Kid-Centric Or Spouse-Centric?
May 7, 2000
The statement was made early one morning in a local coffee shop. A toddler-toting mom was sitting in a comfortable chair talking to another woman. I was sitting just a few feet away, minding my own business, studying, and doing some research for this series. While nestling their morning brew, these two women were engaged in deep dialogue.
It always amazes me how women will share their emotions and lock in on a conversation no matter who’s around. But I could tell these women were oblivious to me. I was sitting right next to them, and they didn’t know I was there. Suddenly, they began to talk about parenting. I began to listen in. The toddler-toting mom was talking about the challenges of child-rearing and how to balance her marriage and her husband’s travel schedule. The other woman, between sips of her coffee, was discussing whether she and her husband were even mature enough to have kids.
After a while, I couldn’t take it any more. I said, “Excuse me, ladies.” And they turned and looked at me like, “Oh! Someone was sitting there? Someone’s here?” I said, “Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions about parenting? I’m doing some research on parenting.” They said, “Sure.” So I began to talk to them about this whole subject matter and they began to share with me some really good stuff. After a while, it was time for me to go to the office, so I packed up my briefcase and headed toward the door. While I was leaving, the toddler-toting mom turned, looked at me, and made a statement that I will not soon forget. She said, “You know, I think I’m a great mom, but not that good of a spouse.” Wow. I think I’m a great mom, but not that great of a spouse.
I think a lot of parents here would echo that. I think some of us would say, “You know, I’m getting the parental job done pretty well. But the spouse thing is not going that great.” Today I’m launching a brand new series of talks called the Parent Map. We’re talking about traveling to an ultimate destination. I’m excited about this destination because I truly believe this series can change the course of our culture. I don’t make that statement lightly.
Why do I say the culture? Because so goes the family, so goes the community; so goes the community, so goes the culture. But I’m going to warn you—it might get bumpy now and then. We might take some detours and hit some dangerous curves, but stay with it because I’m excited about the results. I know I need it as a parent, and I think you need it too.
Have you ever asked these questions of yourself? Sometimes I just question myself. Do you ever say things like this: “Should we even have children?” or “When should we bring children into the world?” Pretty good questions. Maybe you’re dealing as a husband and wife with infertility. Infertility is rampant among this demographic. You don’t tell anyone about it, but every time you see someone who’s pregnant, every time you see a child, you’re reminded of what’s not happening with you. What do you do? How about the adoption option and other choices out there?
Have you ever asked this one? I have. “When and how do I teach my children about sex?” The birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees. Good question. Or maybe you’re asking yourself this: “I have a special-needs child. Is there something in the Bible that will help me because, Ed, to be honest with you, this ‘why’ question is really messing me up.” Maybe you’re a single parent, and you’re saying to yourself, “I feel like I’m sinking. I feel like I’m just so immersed in the life of my kids that I can’t get my head above water. How do I do that?” You’re an adult, and you’re trying to deal with your parents. And you’re stressing out over those issues. Is there help? Any guidance out there?
We’re going to talk about all those issues and address all those questions and more because we want to help you along these lines. Also, let me say this, I am not the parental expert. I don’t have a corner on the market. I’m not “the man.” I don’t have the perfect parenting record or the perfect marriage. If you think I do, just talk to my lovely wife or our four children, and your dreams will quickly be dashed. I’m learning too. I’m a fellow struggler too.
Today, though, I want us to hone in on that statement made by the toddler-toting woman early one morning in a local coffee shop. “I’m a good mom, but not that great of a wife.” What was she saying? She was simply saying, “Should my home be a kid-centric home? Should all of the activities and all of the stuff and all of the scheduling revolve around my children? Or should my family be a spouse-centric unit where the marriage takes precedence, where the marriage is the ultimate priority? Which one?”
