My husband and I have been married for 17 years. We have four kids. When you have four kids, your family often feels as though your life is centered around them. It’s hard work to make sure that our homes are gospel-centered vs. kid-centered. It’s something that our family continues to work on. And it is hard, but it’s doable.
I will never forget early on in our marriage, before we had any kids, my husband got a phone call from a buddy of his from college. He said, “Hey, I wanted to let you know that my parents are getting a divorce. I thought, Your parents are getting a divorce? They’ve been married for 25 years, and now they are calling it quits? I have no idea what caused their divorce, but I would guess that somewhere along the way their home became kid-centered vs. gospel-centered.
As parents, we are not usually strategic about this; it just slowly happens over time. When you find out that you are pregnant or that you are going to become a parent through adoption, you usually sit down and ask yourself and your spouse a few questions. Do we want a home birth or hospital birth? Do we have insurance right now? Do we have money for this adoption? Do we tell our friends? What will our parents think? No one usually asks: Do we want to raise our children in a kid-centered home or a gospel-centered home? No one would ever say we choose kid-centered.
But the problem gets even greater because, oftentimes, kid-centered homes make us feel like good parents. And we’ll take it a step further—they make us look like good parents. Look how much they love their kids. Look how much they are invested in their life. Look at all the things they do with their children. We think that because we only have our kids for 18 years, we should build our entire lives around them. I have three dangers, however, that I think a being a kid-centered family poses for parents.
Kid-centered families will put your marriage at stake.
Like I said before, I have no idea what caused the divorce of that couple, but might I suggest that one day after 25 years of raising two children and sending them off to college, they woke up, looked at the person that they share a bed with, and had no memory of how they got there. They didn’t even know who they were. They had lost their first love of each other because they had centered their entire life around making their children happy. And their marriage took all of the heat for that.
This happens little by little. They lost touch with their intimacy because they were so busy with the kids. They didn’t have time to cultivate their marriage, relationship, and friendship because of the kids. They didn’t keep their marriage at the top of their priorities because the kids needed so much. While it’s true, I get it. We have three teenagers, and they take a lot of our time. From football games to football practices to hair appointments to medical appointments to braces appointments to church activities—I often feel like a glorified Uber driver, except I don’t get paid, and my ratings are questionable.
But I believe we should not love our kids more than we love our spouses. I tell my kids often, “I love your dad more than I love you.” It’s not mean; it’s very true. We continue to invest in each other because God has called us as parents to raise these children together, and our relationship must take priority if we will be good parents. When we place our kids and their activities and our relationship with them over our marriage, our marriage will suffer. It’s hard because this takes time, and so do our children. But it is worth it to prioritize marriage because if we do not have healthy relationships, we cannot parent and disciple our kids well.
We create entitled children.
We have four children in our home, which means they don’t often get what they want when they want it. And that is called life. This world is a hard place to live in if you are constantly waiving the banner of “that’s not fair.” When our families revolve around our kids and cater to their every need and want, they will expect that from the world. We will be teaching them that this is how life works and that they deserve whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want it.
But the truth of the matter is that we don’t deserve anything. In fact, the gospel is a direct contradiction to this idea that we deserve to have it all, that we deserve happiness at all costs. God’s Word teaches us to be servants, to lay down our lives for those we love. When we allow our kids to be the center of our worlds and our homes, we are not showing them how to follow Jesus as a servant. Our kids will have a harder time serving those around them when they feel entitled and are used to being served all the time. Parents, our goal is to raise children that love, obey, and follow Jesus. Let’s not make it harder for them by allowing our entire home to revolve around their needs and wants.
We create idols out of our children.
This is the greatest danger. We create idols out of our children when our homes revolve around them. And some of us even think that this is cute and normal. We actually hide behind the fact that we are making idols of our children by calling it great parenting. But we are not supposed to find our joy and satisfaction in them. Anything that we desire more or find more satisfaction in than the Lord can become our idol.
This is scary because it doesn’t always look like idolatry. This should put a bit of fear in us as parents because we serve a God who is holy and jealous and desires all of our affections. And he is the only one who can provide all of our satisfactions. We see this clearly in the Old Testament. The first of the 10 Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before me.” When Moses was up on the mountain, the people below got tired of waiting, took matters into their own hands, and created their own golden calf to worship. God responded by telling them that they were a stiff-necked people and that his wrath was going to burn hot against and consume them.
Recently, we had to say no to something good for some of our kids because we knew it wasn’t the best for the family. It wasn’t an easy decision for me; it took me a while to believe that the “no” was okay. In my heart, I began to idolize my children and their happiness, thinking that my role as their mom was to do everything I could to make them happy—and that I would find my happiness in watching them be happy. It sounds good and normal, but sometimes a good thing is not the best thing.
When we idolize something that we find our happiness in (i.e., our children), we begin to think that their happiness is going to satisfy us. When we do this by bending to every need or want, we are creating idols out of our children. Idolizing our work, a substance, or even our marriages over God—we often see the danger in those. But when we talk about idolizing our children, we miss it. We think our kids aren’t idols, but yet we desire to make them happy more than we desire to please God. We find our satisfaction in their happiness. Or, our money and actions prove that they hold more worth than the things that will further the Kingdom. Or, we find ourselves consistently striving to find our joy, satisfaction, and ultimately our worth in our children.
There are many dangers in idolizing our children and our families over the gospel. Our marriages will suffer, our kids will feel entitled, but more than any of those, we will continually be let down and struggle to feel content. When we make idols out of our kids, just like anything else, we will be left very unsatisfied. Idols were never meant to sustain us, to supply our joy, to supply our contentment. That is something that only God can do.
Like I said earlier, this is hard work. These are conversations we must visit often. It is not our job as parents to receive our happiness from our kids or give our happiness to them. Our job is to follow the lead of Proverbs 22:6 which says, “Point your kids in the right direction and when they are old they will not be lost.” We cannot teach our kids to give their lives away for the gospel when all they see is us giving our lives away for them. Parents, our job is big, and a lot is at stake. We are raising the next generation of world changers for the gospel, but that next generation will be unable to change the world if they believe that the world revolves around them. Let’s not be parents that feed our kids this lie.
This originally appeared as a talk at the ERLC National Conference. For free conference messages, visit our site.