I love my kids. Seriously, I adore them. I tell them often that they are a treasure to me. I kiss them, hug them, cuddle them. Their dad and I take them to to church, museums, libraries, family swims at the YMCA, camping, and Longwood Gardens (especially to climb the treehouses). They enjoy playing games and riding bikes with us. A lot of time, love and attention is lavished upon them. But they aren’t in first place. Nope, sorry.
Before you unsubscribe to the blog or “unlike” me on social media, hear me out. I adore my children, but they aren’t my first priority. My relationship with God is my first priority. Some may gasp and ask “How can you say that?” I’ll tell you how. It’s not unlike when you are preparing for takeoff and the flight attendants explain that in an emergency, you should put on your own oxygen mask and then help your children. If you aren’t nourished by that oxygen, you can’t provide your children with the help they need to breathe, to live. The emphasis on my relationship with the Lord is the same. If I am not well-nourished and communing with God, I can’t pass on to them the life and hope of Jesus. I can’t effectively help them to navigate a world filled with meanness, uncertainty and tragedy. This has been a gradual process over time for my husband and me and I am so glad we have arrived in this place.
My children know this. I often talk to them about how God should come first and that they should place Him above everyone else, even us – their parents. It’s the First Commandment: “You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me”. In our culture, it is easy to deify our children because their care, education and activities can be all-consuming. However, in order to teach them how to walk with God, we must set the tone by remembering this example.
I have modeled for my children how I spend time with God. They know that I pray, worship and read my bible and I have encouraged them to do the same every day. I want them to know that their relationship with Jesus is of the utmost importance and that everything else in life will flow from it and fall into place around it. That’s my job as a Christian parent. In Deuteronomy 11:18-21, the instruction is given:
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
We want our children to know that we aren’t “Sunday Only” Christians. Lord knows we used to be. The empty praise of a Sunday worship service but a life of self-centeredness the rest of the week was not fulfilling. Really, deceptive and destructive is a better description. We had busy lives, jobs, responsibilities. God sort of fit in around all that, sometimes. But once we began to live the words of this scripture, life opened up. We now experience joy and blessing that transcends our circumstances because we place our hope and focus on God first. We want that for our children as well. We want them to have a sure and steady anchor that holds them fast in the storms of life.
As for the “Third Place Status” of the kiddos, my husband comes second. Yes – before my children. Don’t misunderstand. I don’t love him MORE than my children, just differently. He is next because we are partners in raising these children. We work hard to love each other and to love them. They will grow up and leave us eventually. If I pour all the energy of my love and attention on them, leaving only the scraps for my husband, where will our marriage be when they leave? The same goes for him. It is not just me showering him in love and affection with no reciprocity. We are mutually affectionate and take our partnership as parents very seriously. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I spend more time with my husband than my children. It just means that he has a place of priority. We schedule date nights and get the kids to bed at a reasonable time so that we have time to connect. It means not allowing our children’s schedules to consume us to the point of not having time as a couple, or as a family.
Sadly, many people fall into the trap of being so hyper-focused on their children that their marriages suffer.
Sadly, many people fall into the trap of being so hyper-focused on their children that their marriages suffer. By cultivating a healthy marriage, we are giving our children the best gift. We are allowing them to see what marriage should look like: a focus first on God, then mutual love, respect, affection and priority on our relationship. This flows to them, and benefits them as we work on being the best we can be for each other. Prayerfully, they will be able to enjoy similar relationships in their adult lives.
By putting my children in third place in a first place culture, I realize there will be people who vehemently disagree. However, my aim is to please God, not the culture, and I continually seek Him to help me be the best wife and mother I can be. I have learned by experience that this can only happen when I fix my eyes upon Jesus, allowing Him to refresh, restore and provide wisdom. I am better for everyone around me when I choose this. In a world in which I am swimming against the current of culture, I need Him to help me wholly love my husband and children. A side benefit is that they won’t grow up thinking they are the center of the universe, making them difficult candidates for marriage, parenthood, friendship and employment. Boy, do I love them! I love them enough to let them be in third place.
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