This kid-centric family thing is popular. This funnel cloud began to take shape after the 60’s and the 70’s. After World War II and after the baby boom, well-meaning modern parents turned their backs on the Bible. They turned their backs on the advice from their parents, and instead they put their stock in people like Dr. Spock. I’m not talking about the man of Star Trek fame, I’m talking about the man of permissive parenting fame. Dr. Spock and other permissive parenting persuaders said, “The home should be a democratic deal. Everybody is equal. There’s no real leader.” They said, “Parents, crawl into the playpens of your rebellious toddlers, sit Indian-style, and try to reason with them.” It sounded so vogue, so hip, so cool, so modern.
One problem: it doesn’t work. Look around. It does not work. This kid-centric deal is so tempting. I’ve been there. But here’s what happens when you put your child at the center of your solar system and revolve everything around him or her. You’ve heard me say this dozens of times before, but I’ll say it once again. A man and a woman get married. They crank out a couple of kids. The wife steps down from her number one priority—being a wife—and becomes a mom. She marries her children. Conversely, the husband steps down from his number one priority—being a husband—and marries his career and gets immersed in that. For the wife to get to her husband, she has to negotiate all this stuff with work and the meetings. For the husband to get to his wife, he has to negotiate around all the needs and greeds of the children. You’ve got marital drift taking place, you’ve got resentment, you’ve got anger. Throw in an attractive neighbor or co-worker, and you’ve got some problems.
But this family funnel cloud of the kid-centric deal started after the 60’s and 70’s, picked up speed, and has been spinning out of control. It’s been cranking out rebellious, selfish, sassy, irresponsible children, and also, it’s been wrecking marriages. “Ed, wait a minute. I thought this was a parenting series. Now you’re talking about marriage?” The obvious scriptural priority in the family unit is marriage. Marriage must take priority over every relationship in the home.
Well, since this is about parenting, and since marriage is the biblical priority, let’s come up with a working definition of parenting. The purpose of parenting is the process of teaching and training your children to leave. That’s it. You’re saying, “Ed, where did you come up with that one? Did you pull it out of the sky?” No…teaching. Deuteronomy 6:7, “You shall teach them diligently”—“them” being the commandments of the Lord—“to your sons and shall talk to them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Training. Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Leaving. Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Children leave and parents stay. Thus the marriage should be at the top of the family food chain.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many twenty-somethings and even thirty-somethings still living at home? It’s because their families have been kid-centric for so long, because they’ve felt the warm spotlight for so long, the starring role for so long. The parents have been co-starring for so long, the children say, “Hey, this is a sweet deal, baby! Free room, free laundry service, incredible meals. Plus I can work, make a salary, and have a lot of money.” The kid-centric family funnel cloud.
Let’s talk about some of the things we need to do in order to have a spouse-centric family because that’s what God wants. I’ll just say it as plainly as I know how—if you want to have a great family, if you want to be a great parent, build a mutually satisfying marriage. After all, the Bible compares Christ’s love for the church to a husband’s love for a wife. Children aren’t mentioned there, friends. They’re not. I love children. We’re to love them. But let’s talk about how to do the spouse-centric thing.
Since we’re talking about the Parent Map, we’re going to talk about several destinations we need to land on and travel through if we’re going to really understand how to change the family, the community, and the culture. The first destination is “Attentionville.” We need to travel to a place called “Attentionville.” Question: do children need oxygen? Sure they do. But if you give them too much oxygen, it will smother them. Question: do children need attention? Sure they do. If you give too much attention to them, it will smother them. And kid-centric families try to smother their kids. “Oh, what do you want? What do you need? Don’t cry; here’s some candy. Here’s some money. Where are we going to eat? You tell me.” 24/7, throttle-to-the-firewall, full-court-press attention. “Oh, that’s what I’m going to do for my children.” Sounds good. Something I struggle with. But the math doesn’t work. We must balance the attention we give our children in certain time increments.
Lisa and I made this choice several years ago, and I’ll tell you how it plays out in our home. I usually arrive at our residence at 5:30 or 6pm. When I walk in the door, I greet the kids, give them kisses and all that, and then I’ll usually walk into the kitchen. Most of the time Lisa and I will talk in the kitchen, and I’ll turn and say this to the children, we’ll say, “for the next 20 or 30 minutes, don’t come into the kitchen because your mother and I are going to talk. Now, if there’s bloodshed, come in. Other than that, you just go and play.” Sometimes they’ll try to cry; but it teaches them autonomy, it teaches them responsibility, it teaches them how to separate and individuate, and it teaches them, “Hey, I’m a part of a spouse-centric home.”
