It’s easy to become critical of our husbands and children as the years move on, and we think we understand them better than they themselves could; sometimes we think we understand them better than God could, although that is impossible.
Most of the time, to our discredit, what we believe we understand about them are not their sterling points of prowess, but their weaknesses and flaws. It’s way too easy to seize upon small rocks of difference and exaggerate them into massive, unmovable boulders that weight our relationships down.
As we discussed in our last visit together, the simple act of paying attention to our husband is a gift of remarkable impact. When we give our man our attention, and really, truly hear him out, chances are that his sterling points of prowess will come more to our attention than when we were only observing him with an eye towards what he was doing wrong. But they may not! Perhaps he is a simple man at best, and makes his way through life as simple men often do, one step at a time, not looking far ahead nor planning in any great depth. Perhaps this is frustrating to you. Or perhaps he is a planner and stodgy saver, and you are the live-for-today one. Perhaps you are frustrating to him.
The first thing I would like you to do is to quit with the self-righteousness already! Harsh statement, I know. But I think if each of us looks into our heart we can see the outlines of an ancient refrain: “I’m better than he is. I know better than he does. It’s not my fault if he fails because of his flaws. It’s all his fault. I’m justified in the way I feel.” It is the the sin nature of each individual to believe that his or her own point of view is the correct one.
How many of us can look in the mirror and view only perfection? Are we short-tempered because we are tired? Was dinner purchased take-out because of time pressure? Did we snap at someone because they disagreed with us?
When we made a vow before God to love, honor, and obey our husbands, it was no trivial vow. God hates trivial vows. He demands that we live up to the vows we make. So, before we speak or take action, we must ask ourselves, does this show love or honor to my husband? Am I being disobedient? This latter can seem problematic, especially if our guy is making decisions that, while not un-biblical, seem foolish to us. As we discussed in our last get-together, often times a man wishes more to have his ideas heard than to do something he knows to be foolish. But you cannot expect him to go along with your ideas if in his mind he considers them foolish, either.
Obedience is hard, whether to God or to one’s husband. But it is necessary.
Obedience, if thoughtfully practiced, creates a unified parental front. It is hard to maintain a cohesive family without it. Squabbling over differences in the way matters should be taken care of tears apart the very thing we want most to preserve. When parents do not agree and let that disagreement be shown to the children, the children learn how to game the system and play mom and dad off each other in order to get what they want. This works against transmitting faith, as well as cultural values, because if mom and dad do not respect each other, showing unity in the faith and values they wish to pass on, any attempt to transmit these values will be seen by the kids as the height of hypocrisy. Children are very sensitive to hypocrisy, and tend to reject values their folks are hypocritical about.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” James 3:17
We seek to be wise, and understand the Lord’s desires for us. We seek to apply that wisdom in our daily lives, loving the people we love as they are, not as we wish they would be. In order to do that, we must be peaceable, gentle, and willing to yield with our husbands, being full of mercy in our treatment of them and our children, producing good fruits within our family structure, and avoiding hypocrisy.
In addition, within our families we must guard against showing partiality with our children. Perhaps you are an artistic type, and one child is artistic. That does not mean you can favor him or her over the one who prefers sports, or the life of the intellect. This is not the same as being “fair,” as some children like to call it. “Fairness” in the child’s mind means each child gets precisely the same thing, same size piece of cake, same time with the toys, or the same amount of time with each child.
We show partiality to a person because they have some trait that echoes with one of ours, and we correspondingly grant them special favors or privileges that seem over the top to other children in the family. While an honest parent will sometimes admit to “liking” one child more than another, that is no reason for favoring him or her over the other. We must look at our children with clear eyes, aware of each one’s strengths and weaknesses, and give them what they need. This may be different for one child than the others, but each child should feel as if his or her needs and desires have been considered and met, if that is morally, biblically, and pragmatically possible. Here is where I digress from some parenting experts. I have found that explaining the “why” behind the “no” is important, even if it seems a child is too small to understand the reasons. It cultures thoughtfulness on the part of the child (right after he or she outgrows the kicking and screaming stage). It’s usually unnecessary to explain a “yes,” although it might benefit a few kids to know why one idea was a yes, and one a no.
So, here you are. You may be in a situation with a husband and five kids, three boys and two girls. You could describe that situation as four sports fanatics and three tea party (and I’m not talking about the political tea party here) enthusiasts. The tug of war between competing interests can seem fierce, but if we love all of them as they are, and look for the elements that unify the family, we may be able to build a coherent family culture, one that looks to the Lord in all things, and to each other. If it’s all football, all the time, with the young ladies feeling left out, that’s showing partiality. If it’s all tea parties and foo-foo dresses, the more rough-and-tumble types will also feel left out.
A good question to ask when watching family dynamics might be, How can we work or play together so that most of us can feel involved and united as a family? There are many books and articles written on the benefits of family devotions and Bible study; I will not address that here. We understand their value and promote their use. We can promote a unified cultural dynamic in our family by pursuing cultural knowledge. My family is Northern European, mostly Scandinavian. There are so many ways of honoring our traditions that one could keep busy every day with one or another. Your background may be different, and most likely it is. But by agreeing with your husband to enjoy the traditions of your ethnic and cultural background as a family, you can take the first step towards your much desired cultural unity.
But I’m tired, you complain. I’m still working full or part-time, remember? I barely have time to think, to listen to my husband, and get dinner on the table. How can I fit in this extra dimension?
I will bet that your family invests some time and effort into the children’s sports teams or lessons; could some of that time and effort be switched to an equivalent recreational activity that brings out your cultural heritage instead of subsuming it into the general heading of “sports” or “lessons”?
Example: let’s say your family is of Scots-Irish descent. A quick perusal of the internet could reveal organizations dedicated to preserving and celebrating that heritage. The local Highland Games provides a place for all aspects of that heritage to be played out. Do you have a son or husband who prides himself on his strength? There are athletic events that take place at the Highland Games, from Open Stone Put to Caber Toss to Sheaf Toss, which require training over time, a good substitute for currently popular sports like soccer and football. Do you have a daughter who loves to dance? Instead of ballet, she might take up Irish dancing or Scottish dance.
My point being that an ethnic event can contain elements that unify a family around their heritage while yet addressing the way each person in your family is constructed; even the bookworm can find a cozy nook at the games and read deeply of the history and legend of his people. This can be accomplished in the time you might spend on ordinary recreational outings! It’s one thing to pet a dolphin at a water park; quite another to race the sheepdog you’ve trained yourself.
By loving your husband and children as they are, and respecting their differences while moving toward increased family unity, you are respecting God’s design for the family within the ethnic and cultural boundaries he has set. May He bless your efforts.