Remember Everyone loves Raymond? One of my favorite characters, Marie, was the matriarch of the family. Passive aggressive and manipulative, she made sure the lives of her adult children revolved around her. She often made their lives miserable with her meddling, resulting in over-the-top dysfunctional family dynamics.
Although Marie cracked me up with her antics, I wouldn’t pick her as a role model!
She kept a neat house, was a good cook, and devoted herself to her children, but Marie’s priorities were off. She believed she was dedicating herself exclusively to her children even into adulthood, but in reality, she sought her identity in them, and the result was that she emotionally suffocated them.
So how do we avoid the pitfalls of Marie?
God Comes First
It’s a no-brainer to most of us Christians that God should come first in our lives. And by that I don’t mean spending double the time reading the Bible each morning. I’m talking about where I find my identity. When God comes first, I find my identity, purpose, and meaning in life in being his child. My status as a wife and mother—while important—will change over the years and is seasonal. In the future, I will experience an empty nest once my kids are launched and may even know widowhood. So it’s crucial even now, in the flurry of this busy season, to cultivate finding my identity in Christ, not deriving my purpose from my roles: wife, mother, or employee.
My Marriage Comes Next
I believe by putting my marriage first, I’m actually giving my kids a huge gift: the security of parents who love each other. Few things make kids feel more secure than having parents who love and like each other. But with the demands of parenthood and other external pressures of work and life, putting my spouse first takes purposeful intent.
It is with much intention we schedule occasional date nights and organize babysitting, close the laptop, or put down our smart phones to engage with each other. And the time spent nurturing and strengthening our marriage spills over in its benefits to our kids. Whether it’s spending time playing a game of Scrabble together or working out a conflict, our marriage takes priority because we’re convinced this is the best way to serve our children too. Nurturing our marriage must not come at the expense of neglecting our children. But neither should nurturing my children come at the expense of neglecting my marriage.
My Kids Don’t Fulfill Me
I love my kids and make daily sacrifices for them. When they find joy in playing in a pile of autumn leaves, I find joy too. I am excited to read them the books I loved as a child and relive the story with them. I celebrate when they learn to read or get better at playing a sport they love.
I can be tempted to find my identity and heart’s fulfillment in and through what my children do or accomplish. I may see this in myself when my kids joyfully obey me, do well scholastically, or succeed in sports. Do I find my self-worth in their accomplishments? If they fail am I angry because I feel like a bad parent? Do I idolize the idea of having my kids live close by, visit often, or choose certain jobs when they grow up?
I’ve observed quite a few parents who still struggle with finding approval from their children even into their adulthood. Whether it’s giving them emotional guilt trips or trying to manipulate how close they live to each other, not letting our children live their own lives can really hurt a parents’ relationship with their adult child. A relationship built on guilt or manipulation doesn’t breed healthy relationships.
Yet it’s now—while my kids are young—that I must start creating healthy relational boundaries with my kids. Emotional guilt trips may work, but they will not create a genuine bond. Manipulation may be successful, but is that how I want to teach my kids to relate to others? Each child is created by God and has their own special purpose in life; I must not hold them back from doing or going where God leads by making them feel tethered to making me happy in their choices.
Hopefully, I will let them live out that purpose without the manipulation and dysfunctional family drama, unlike Everyone Loves Raymond’s Marie.
Blessings to you,
Danielle Ayers Jones