I talked to a close friend of mine this week about this whole spouse-centric thing. He said, “Ed, you know what we do?” He said, “after the evening meal, my wife and I have our children—between 11 and 16 years of age–clean up the mess. My wife and I walk around the neighborhood. Invariably, my children, my teenagers, will say, ‘Can we hang with you, mom and dad? Can we walk with you? Let us go, let us go!’” He said, “We turn and say, ‘No. It’s our time.’”
This is big. Don’t miss this one. I’m all for children, I love to spend time with mine, but we have to do it in a scheduled manner. Not some militaristic, freaked-out deal, but certain time increments. Attentionville. You’ve got to travel through it.
There’s another destination, and before I tell you, let me go ahead and sing it. I’m a frustrated songwriter and singer, and I made this song up several years ago around bedtime for our four children. Let’s all go to Night-night-ville. There we will get very still. Let’s all go to Night-night-ville. Now, this song is not that popular around our household, but that’s a destination we must travel to. We must hit, parents and single parents, Night-night-ville. There it is: Night-night-ville. “Ed, you’re telling me bedtime is important?” Well, I just read to you Deuteronomy 6:7, “You shall teach them diligently to your sons, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down,” Night-night-ville, “and rise up.” Put your children to bed.
But here’s the kicker—it’s not for their benefit, it’s for your benefit. Don’t put them down when they’re ready, put them down when you’re ready. Take a step back and say, “Okay, how much time do we need”—I’m talking about you and your spouse—“to connect at night? How much time will that take?” Then do the math. Lisa and I put down our twins, who are five, and our son, who is eight, between 7:30 and 7:45. That’s when they go to bed. It’s pretty early. They could stay up a lot later. But remember, it’s for our benefit, not theirs. “Well, Ed, you don’t understand, Man. I’ve got a teenager.” So do I. We say, “LeeBeth, at about 9 or 9:30, just cruise to your room. You can stay up until 10 or 10:15, but make yourself invisible.” And it shows them, again, the priority of the spouse-centric family. It says that Mom and Dad have something special going on.
Now, let’s say you’ve done that. We’ve had some wars over the bedtime, and this is not an easy thing. But let’s say you’ve done that. Let’s say your children are in bed, your teenager is invisible in his or her room, and you’re just there, just the two of you. Something bad is happening, something has been contracted in many homes and marriages, something that keeps a lot of homes from being spouse-centric. Did you see the front page of USA Today? “FBI hunts Love-Bug source. Damage from e-mail virus cuts across USA and worldwide. A worldwide hunt is on to find the source of the Love-Bug computer virus that jammed e-mail systems Thursday from Asia to California.” Well, there’s another virus that’s worse than this Love-Bug virus. It’s the marital Love-Bug virus, and it’s affecting homes from Asia to California.
Here’s how it plays out. It happens when you’re alone, as a husband and wife, after the kids have gone to Night-night-ville. Then you do this: you pick up the phone. That is part of the Love-Bug virus. Keep your phone calls to a minimum. Lisa and I take our phone off the hook four or five nights a week. Just take it off. It’s a great thing. Now, I’m not saying you never talk on the phone, but you have the realistic thing going on.
Something else that causes this virus and messes marriages up as far as spending quality time is that people get involved in housework or work from the office. “Oh, well, the kids are in bed. Let me just go to the study and do this, let me just prepare for the next message and think about this, and maybe I’ll go over here and vacuum.” Now and then there are some exceptions, but for the most part, don’t do it.
