor, according to the book, also plays as an important predictor of a child’s success later in life: A child who is more in touch with feelings and is able to get along with others has a brighter future, whatever her academic IQ.

Cummings and his team are currently developing an intervention program that can help teach parents how to handle discord better. In one of their more recent studies, published last year in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, the researchers found a cyclical educational program comprised of four sessions to be effective in improving conflict-resolution. The focus of the program is teaching parents to distinguish between constructive and destructive conflict and emphasizing the use of communication tactics to resolve disagreements.

“Resolution is like a wonder drug,” Cummings said. “Children don’t benefit from parents not saying what they feel when they clearly don’t feel good about something. Kids pick up on it, whether it’s in front of them or behind closed doors.”


Your Family Voyage: Family Rules

SOURCE:  Excerpted from the book by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Rules and More Rules.  No human response is absurd regardless of how ridiculous it appears.  Each person’s behavior, decisions, and reactions emerge from a context of some sort.  This frame of reference, if it is understood can shine a spotlight into a dark area that is otherwise baffling.  In essence, family rules are the way family values are passed on from one generation to another.  Through rules, a family communicates its expectations for family members as well as for those outside the family.  Rules tell us what is acceptable and unacceptable, proper and improper, good and bad.  Family rules communicate expectations about how people are to relate to one another, how the different generations are to interact, and what is expected of each individual.

In the same way that family roles give each member a place to “fit” into the family identity, family rules tell each member how to play his or her part.  Some rules are very clear and understandable; some are extremely clouded and confusing.  Since families have expectations about everything they do, they also have rules about everything they do.

“Written rules” – expectations that have been communicated directly in some way.  Written rules give structure and stability to family life.  They include things such as table manners, curfews and chores.

  • “Finish your dinner or no dessert.”
  • “Do your homework before you go out to play.”
  • “Bedtime is ten o’clock.”

Unwritten rules are quite another story.  These rules consistently influence behavior within the family but have never been directly stated.  These unspoken expectations are not open for discussion or evaluation, generally because no one is consciously aware of them.

Families have unwritten rules about all kinds of things.  The most readily visible rules are those regarding emotional tension.  If the children misbehave or cause distraction whenever the parents argue, they are communicating the rule “Parents can’t fight”.  If parents take over a task or job for a child whenever he or she complains or experiences difficulty, then the rule may be “Children can’t be frustrated”.  If family members act differently around a particular parent, treating them “with kid gloves”, the rule may be “Mom (or Dad) must not get angry.  Because unwritten rules are not verbalized, family members may often be unaware they exist.

Family rules accomplish several purposes.  For one, they serve to regulate tension within the family.  Too much tension or conflict within a home makes family life chaotic, unsettled, and insecure; too little tension results in stagnation and indifference.

Another purpose served by family rules is that of defining the family’s identity.  They give the family a sense of uniqueness.

A third purpose is that rules lend stability and predictability to family life.

The good news about family rules is that they help make family life stable and predictable.  The bad news is that family rules can keep family members from growing, maturing, and changing.  This is especially true for rules that limit communication or emotional closeness.  It is also true for rules that are arbitrary and overly rigid.

Some rules help us prepare for and live in the adult world.  Other unwritten rules apply only to life within the family, and they often distort our perspective of life.  As adults we continue to be loyal to these rules until we consciously change them.

The most influential rules in our families are the unwritten ones – those based on assumptions.  It is usually easier to identify unwritten family rules in someone else’s family than in your own.  Unwritten rules are generally enforced through rejection by parents and family members.  Controlling children through rejection can be done with direct statements:

  • “Mommy doesn’t love you when you act like that.”
  • “You are an awful child when you do that.”
  • “If you act (talk, feel) like that, you’re no child of mine.”

Rejection and control can also be expressed indirectly:

  • “I won’t talk to you when you’re crying (angry, depressed).”
  • “Go to your room if you feel that way.”
  • “I won’t be around you when you’re like that.”

The common factor in both expressions of rejection is the underlying message:  “You will be loved and considered worthy only if you perform properly.”  Behavior is not separated from the individual.  Bad behavior equals a bad person.  The result is a sense of shame and fear of abandonment.

