"Ewwwwwww! Yuck!" is what our kids would say when their daddy would waltz into the kitchen and kiss me long and hard on my lips. They'd cover their eyes as they groaned, "Dad that'rs gross."
It’s been more than a decade since our kids moaned in disgust at our display of affection. But I remember like it was yesterday how Steve would come home from work, push past the sea of children clamoring for his attention to find mommy making dinner in the kitchen. While the kids acted as though they were offended that daddy’s first stop was to kiss momma’s lips that one regular encounter gave them a sense of security, even though they weren’t able to put into words how that routine made them feel safe.
Years later our eldest daughter, Meredith, who had gone away to college, discovered a valuable lesson. One day when she and her classmates were all talking about their families Meredith said, "Don't you just hate it when your parents kiss in front of you?"
When most of her friends replied that their parents didn't show much affection, Meredith realized the uniqueness of having parents who regularly displayed their love toward one another.
When we inquired how this "uniqueness" made Meredith feel her response was, "You guys weren't really inappropriate. Although we always acted like it grossed us out, it made us feel safe...Like you guys were always gonna be together."
It's the little things that we do in front of our kids that often have the most powerful impact. As our four children grew up in our home, it was our prayer that God would help us train them how to have a marriage that would last a lifetime—a marriage without regrets.
As our kids matured, we came up with a sort of list of 10 things we wanted our children to understand about marriage. You can help your kids understand these too.
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1. They can trust God with their romance.
God is more interested in who they marry than they are. In attempts to deter younger kids from thinking about such things, parents will downplay or chastise their child if they share feelings they might have for a person of the opposite sex. This negative response can often give kids growing up in Christian homes the wrong impression about how God feels about romance.
You may be shocked when your tween-aged kid mentions they have a crush on someone—I’ve been there! Ask God for wisdom and courage to talk with your child, even if it’s uncomfortable. If you want to be able to walk your children through the confusing season of adolescents, crushes and such, you’ll want to keep open the dialogue so you can help them understand how to think in a Christ honoring way and train them to trust God to bring them a godly spouse when it’s time.
(One of the reasons I wrote Real Life Romance was to expose readers to God’s sovereignty and timing in our stories.)
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2. You’ll never find your sense of worth from another person.
Fairytales recount the princess in distress rescued by the prince. Often the mistreated princess comes to feel valued once the prince takes notice of her as they ride off into the sunset.
While it may seem easier to tell your kids not to watch those types of movies, consider the wisdom of watching with them the movies their friends are watching. You can use this time to teach them how to weigh the movie’s message against a biblical world view and how their true worth is found in Christ alone.
In 30 years of my husband and I mentoring couples, we’ve learned many marriages are in trouble because of unmet expectations. The main disappointment is believing their happiness and worth should lies in how well they’re treated by their spouse.
We need to impress on our children that they’re on the right track when they learn they’re treasured by the One who loves them so much He gave His very life to purchase them with His blood. When your identity and worth is built upon your relationship with Christ, you’ll no longer need to look to your spouse to fill the void that only God can fill.
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3. Marriage is a covenant with God.
When Steve and I mentor an engaged couple in premarital counseling, Steve starts off saying, “Marriage is not a contract, it is a life-long covenant with God that you enter into when you say ‘I do.’”
In this day of throw away marriages, it’s important to train your children that you and your spouse are committed to keep your marriage covenant. We share more on this in The Marriage Mentor, but know this, your kids will never be more secure than when they know mom and dad are committed to love one another for the rest of their lives.
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4. Be a peacemaker.
Romans 12:18 advises, “As much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” While it’s impossible to control others around you, you’re only responsible for your own conduct. Titus 2:9 says we’re not to be argumentative. So how are you doing with that?
If being argumentative is a habit in your marriage it’s never too late to change. Your children are watching.
If you’re quick to put up your dukes, it’s time to do some soul searching and realize how your propensity to quarrel will likely be passed on to your children in their own marriages. If you want to raise children who walk in peace, let peace begin with you.