This next one’s the big one. Another part of this Love-Bug virus is when we pick up the remote. “We just watch TV together, Ed. That’s what we do. We love to watch TV together.” Now when we watch television, we don’t care what our spouse is doing. Come on. We’re just into the deal. Watching television. Television is fine, but for the most part, it’s a vast wasteland of garbage. It is. And once you begin to really get serious about the Love-Bug virus, suddenly you begin to have eye contact. Suddenly you begin to talk and make some sentences, and then you’ll respond, and guys, there’s no telling where it might lead! “Oh, man, I just can’t go a night without watching CNN and ESPN. CNBC, Whoa.” 1 Corinthians 14:40, “But all things,” Attentionville, Night-night-ville, “All things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.”
Speaking of marriage and speaking of the priority of the spouse-centric family, I want to share with you the top six reasons why God created Eve. This comes from the desk of Barbara Johnson. Number six: God knew that Adam would always be lost in the Garden because men hate to ask for directions. Number five: God knew that someday Adam would need someone to hand him the remote. Number four: God knew that Adam would never buy another fig leaf when his wore out. Number three: God knew if the world was to be populated, men would never be able to handle childbearing. Well, that’s the truth. Number two: After God created Adam, he said, “I can do better than that.” Now, guys, I’m picking on us today. Next weekend it’s another story. And the top reason why God created Eve? God knew that his way works: one man, one woman, in marriage; and that relationship taking precedence over the entire family formula.
Let’s go to another location—Dateville. Attentionville, Night-night-ville, and Dateville. I’ve been talking about this for years now. I encourage couples to date at least twice a month. I’m talking about you and your spouse going out alone. When I have the opportunity to speak around the country to leaders or pastors, usually during a Q&A, they’ll ask me this question—they’ll say, “Well, Ed, tell me about your personal life. What’s the most important thing in your family?” No doubt about it, I always say this: “No question, the most important thing in my family is my date night with Lisa.” Eight years ago, we installed a date night. It has revolutionized our connection. It’s like an oasis, oftentimes, in the middle if the desert. It’s great!
About a month ago, Lisa and I went for about four weeks without a date night. I was doing some speaking, and we did some traveling. We could tell, both of us, we could feel that marital drift going on. If you aren’t having a regular, strategic date night, please do it. I know all of you are saying, “Yeah, that sounds good, Ed! Sounds great in theory, but in practice?” Don’t put it off. Hire a babysitter. Just have a standing sitter for a certain night, or a certain day. If you don’t want to do that, trade off with your friends. The date does not have to be at night. It could be like the dates of a good friend of mine and his wife. They do day-dates. He has a day off in the middle of the week, they have breakfast together and lunch together, and do that deal. So be creative.
But I laugh—I really do—when parents say this to me. They say, “You know, we would love to have a date night, we really would. But you see, our children just will not stomach a babysitter. They throw fits and tantrums and cry. And you know, Ed, for that matter, we would love to go to Fellowship Church every weekend, but they just don’t like it when we leave them in the nursery or preschool or in Children’s Church.” They don’t realize it, but they’re saying, “Hey, we don’t run the show! Our kids do! Hey, we’re kid-centric! They rule! They reign! They’re the star; we’re the co-star. Oh, whatever you want, baby. Oh, don’t cry! No!” Okay. Please, it’s good to let them cry sometimes. It’s good to leave them. It teaches them separation. It teaches them the priority of marriage. It teaches them that Mom and Dad always come back. It’s healthy.
Let me throw in something else; this is extra credit. Parents, I challenge you not to allow your children to sleep with you. Don’t do that. Now, if there’s an infant in the bassinet in the same room, that’s fine. If the child has gone through some traumatic situation or some nightmare, now and then, that’s cool. But every night? I think you’re making a mistake because you’re saying, “Hey, marriage is a threesome, or a foursome.” In a couple of weeks I’m going to talk about teaching your kids about sex. It begins there. It begins when you say, “You know, this is a special place that Mom and Dad have. This is our bed. Your bedroom is right down the hall, so you sleep there.” It teaches them separation, it helps them when you leave them in the nursery or the Children’s Church or camp or whatever. Try it. Now again, you’re going to have to fight some battles, but it’s well worth it. That’s just extra credit. It’s kind of a side trip off of Dateville.