An alternative message would be:  “I love you regardless of what you do, but there are negative consequences for your inappropriate behavior.”  In this case parental love and acceptance are not withheld and consequences for behavior are separated from the child as a person.

To a young child, the threat of rejection or abandonment is a powerful motivator.  Physically dependent on parents and authority figures, children have a strong need to please them.  Something as subtle as a facial gesture, the refusal of a hug, or silence can elicit fear and shame in a young child.  When the threat of rejection is used regularly and consistently in a child’s life, that child becomes sensitized to rejection.  He or she develops a habit of avoiding rejection at all costs, which will carry over into adulthood long after the child becomes independent and no longer needs parents for physical survival.

Expressing Emotions.  For Ken to see his wife cry was an unnerving experience. Whenever she cried he felt a strong need to stop her and smooth things out somehow.  For Catherine, crying was a soothing release of tension.  She felt minimized and patronized when Ken would try to squelch her tears, and she interpreted his lack of observable emotion as apathy.  It was hard for her to feel she was important to him when he expressed no emotion.  It wasn’t until each began to understand the other’s family rules that their reactions began to change.

Most families have unwritten rules about the expression of various emotions.  The honest expression of feelings needs to be balanced with courtesy and respect for others.  Typically, the unwritten rules regarding expression revolve around “forbidden” emotions:

  • “It is wrong to make another person uncomfortable.  We do not confront one another.”
  • “We are a positive, joyful family.  No one may express negative emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, or hurt.”
  • “The women in our family are gentle.  They may not be angry, but they may be depressed.”
  • “The men in our family are strong.  They may not be fearful or hurt, but they may be angry.”
  • “We are a loving family.  We do not have conflict or disagree with one another.”

When genuine feelings are minimized, denied, or redefined, a child’s emotional experience becomes distorted.  Believing that anger or sadness is bad does not make it less real.  The child learns to distrust the senses and becomes confused – anger isn’t really anger; hurt isn’t really hurt.  When children experience a forbidden emotion, they feel guilty and ashamed as though they themselves are somehow “bad”.  They then deny the emotion to avoid the shame.

When emotions are denied consistently, as a way of life, they tend to come out “sideways”, in some form that does not violate the family rule.  Rules suppressing emotions often produce adults who may be convinced that they harbor no anger, but their depression, ulcers, or migraine headaches tell another story.

Family members learn to develop emotional distance.  When someone cannot or will not express strong feelings, other people have a hard time getting to know that person very well.  Families with restrictive rules governing honest emotional interaction are often communicating to one another that emotional stability is valued more highly than emotional closeness.

Many families have strict unwritten rules regarding standards of performance by family members.  Examples of these may be:

  • “Whatever you do, it must be done correctly.”
  • “There’s only one way to do things – the right way!”
  • “To fail in any way is a shameful thing.”

These rules are learned clearly and quickly through regular, consistent criticism and minimal affirmation.  Criticism may be communicated directly, through complaints and condemnation of what a child does or how the child acts, or indirectly, through disapproving frowns, silence, or regularly comparing the child to someone or something “better”.

The definition of what is “correct” or “perfect” may vary widely.  One family may define “correct” as being sociable.  Having many friends and no enemies would be correct in this family.  Conflict then would be a measure of failure.  Another family may define “correct” as remaining separate from “the world”.  In this family a very small circle of social contacts would be considered appropriate and positive.

One family might measure “correctness” in financial terms.  A nice home, new cars, and many possessions would spell success.  The absence of these things may be cause for criticism or pity.  Another family may define “correct” behavior as the absence of materialism.

The values behind these rules may be positive and appropriate, but all too often these underlying motivations get lost when conformity becomes more highly valued than individuality.  The performance of family members becomes more important than the people themselves.

Whatever the specifics within the family, the definition of “right”, “correct” or “perfect” is always dependent on a comparison.  To be defined, “perfect” must be contrasted with “imperfect”.  Because there must always be a “wrong” to avoid at all costs, there is a judgmental attitude or a “better than others” aspect to this rule.

