A Christian Counselor Speaks on Families
Families are communities bound by love and a common mission. Every family has a particular life cycle, which includes different seasons in which its members have different needs, developmental goals, and challenges. Family leadership requires enormous amounts of wisdom, skill, and energy ̶ and energy always ebbs and flows. Different seasons exert stress and strain on marriages and there are always tasks to be done. In the complexity of family life, we need some anchor points ̶ constant points of reference to which we can recalibrate our priorities and practices, regardless of the season. In this article, I suggest three essential anchors in caring for your family: self-care, spouse-care, and child/household care.
Self-Care in the Family
Jesus commanded his followers to love their neighbor as themselves (Matthew 22:39), which raises the question: How do you love yourself? Work and family life, which involves caring for the members of your household, require the expending of self. But how do you get replenished? Who and what pours life into you? After a day’s work away from the home or within the home, how do you decompress? What do down-time, renewal, or the cultivation of the inner life look like to you?
Jesus is our example. When he was tired, he fell asleep. When he was hungry, he ate. When he was thirsty, he drank. When lonely, he asked for companionship and prayer. And when he needed direction and encouragement, he went off to quiet places to commune with his Heavenly Father. Jesus is a real human being. He didn’t neglect his needs, but sought to address them. He wasn’t considered selfish. In every season, adults are responsible for ensuring healthy self-care because others depend on them. What do you need physically, emotionally, and spiritually in order to be recharged after becoming depleted? You may need to periodically address this with your spouse. Talk about what you need for self-care and how you can support one another to do this in healthy ways.
Care of Your Spouse
Marriage is a unique and pivotal relationship in every household. The tone of the scriptures about marriage underscores this truth. They speak of husbands and wives as ‘one-flesh’. All are to honor the marriage bed and keep it pure. When spouses give priority to their marriage, then their children feel secure and blessed. Spousal care is demonstrated in practices that convey that your marriage is a priority. These include daily checking in (giving focused attention to understanding the other’s heart), speaking affirmation and appreciation, communicating in one’s spouse’s love languages, and taking time for dates. Your spouse’s love languages could include things such as physical affection, words of affirmation, unsolicited acts of service, receiving meaningful gifts, and quality time. Do you speak these daily, regardless of what he or she has done?
What do we need to do to in order to ‘cleave’ (Genesis 2:24-25), or to be bonded like glue to one another? How am I being a student of my husband or wife? One’s marriage is one’s first caring responsibility before God, and is even more primary than the care of children. When the early church was looking for quality leadership, they looked for people of high character who also cared well for their family relationships.
Many parents often make the costly mistake of focusing most of their time, energies, and resources on parenting or on a child to the neglect of their marriage. When parents turn their children into a surrogate spouse, turning to them for emotional support or to vent about their marriage, the children are harmed emotionally. Healthy adults neither neglect caring for their marriage nor caring for their children.
Caring for Your Household and Children
The needs of children are meant to be addressed jointly by both parents. Dads and moms uniquely bless their children by offering different resources for addressing their physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs. The character development needs of children change with time and parents need to be on the same page about such needs. This underscores the need for intentional awareness and team-work by the parents. Wives and husbands bring different natural abilities to household tasks, but these need to be coordinated.
For example, clearing your calendars can be a vital weekly practice, as can listening to God together as you seek to raise your children at their different ages, with different personalities, and in different seasons. Clearing calendars is a way to preview important events, experiences, and appointments for the week.
Another helpful practice that my wife and I learned from others is to retreat together for several hours or for a half-day each quarter. The flow of retreating is to first listen to God individually, then come together to share what we hear, and finally to pray together according to what God has revealed for that particular season. “Unless the LORD builds the house, they that labor, labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1-2) Unless we are listening to God together for our household, we could be spinning our wheels and expending a lot of energy, but missing what is really important. This quarterly retreat provides a focus that enables you to listen and to pay attention to your own relationship with God, your marriage, and your children. It enables you to reflect on how you can join him in his work in others, both in the present and in the future. To listen, share, and pray together is a great way to bond and to care for your household. A frequent review of financial matters, household maintenance, and other tasks is also helpful.
Christian Counseling to Strengthen Your Family
These three anchors are non-negotiable aspects of family care and can be promoted, strengthened, and supported through Christian counseling. There are times when we all need help implementing structure, hearing our spouse, employing our imagination collectively, and enacting new practices. If you feel that you need this, our licensed and Christ-centered therapists can help.