Now, this next one is going to be pretty convicting. I can tell already that some of you are a bit standoff-ish because of your body language. You’re going, “No one’s going to tell me how to raise my children! I can’t believe some of the things he said about Attention- and Dateville and Night-night-ville. I’m just not ready for it.” I learned something a long time ago about myself. Every time I hear a man or a woman teach the Bible and the Holy Spirit convicts me of something, I usually have that same reaction. I say, “Oh, I don’t have a problem with that. No one’s going to talk to me that way. No one’s going to step on my toes.” And usually, when I have that reaction, when my knee-jerk reaction is “No, no, I have that under control,” that usually means, “Ed, you need to make some changes.” So here goes.
This destination we need to travel through—Activityville—we’re burning our children out in many ways. Soccer and baseball and basketball and cheerleading and voice and dance and art classes. We’re making them like toast. I’m all for extracurricular activities. I love athletics. I love art. I love dance and all that stuff. That’s good. Kids need competition. I’m all for it, but we’ve got to have a balance here.
Recently my wife and I had dinner with a world-class, multi-sport professional athlete. If I said his name, everyone in here would know it. Over the appetizer point of this meal together, this man looked at Lisa and I and said, “You know, I will never have my children play children’s athletics or get too involved in extracurricular activities.” He said, “You know, I want them to be kids.” Now, I don’t know if I’m going to go that far. That’s a little bit extreme. But I understood where he was coming from. We need to allow children to be children.
I think it’s good for children to play in leagues to a certain extent. Between six years of age and ten or eleven you’ve got to be very, very careful. You’ve got to ask yourself this question: Why do I want my child to play in or to be involved in this activity? Because it could be that FAA in all of us—that Frustrated All-American. “You know, if I hadn’t blown my knee out right here, I’d have been in the NFL.” No, you wouldn’t. Let’s just face the facts, okay? You weren’t good enough! “Well, if my voice teacher hadn’t been such a snob, and if she hadn’t liked Jonie instead of me, I would be like Celine Dion.” I’m sorry to rain on your vocal parade—no, you would not be Celine.
The problem, for example, with children’s athletics is that adults set the leagues up, adults schedule them, and what you find is that children play for the approval of their parents. Have you ever gone to a soccer game before? I have. Our children play soccer or baseball or basketball. Sometimes when they’re playing goalie and the action’s down at the other end of the field, they’re just skipping rope by themselves. One time E.J. was out looking at flowers, sitting there, as I was saying, “E.J., get in the game, man! Go!” I said, “Man, what am I doing?” It’s a balance. Don’t leave here and say, “Well, Ed said we can never play athletics or get involved in activities.” I’m not saying that.
It’s got to be your decision before God. Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Are you a Matthew 6:33 family? Can you keep the pace you’re keeping with your activities and your sports with your kids and be a Matthew 6:33 family? That’s the deal. I can’t make the call for you. You’ve got to make it yourself.
What’s so funny is that parents will say, “Oh, yeah, we love the church. We want to develop our marriage, and we want to develop our relationship with Christ, and we want to be a Matthew 6:33 family. But we can’t go to this discipleship training course for our junior high students because we’ve got another select soccer practice. We can’t get involved in the Beach Retreat or a Mission Trip with our children because we’ve got another tournament or activity.” You’ve got to make the call. There’s got to be balance there. The moment activities begin to encroach upon your development as a husband and wife, and especially the development in the local church, you’ve got problems.
The toddler-toting mom made this statement to me: “I’m a good mother, but not that great of a wife.” If that’s you, if that statement resonates where you are, hit these destinations. If you say, “Ed, you know what, I really think I have a spouse-centric home,” good for you. Keep it up.
This message has meant a lot to me. I think a lot of times when I teach, I get more out of it than the people who actually hear it. So I’m looking forward to seeing what God’s actually going to do, in my life, in my marriage, and in my parenting, and in yours too. But it all starts when we make the decision to follow THE Parent Map, the B-I-B-L-E. That’s the book for parenting successfully.