Since being “wrong” results in shame and being “right” is merely expected, avoiding being wrong becomes more important than doing what is right.  Defensiveness, blame, justification, and rationalization are typical patterns in families with perfectionistic performance rules.

The long-term effect of these rules is two-fold.  First a child develops a mental image as to what he or she “should be” and strives constantly to achieve it.  Usually this ideal standard cannot be achieved, at least consistently.  As a result of this, the child becomes self-critical, discontent, and defensive – a perfectionist.  Second, the child learns to project expectations and perfectionism onto others.  Since others cannot fulfill the expectations, the child is disappointed and critical.  This child is demanding, condemning, nagging, and rejecting.  He or she feels hurt and in turn hurts others, alienating them and damaging close relationships.

Physical Expression of Affection.  Eric can’t remember ever seeing his parents touch each other.  He certainly felt loved and cared for as a child, but that love wasn’t expressed through hugs.  In his family, affection was expressed through giving gifts and other tangible ways, such as doing special favors.  His wife, Rosa, grew up with constant physical affection from her family.  Touching among family members was a natural part of any conversation.  Early in their marriage Eric and Rosa were each offended by the other’s approach to this dissimilarity.  She felt neglected, and he felt smothered.

The communication of affection is laden with family expectations.  In some families, physical touch is comfortable and somewhat threatening.  In other families, members feel rejected when a greeting isn’t accompanied with an embrace.  Rules regarding physical expression of affection vary widely.

  • “Women may hug one another, men may only shake hands.”
  • “Adults may hug children but never other adults.”
  • “Physical affection is private, never to be shown in public.”
  • “If you care for someone, you touch that person regularly.”

Learning to Disobey.  Jesus demonstrated the result of emotionally leaving his family patterns and replacing them with mature priorities and decisions.  The process of leaving rules learned in childhood behind is difficult and calls for discernment.  Family rules that are dysfunctional and unhealthy can usually be identified by two factors:  They have little or no relationship to life outside the family, and family members are not able to discuss or evaluate them.

Some of the unwritten rules from your family of origin are undoubtedly positive and helpful to you today.  As you begin to break away from inappropriate rules from your childhood, remember that the family is a system or a mobile.  Change in one person causes changes in others.  In one way or another people around you will be forced to adjust in response to your new reactions.

6 Arguments All Married Couples Have

SOURCE: Michael Fulwiler — The Gottman Institute

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lists the 6 most common areas of marital conflict. He explains that, “even in very happy and stable marriages, these issues are perennial.” We will touch on these six types of arguments, the task they each represent for a marriage, and offer practical advice for addressing the solvable disagreements they often trigger.

Remember that all couples argue, and that’s okay. We grow in our relationships by reconciling our differences. That’s how we become more loving people and truly experience the fruits of marriage.

1. Work Stress


The Task: Make your marriage a place of peace.

The Solution: Acknowledge that at the end of a long, stressful day you may need time to yourselves to decompress before interacting with each other. If you bring your work stress home, it will sabotage your marriage. Build time to unwind into your daily schedule. Once you’re both feeling relatively composed, it’s time to come together and talk about each other’s day.

2. In-Laws


The Task: Establish a sense of “we-ness,” or solidarity, between partners.

The Solution: Side with your spouse. Establish your own family rituals, values, and lifestyle and insist that in-laws respect them. An important part of putting your spouse first and building this sense of solidarity is not to tolerate any contempt toward your spouse from your parents.

3. Money


The Task: Balance the freedom and empowerment money represents with the security and trust it also symbolizes.

The Solution: What’s most important in terms of your marriage is that you work as a team on financial issues and that you express your concerns, needs, and dreams to each other before coming up with a plan. You’ll each need to be firm about items that you consider nonnegotiable. Itemize your current expenditures, manage your everyday finances, and plan your financial future. If you’re having trouble, see a financial planner.

4. Sex


The Task: Fundamental appreciation and acceptance of each other.

The Solution: Learn to talk to each other about sex in a way that lets you both feel safe. The goal of sex is to be closer, to have more fun, to feel satisfied, and to feel valued and accepted in this very tender area of your marriage. A major characteristic of couples who have a happy sex life is that they see lovemaking as an expression of intimacy but they don’t take any differences in their needs or desires personally.