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5. Forgive as many times as necessary.
When one wife learned of her husband’s pornography addiction, her first response was to grow resentful and bitter. As he struggled alone with his shameful addiction, she saw how her unforgiveness was pushing him even further away. When she finally realized that her bitterness toward her husband was just as sinful as his addiction, she was able repent of her own sin and pray powerfully for her husband.
James 5:16 promises the effective fervent prayer of the righteous will accomplish much. When a spouse is stuck in the sin of unforgiveness they quench the Spirit in their life and render their prayers powerless. If you want to raise forgiving children who can pray powerfully, from your example let them see forgiveness freely given in your marriage and family.
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6. Believe the best about the other person.
First Corinthians 13:7b says, “Love believes all things.” This means to believe the best about another. All-too-often conflict in marriage arises because couples assign wrong motives to each other’s actions. If your kids have siblings, this is a great place to train them how to take wrong thinking captive and chose to believe the best about others.
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7. Let kindness be your default.
“Be kind one to another,” was my mantra when my kids were young (Ephesians 4:32). Scripture is powerful and penetrates the sinful heart. So, remember to weave it into your conversations with your kids. If you want kids who grow up to be kind to their spouse, they need to see kindness as the normal way of life in your home.
If you have an unkind spouse, don’t despair, we’ve seen God do an incredible work in children when only one of their parents practices kindness. When a godly spouse chooses to respond in kindness toward an unkind spouse the love of Christ shines all the more to their watching children.
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8. Loving Christ with your whole heart is the secret to loving others well.
When you press into loving Christ with your whole being the Spirit will empower you to love with Jesus’ love (see Mark 12:30-31). When this happens your love for your spouse will shine brightly Christ’s love to your children and show them how loving Jesus is the key a to loving marriage.
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9. When you get married realize it’s to serve your spouse for the rest of your lives.
Did the hair bristle on the back of your neck? Because it’s so engrained in us to think we’re entitled to happiness we believe marriage is about finding someone who’ll do whatever it takes to make us happy. However, if both hold to this thinking then marriage becomes a battle ground to see who can get the other to jump through hoops to make them happy.
The happiest marriages are when both husband and wife develop this serving mentality. When love’s expressed through service, you’ll likely raise children who show love through acts of service.
If your spouse’s usual response is self-centered, rather than service oriented, let it begin with you. Your selfless, loving, service will display to your kids Christ’s love in action.
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10. Keep your eyes on Christ while running the race He sets before you.
When my son was head of his ROTC unit he learned to fall back and run alongside the only woman in their unit—to help her keep up. With their eyes on the finish line the two would make it to the end in step with their unit.
I love the picture of the Christian life as running the race, with our eyes on the prize (see Hebrews 12:1, Philippians 3:14). When you and your spouse choose to help each other run the race with eyes fixed on Jesus your example can be what God uses to draw your children—and others, to Christ.
This article is an excerpt from The Marriage Mentor. Used with permission.
Rhonda Stoppe is the No Regrets Woman. With more than 30 years of experience as a marriage mentor, pastor’s wife, author and speaker, Stoppe leads women of all ages to live lives of no regrets.
Stoppe is the author of Moms Raising Sons to be Men, which mentors thousands of moms to guide sons toward a no-regrets life, If My Husband Would Change, I’d Be Happy & Other Myths Wives Believe,helping countless women build no-regrets marriages and Real-Life Romance, a collection of real-life love stories. Her latest release is The Marriage Mentor, written with her husband, Steve.
Visit Rhonda Stoppe’s website www.NoRegretsWoman.comfor more resources on love, marriage and parenting. She is also active on YouTube (Rhonda Stoppe No Regrets Woman), Facebook(RhondaStoppeNoRegretsWoman) and on Twitter(@RhondaStoppe).
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Originally published Wednesday, 12 December 2018.