My experience balancing family life and life outside of the home is not the typical Christian family story. My husband, Drew, and I had one month of marriage and sharing a home before our firstborn son arrived. By the sheer and enormous grace of God, we entered marriage reconciled to one another, our families and the Lord despite our best plans being derailed by hidden sin in our long term relationship. From the onset of our 9 year marriage, we have been juggling multiple balls, including complicated pregnancies and the births of our 4 sons in the first 6 years. I don’t have any real idea what married life as a couple without children looks like. But we have established priorities and goals as a couple within our marriage and for our family as parents together. They take shape in overarching priorities and specific touchstone activities.
Over the years we have finessed and redefined our priorities within our family life. In general, we focus being together as a family to the glory of God, which means limiting the days and evenings we spend outside of the home. As the extrovert in our marriage, I also have to be aware of how many social plans I take on with friends. That desire to spend time with my girlfriends is a good desire, but when my husband or children struggle in the wake of my absence, that is no longer contributing to the wellbeing of my family. Prioritizing our family togetherness means I guard my time, also taking into account the number of evenings I’m working part-time as a nurse. This protection of our time as a family has resulted in learning to give a response I dread: NO. Funny how I have no qualm about setting limits with our children for their good, but setting limits with my social life is far more challenging. This season of mothering is one I have longed for since I could dress a doll, and I have such joy in God’s gracious gift of my sons. I know my children are my calling in this season, and so that means other nonessential activities get the back burner!
On the flip side of that issue is being aware of my husband’s needs. Drew does not yearn for those guy nights out, like I love my lengthy coffee and chats with girl friends. He does, however, need a break! Because he isn’t the textbook extrovert I am, it is easy for me to not take into account what time he does need outside of the home. As his wife, I have found being his encourager has also meant verbally giving him leave of our home. He is devoted to our family, both in his labor as our financial provider and in his free time to invest in our sons and me. Mutually, we serve one another when we recognize each other’s relational and emotional needs outside of our marriage, and for him that looks like occasional quiet and solitude outside the amazing chaos of our rowdy home.
It has been vital for Drew and I to keep our focus on our family, in the season of childrearing to which the Lord has called us. In order to do so with clear minds and hearts, this has meant at times sacrificing and saying no to those things outside of the home in order to say a resounding YES to our marriage and our children. In the midst of giving each other the time and space we need for “ourselves”, we strive to maintain our focus on our marriage. There have been months when we do too much outside our family, and have to pull back so our marriage does not suffer. Planning dates, or even a media free evening at home, keeps us connected. In the day to day, focusing on our marriage means checking in with each other to see how the day is going, and being sure that intimacy ACTUALLY happens. Life is full and busy, but with the help of God, our marriage will outlast our childrearing. That means we cannot be so intent on parenting, that we forget we are first most spouses.
Practically speaking there are specific touchstone activities that keep our focus on our family and our marriage to the glory of God and service of others:
1- Meal times: Our children are 8 years and under, so I expect this will be more challenging in the future. For now, our kids don’t have a choice. We eat our meals together, without media. This is time for conversation and reconnecting after our busy days.
2- Church: We strive to be active participants of our local church body. Our boys know Sunday is our specific day of worship. If I’m absent due to my hospital nursing job, my husband tackles that endeavor with our boys. It is both a point of connecting with each other as family in worship of our Savior, and important for us that they see our connection to the body of Christ at large.
3- Dates: Between my husband and me, and between parents and children. Because we are a largish family of 6, one on one time can be rare within our home! Our children are learning that relationships require invested time and energy, and one demonstration of that is giving them quality one on one “mommy dates” or “daddy dates”. Our weekends don’t always look traditional due to my nursing schedule, and planning for quality time and special activities allows our kids to feel their special importance in our lives.
4- Bed time: There are nights when everyone is fried and exhausted, and sleep is the best answer. Time for bed, everyone!! But most evenings, we take time. Time that is a sacrifice, but worthwhile. To help our active boys de-escalate, to pray, and to have some of the most special conversations. Bedtime serves as a key touchpoint of connection- distractions are minimal and it is focused time together in connection with each other, and in prayer and worship to the Lord. It is a time of unburdening, and some of the most significant spiritual conversations with our children have taken place in the dark quiet of their bedrooms.
Clearly, your priorities, goals, and activities as a family may look very different from ours. We are all complex individuals, potentially married to complex spouses and raising complex children. There is exceeding grace extended to us as couples and families to work through the logistics of our family lives to the praise of Jesus. The Lord is glorified in our families not when we do it perfectly — that would be following the law, which is impossible — but when we reflect the truth of the gospel of Jesus at work in us, transforming and renewing our minds. To proclaim reconciliation to God through Jesus, to the praise of His name, is the holy and joyful work of our calling as daughters of God, being ambassadors for the Lord within our marriages, our families, and our world:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5: 17-21)
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