5. Housework


The Task: Create a sense of fairness and teamwork.

The Solution: The simple truth is that men have to do more housework. Maybe this fact will spark a husband’s enthusiasm for domestic chores: Women find a man’s willingness to do housework extremely erotic. When the husband does his share to maintain the home, both he and his wife report a more satisfying sex life than in marriages where the wife believes her husband is not doing his share. However, the quantity of housework is not necessarily a determining factor in the housework = sex equation. Two other variables: whether the husband does his chores without being asked, and whether he is flexible in his duties in response to her needs.

6. A New Baby


The Task: Expand your sense of “we-ness” to include your children.

The Solution: In the first year after baby arrives, 67% of wives experience a precipitous plummet in their marital satisfaction. Lack of sleep, feeling overwhelmed and under appreciated, juggling mothering with a job, economic stress, and lack of time to oneself, among other things. Why do the other 33% sail through the transition unscathed? What separates these blissful mothers from the rest has everything to do with whether the husband experiences the transformation to parenthood along with his wife or gets left behind.

8 Ways to Be a Super Mom (Not Supermom)

SOURCE:   Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk/Family Life

There is no such thing as a superhero mother. Here’s how to stop trying to do it all and start learning to be you.

Supermom has super powers.

She is able not only to keep her home immaculate; she bakes and cooks from scratch all of the meals she sets before her family on the handcrafted table she whipped up over the weekend after seeing a DIY project on her Pinterest board.

Supermom is also a fantastic manager. She runs a tight ship. The home’s schedule runs like clockwork, and she makes certain her children are not tardy to anything. This woman could not only run a small country, she could probably do it in her sleep.

She is also a super wife. Although sometimes Supermom is super tired, she must put her fatigue on the back burner in order to be emotionally and physically available for her hubby.

Now I am certainly not trying to beat anyone up for this little phenomenon. We women are strong. Capable. Clever. Competent. Resourceful. But sometimes these strengths can transform into weakness because we don’t take into account one little thing that we women also have: Limitations.

If we don’t realize our limitations, we can soon find ourselves physically incapable of carrying out all that we have said yes to.  And we can find ourselves emotionally distraught.

There is no such thing as a superhero mother. No Supermom. But there are ways to still be a super mom—the best mom you can be for your particular children. Here are eight ways to stop trying to do it all and start learning to be you.

1.  Relax.  Stop stressing as you look around at what other mothers are doing and how many things they seem to be accomplishing. You don’t have to keep frantically racing to replicate someone else’s life. Instead, learn to seek and embrace the unique life God has for you at this age and stage of motherhood. So take a deep breath. Pause. Stop stressing. Quit running. Just relax.

2. Reevaluate.  Get alone with a notebook and sketch out your typical week. What commitments do you have inside your home? At work? At church or other civic organizations? Now go back over them and ask yourself if there are any you are participating in that really aren’t the best fit for your life right now. If you identify such activities, come up with a plan of action for how you will release yourself from these commitments in order to free more time for your family or for yourself.

3. Relinquish.  Let go of your desire to be everywhere at once. Accept the fact that you have limitations. That you cannot clone yourself and be two places at one time. The sooner you let go of the notion that you can have it all, all at once, the better. So relinquish.

4. Resolve.  When asked to take on a new responsibility outside your home, learn to ask yourself a few questions: Is this really my call? You should only be doing it to please God and because you feel that it is His plan for you right now.

5. Rest. Learn to build in periods of rest in your week. God’s pattern at creation was for us to take one day each week to cease working and really rest. Sometimes we are just as busy on the Sabbath as we are any other day of the week. Consider making Sundays a set-apart day to cease from any type of work and just focus on worship and rest.

6. Renew.  Renewal of your mind happens when you are involved in studying God’s Word both alone and with a group. If you can’t find a group to study with at your local church, consider joining our online Bible studies at Proverbs 31 Ministries ( There thousands of women gather together online to study God’s Word together and renew our minds.

