My 5-year-old son looked at me in defiance. Ben did not like his new stepdad ruining his life—watching his TV, making rules in his house.

When I didn’t jump to appease my little boy’s angst, he roared, “You love him more than you love me!”

My heart gasped. At first, I was taken aback and not sure how to respond. I gazed at his chubby little cheeks, the face I would die for. He was so young … but he would grow up one day, wouldn’t he? He would be a man.

“Are you going to be here when I’m old?” I demanded. We were both a bit surprised at my response. “You’re going to grow up and get married and leave me. And then who will be here? Robbie. He’ll be here to take care of me, and you’ll be gone.”

It was a moment of clarity for us both.

A house divided

Kids are only with us for a brief time, and while we have a grand responsibility to raise them in God’s ways, He didn’t intend for them to stay with us forever. We are to train them to be strong, self-sufficient adults who love the Lord and then send them into the world like arrows. As Psalm 127:4 says, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.”

Many single moms pile all their affection and purpose on their kids, but 18 years later, those moms are lost. They may even feel betrayed by or cling to and control their adult children.

This attitude also creeps into stepfamilies. Kids are experts at manipulating our affections with accusations and predictions. Our love tempts us to side with the child when there is family tension. After all, we’ve known our children longer and gone through significant life-altering times together.

But Jesus said a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). God has sanctioned us to be with our spouse “till death do us part,” not our children. If you allow your children to drive a wedge in the relationship, your marriage will eventually suffer.

The day I took such a harsh stand against my son was the day I drew a line in the sand with him. I essentially told him, “Robbie is my spouse, and you are not.”

But that didn’t mean Ben was left by the wayside. Here are a couple of ways putting my marriage first actually made me a better parent.

First, a good marriage is the best teacher.

Most behavior is modeled, not taught. Kids learn to be adults from what they see you do. And when you have a good marriage, you are teaching your kids to have one, too.

Not only that, but you are exemplifying the gospel through your roles as husband and wife. In Ephesians 5:22-33, the Apostle Paul explains how marriage is a living example of Christ’s relationship with the Church. Husbands should love wives with the kind of love that made Jesus sacrifice His life, and wives are to emulate how the Church honors Christ and follows His leading.

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Second, a healthy marriage is the best way to nurture your children and help them grow to be emotionally and physically strong.

In a study published by Princeton University, “Why Marriage Matters for Child Wellbeing,” David C. Ribar concludes:

[S]tudies of child wellbeing … typically find that direct positive associations remain between children’s wellbeing and marriage, strongly suggesting that marriage is more than the sum of [its] particular parts. … The advantages of marriage for children’s wellbeing are likely to be hard to replicate through policy interventions other than those that bolster marriage itself.

Ribar’s studies are consistent with the biblical principles of child rearing and family: healthy marriages produce healthy children.

My son now loves Robbie. He respects him; he’s proud of him. But most importantly, he sees his parents as a united force. Ben no longer pushes me to choose between them. He knows he will lose. That wasn’t easy for me. I shed a lot of tears when Ben couldn’t see how my loyalty to my husband was actually good for him too. But each tear sowed seeds of stability in our lives, and now we are reaping the benefits.

Every time I hear, “Watch, Daddy!” or see Ben run to Robbie’s arms, I say a little prayer of thanksgiving.

Copyright © 2019 by Sabrina McDonald. All rights reserved.