Also renew your body. Make sure that you are taking time to eat healthy. Build in time to exercise and enjoy fresh air when you can. And be intentional to renew relationships that encourage and strengthen you and build you up in your mothering. We must constantly be renewed so we do not burn out.

7. Relate. Make sure that you have a sounding board of other people in your life who will help you to work through the various options and set your schedule accordingly. A trusted friend or two, along with your husband if you have one, can help you see where you are stretched too thin when you can’t seem to notice it. A mom should not be an island.

8. Revisit. Be sure to revisit your commitments at least once—if not twice—per year. Hold them up to the Lord. Ask Him if there is anything you currently have on your plate that you should remove.

Also ask your family. Enlist the opinions of your husband and children, if they are old enough, when it comes to how you are spending your time. Perhaps you can’t see that an outside commitment is stressing you and messing with family life, but perhaps others who live in your home will notice it. Be open to their feedback. Take their thoughts into account. Make adjustments as needed.

When we learn to hone in on our calling and clear our too-full plate, we can begin to focus on making beautiful music in our life. This includes how we spend our time both inside the home and with outside commitments.

We each have a song to strum. We do not need to simply copy the score others around us are following. As we take our concerns prayerfully to the Lord—along with our schedules—He will certainly help us to say “so long” to the striving to be Supermom and help us to discover how to mother in our own distinctive way.


Taken from Hoodwinked, copyright © 2015 by Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk.

Q&A: Am I Enabling Or Being Godly Wife?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: I would like to have you explain what “enabling” the emotionally abusive person means? The balance of walking the Christian walk, submitting to my husband but not enabling is a very difficult line to draw. I don’t feel I enable, and my husband is not physically or verbally abusive, but he is emotionally abusive, without knowing it, even though I have tried to raise his awareness of it. The Christians I confide in say that I am an enabler, but I do not like that term and I don’t feel I am. Can you clarify?

Answer: It’s difficult to hear people tell us something about ourselves we don’t believe is true. And, you’re right sometimes it is a fine line. It might be helpful for you to ask them what they see in you that make them think you enable your husband’s emotional abuse. But let me ask you to look for a few red flags that might indicate enabling behavior.

1. Do you ever lie, cover up, or make excuses for your husband’s emotionally abusive behaviors? You might believe you have a very good reason like you don’t want to embarrass him or disrespect him by calling it what it is, but right now, just be honest with yourself.

Sometimes we think that this is our duty or responsibility as a submissive wife or godly person to cover up sin, but I don’t believe God wants us to exchange the truth for a lie or call evil good.We can speak the truth with a gentle spirit and in love (with their best interests in mind).

The apostle Paul says that we are to having nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11). When abuse remains hidden and secret, it flourishes.

2. Do you do regularly change your behaviors, stuff your feelings, or guard what you say just to keep the peace, prevent an argument, or make him happy?

Again in any marriage there is a fair amount of give and take and at certain times for good reasons we might do any of the above. But when we are the one who is doing most of the accommodating or significantly changing who we are or stuffing how we feel then the relationship is unhealthy.

For example, perhaps your husband is insecure and jealous. For these reasons he does not want you to work, or go to Bible study, or even go to the mall without him. To accommodate such controlling demands actually enables his insecurity and jealousy to flourish, not to change and heal. That’s where the fine line between submission and enabling starts to blur. Do you submit to your husband’s demands to stay home all the time or it actually better and healthier for you, for him, and for your marriage to challenge them?

3. Are you doing things for your husband that he should be doing for himself?

Again in marriage, there are times spouses do extra and do favors for one another. But when you are the one doing the most of the work and your spouse is not sharing those responsibilities, you are enabling him to be selfish, lazy, and indifferent.

4. Are you taking the responsibility or blame for things that you are not responsible for. For example, when your husband loses his temper and says “if only you were more organized, or more submissive, or cooked better, or didn’t upset him” do you enable him to blame shift and make you responsible for his bad behaviors?

In each of these things, you cannot change your husband. You may be doing all you can and he still may be abusive. You can’t make him help you, or take responsibility for his own emotional outbursts, or be more secure and less threatened.

I don’t know your particular story or what your spouse is doing that you feel is emotionally abusive, but you can and must look at the part you play in enabling his behaviors to flourish and grow without protest or consequence.

Parenting: Who’s Running Things Around Here?

SOURCE:  Chris and Michelle Groff/Family Life Ministry

 The undeniable fact is that God expects parents to lead the family.

Aaron and Jennie wanted the best for their daughter Claire. They knew a good high school resume was important to get into a prestigious college. They also knew this didn’t just happen; it required years of preparatory work.

Over the years, they pushed Claire to excel in school and extracurricular activities—the ones she would need in order to be a “success.” Aaron and Jennie sacrificed a lot of time and energy to help Claire lay the groundwork for her future.

Early in her life, Claire sensed how important her achievements were to her parents. She wanted to make them proud of her. Whether it was her grades, sports, cheerleading, or clubs, she did it all and excelled at most. But sometimes she neglected more mundane responsibilities because she knew she could count on her parents to bend over backward to make sure she overachieved on the “important stuff.”

For example, when Claire rushed off to school and left her room in a mess, her mother would clean it up because she knew Claire would be exhausted when she came home. Claire’s back-to-back activities were often on different sides of town, so her parents took turns leaving work early to drive her from one to the other. When Claire remembered before a club meeting that she’d signed up to bring brownies, her mother would drop everything, go to the store, and make the brownies so Claire could work on her homework instead.

So who really was running Aaron and Jenny’s household? It was Claire.

Her needs came first, and her parents formed their schedule around hers. Her parents’ desire for success led them to sacrifice their time, money, and energy for the goals they had for Claire.

That may sound noble at first, but a closer look at the role of the central authority will show you how turning the hierarchy in the home upside down actually results in less growth and maturity, less preparedness for the world, and the possibility of a serious case of entitlement on the part of the children.

So what is a proper biblical authority structure for parents and children?

A hierarchy for healthy families

The undeniable fact is that God expects parents to lead the family. In fact, He spelled out a hierarchy designed for healthy family functioning: The husband is to be the loving, self-sacrificing head of the wife and kids. With this authority comes the most challenging task of all: to love his wife the way Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:23). Talk about a high calling!

Next, the wife is to be intimately involved in and consulted on family decisions. (See Ephesians 5:21 and 1 Peter 3:7.) Just because she is subject to the husband’s headship doesn’t mean she has no authority. In reality, lots of child-raising responsibilities are delegated to Mom, and Dad must support her in those tasks.

Finally, children are to obey their parents and learn from the loving, empathetic relationship that develops with them. (See Ephesians 6:1-4.) God designed the family in such a way that parents are to function as a team of true, loving, central authorities. This lays the foundation for everyone to fulfill his or her responsibilities to the family with love rather than selfishness or pride. (See Ephesians 5:21-6:4.)

Parents must learn the dynamics of exercising authority together. Intuitively, kids will learn to master the divide-and-conquer approach to dealing with authority. They will quickly recognize the weaknesses in the parental team and learn how to pit Mom against Dad when it works to their advantage.

For example, if Mom has a particular way of dealing with problems and Dad has another, the children will learn to choose which one is better for them as each individual situation crops up.  They can run to the rescuer to avoid consequences and to the dictator when they need a problem solved.

Kids are much more likely to learn how to solve problems and face consequences when their parents are united in their approach and fully supportive of each other.  These parents are able to provide clearer boundaries and a greater sense of security to their kids.

This may require parents to have team meetings from time to time in order to work together.  Ideally, you’ll discuss these difficult parenting issues in private so you can agree on boundaries and deliver effective consequences as a unit.  Even if you don’t have time to consult one another before each issue, you’ve got to be supportive of the other parent and keep your disagreements private and behind closed doors.

Fear of discipline

An even more subtle way children indirectly acquire the role of central authority is when parenting decisions are shaped by a fear of discipline or causing pain.  When parents fail to exercise their authority because they can’t stand to see their kids suffer consequences or because they are afraid their kids will be mad at them, the kids have become the authorities in the home.  These fearful parents resort to pleading, bargaining, or whining to get their kids to do what they want, but these approaches undermine their authority and rarely get the responses they are seeking.

Some parents are so afraid of being disliked by their kids that they fail to establish reasonable boundaries for the kids’ behavior.  These parents rationalize with comments like “Well, they were going to do it anyway, so I thought they might as well do it where I can keep an eye on them.”  What’s sad is that the effort to convince their children to like them usually results in disrespect and entitlement instead.

Still other parents are afraid to exercise their authority because they think that enforcing boundaries with consequences will damage their child’s self-esteem.  They believe every experience must be a positive one or their child will become discouraged and lose heart.  But one of the reasons God gives people trials is to build perseverance, maturity, and confidence.  Parents who believe in their children and support them in their struggles without rescuing will find that godly self-esteem is a natural by-product of the process of struggling through discipline.  (See James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:3-5.)

In contrast to the parents who are afraid to exercise authority, other parents exercise it too harshly.  These parents run the family like a drill sergeant, barking out orders and expecting everyone to jump at their commands.  They often insist on “first-time obedience,” expecting their kids to obey every command without challenge, excuse, or delay.

While we all want our kids to obey the first time we ask, the dictatorial approach sends a message that we aren’t willing to listen to our kids.  It emphasizes our power and authority over the value of having an authentic relationship with our kids.  This makes obedience difficult for rebellious kids and mechanical for compliant kids.  In neither case is the child learning from his or her experiences because the parents are forcing their will on the child rather than walking beside them and using the experiences to shape their character.

Far from having the positive influence they desire, an overbearing parenting style can cause kids to become preoccupied with the power disparity.  As a result, many kids can’t wait to get out from underneath this power structure as soon as possible.  In the meantime, they will look for passive/aggressive ways to exert their own power.

As parents, it is time to reevaluate what it truly means to exercise godly authority.  This is not being permissive or domineering but rather being balanced as God is balanced.  He will help us learn to exercise our authority well and how to maintain a careful balance between truth and love.  God expects and equips us to exercise our power empathetically and judiciously, with the overarching goal of encouraging each member of the family to grow into the person He designed them to be.  Pray for the wisdom to be that kind of parent.

Bringing it home

God created families with a particular hierarchy in mind, and parents are at the top of that hierarchy.  For dictators, this is a comfortable position.  For rescuers afraid of disciplining their kids, it can be more difficult.  But a balance of bonding and boundaries is essential to being a godly authority that earns respect by treating his or her kids with respect.  A balanced parent sets boundaries, gives age-appropriate choices within those boundaries, and delivers consequences when kids stray.

Kids will sometimes assume the position of authority in a family when the parents cede power to them, either by making the children’s activities the most important events of each day or by failing to deliver consequences when they are deserved.  Take some time to reflect and pray about your responsibilities and priorities for your family.  Is family time sacred, or does it get sacrificed in order to get to the next practice, game, meeting, or event?  Do you eat dinner together often, or is life too hectic for that?

Do you lovingly discipline your children when they make poor choices, or are you afraid of their reaction?  What about the reaction of other parents?  Do you worry that you might be seen as a bad parent if your kids are not doing all the things the other kids are doing?  Or do you insist on first-time obedience and fail to consider that it’s important for your kids to know the reasons for asking them to do something?  Is your attitude “my way or the highway” where your kids’ thoughts, opinions, or reactions are ignored just to get things done?

Take heart!  God knows your struggles and your tendencies.  Ask for help, and wait to hear.  Spend some time with your Bible and look for God’s wisdom.  He will speak through the words on those pages.  Be empathetic and earn the respect of your kids through clear boundaries, consistent consequences, and a willingness to walk with them through the struggles of life.


Taken from Parenting by Design, copyright © 2014 by Chris and Michelle Groff, with Lee Long.


Take Action Against Adultery

SOURCE:  Josh Squires/Desiring God

Three Steps to Avoiding It

I love premarital counseling. It’s a nice respite from what is so often crisis response. Instead, I get to see two incredibly happy people excited for the day when they shall become one flesh. My job in these sessions is to listen, laugh, and challenge.

I typically do three sessions. The first two are certainly a joy, but the last one, if I’m honest, is my favorite.

I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, but I want couples to have a little bit more realistic picture of what life will be like after the cake has been cut and toasts have been given. To this end, I have at least one private meeting with each person where I ask this question, “What are you going to do the first time you begin to feel about someone else the way you feel now about your significant other?”

A Ring Won’t Restrain Sin

It’s a nasty question, I admit, and one that most couples don’t see coming. The very idea that they could begin to have amorous feelings toward someone other than their betrothed — at any point in their lives — seems like an assault on their love and their moral fiber. But don’t be deceived. Putting a ring on your finger does nothing to restrain the rebellion that is in your heart. According to The Truth About Cheating by M. Gary Neuman, nearly seventy percent of men who had an affair thought that they would never do such a thing.

Further, those who affirmed the statement, “I would never cheat on my spouse,” were at an exponentially greater risk of actually having an affair later in life. Satan would love for you to believe that you are invulnerable to some category of sin because then you will stop protecting your soul from its terrible effects. As Jeremiah 17:9 puts it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Or as Robert Murray McCheyne once wrote, “The seed of every sin known to man is in my heart.”

Warning Signs

Once the indignity of the question has begun to dissipate, we can move on to the second step: Have a plan. People rarely (only six percent, according to Neuman) just “fall into bed together.” The vast majority of time when an affair is consummated, it is done with someone that they’ve known at least a month and with whom they have had multiple interactions. That means that there is time to notice the warning signs. And time to do something about them well in advance of something egregious. Some of those signs may include,

  • you really look forward to seeing this person
  • you are willing to go out of your way to make sure that you have regular interactions with them
  • you rearrange your calendar to find ways to sneak more time in with that person (like early morning meetings, long lunches, late evenings, and more)
  • you are growing increasingly critical of your spouse, especially as compared to that other someone special
  • you are looking for reasons to be out of the presence of your spouse
  • your recreational life becomes more and more exclusive of your spouse
  • your desire to be intimate, physically or emotionally, with your spouse is dwindling.

What happens if you notice some of these warning signs in your life? Here are three steps, among others.

1. Cut the relationship off.

If you can cut them out of your life completely, do it. But sometimes because of work, church, or family, that is difficult or impossible. At that point, you need to cut them off from anything resembling emotional intimacy.

Emotional intimacy is the lifeblood of an affair. Sometimes people disclose their feelings for one another hoping that it will help keep them from acting, but all it really does is provide gasoline for a budding romantic flame. You want to starve, not feed, that fire.

2. Get help.

Find someone who will encourage Christian growth in your covenant relationship. One of the worst things that can happen is to find a friend who is actually sympathetic to any wandering tendencies. More than three-quarters of men that had an affair had a friend who did the same. As Proverbs 13:20 states, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Or as Paul states it more bluntly, “Do not be deceived, ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

It’s best if this friend or even mentor can be found in advance. I often encourage my premarital participants to identify in advance who the person is that they could call in the middle of the night and confess, “I think my heart is beginning to wander.” More importantly, let that person know who they are, and allow them to check in with you about this issue from time to time.

3. Renew your commitment to a happy marriage.

Contrary to what movies and songs often lead us to believe, only around ten percent of those that cheated did so with someone they considered “more attractive” than their spouse. Men and women who have an affair often do so because of emotional needs rather than physical ones. For men, it is usually the need to feel appreciated, respected, and valued that leads to an affair; whereas for women, it’s the drive to feel heard, loved, and cherished.

When you perceive a lack of these in your own marriage, be willing to pray together, go to counseling, read books, attend workshops and seminars and conferences —whatever it takes in order to rekindle your own passion in your marriage.

Most importantly, be willing to own your own mistakes, and try to display something of the love of God to the one whom you made that promise in the first place. As Ligon Duncan says, “People don’t just fall out of love; they fall out of repentance and forgiveness.”

In the midst of all the prep for that special day, it’s never too early to plan for the day when it could all hang in the balance. Recognize your own propensity to sin, have a plan to deal with it the moment it rears its ugly head, and stand strong in your commitment to rejoice in the wife (spouse) of your youth (Proverbs 5:18).

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