Do your children often draw you into their arguments with their spouse? Are you aware of the problems they are experiencing in their marriage? If so, you might need to set some healthy boundaries.
I could not tell you when, if ever, my children have had an argument or disagreement with their spouses. Some of you may find this hard to believe while others, along with me, believe that it’s not our place to be the referee in our children’s marriages. My husband and I made this clear to our children when they married their spouses.
BC (or before I met Christ), I made the mistake of over-sharing my marriage problems with my mom. Of course, this shaped how she and my father felt about my spouses (I was married and divorced twice before becoming a Christian…a fact that I’m not proud of, but it is what it is). I had ever been taught about healthy boundaries within the marriage relationship.
WHAT IS A BOUNDARY AND WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE?
According to Webster’s Dictionary[i], a boundary is something that shows where an area ends and another area begins (such as a fence, a river, or an imaginary line). It is a point or limit that indicates where two things become different. Boundaries are unofficial rules about what should and should not be done; limits that define acceptable behavior.
Our world would look completely different without boundaries. For instance, how would we know where one country begins, and another one ends? There would be no borders.
How would we define where our property lines begin and end? Without property lines, neighbors (both good and evil) could come and go on our property as they please.
Boundaries define how we act toward one another. Our laws are nothing more than boundary lines that have become legal limits (both physical and unseen). There are human-made boundaries as well as God-given ones.
BOUNDARIES ARE GOD’S WAY OF KEEPING OUR RELATIONSHIPS HEALTHY!
When we understand the season we are in with our adult children; we can make the necessary changes to ensure that our relationship with them and their spouse's shifts from that of parent/child to one that exhibits mutual respect for each other. Lines have to be drawn and adhered to by both parties.
When I married Joe (my husband of 27 years, thank you very much), I knew that for our marriage to be healthy, I had to break the habit of running to mom and dad every time there was a problem in my relationship with my spouse. I wanted to bring glory to God in my marriage and allow the Word to shape me into the wife He was calling me to be. Therefore, I diligently searched the Word, sought Pastoral counsel and trusted in the wisdom of godly women that the Father placed in my life to help me work through the difficulties (there were more than a few) and grow in my marriage.
We know that God has called us to set new boundaries when we enter into the marriage covenant. We are to leave our mother and father and cleave to our spouse (Matthew 19:4-6). So what does that look like as parents whose children are gone from the nest? I mean, I certainly understood the principle of leaving and cleaving as it related to my parents and me. But, in all honesty, it becomes a bit more challenging when you are the parent of the child who is learning to uphold this Biblical life lesson of setting new boundaries. We must adhere to these new boundaries if we desire to continue having a healthy relationship with our adult children.
There should be an unbreakable bond between a mother and her child. From the moment of conception, we, as mothers, have a strong need to protect our children. We hurt when they hurt, and can often sense their pain, discouragement, and disappointment. These feelings do not simply disappear because our children have grown and left our nest. Therefore, it’s natural to want to offer advice, delve into their private lives, and continue to be the one they seek for wisdom and encouragement.
However, the bond between mother and child (as well as father and child) must shift as the child enters into marriage. They are called to be joined as one to their spouse (Ephesians 5:31).
Joe and I understood that when we became married, we became inseparable in the Spirit. God saw us as one! Joe understood that his bond with his mother and father would change. He still loved, respected and appreciated them dearly but his role was no longer that of a young son. He was a husband and had responsibilities to me, his wife. Likewise, my responsibilities were different as well. I no longer depended on mom and dad but on the man that promised to take care of me for the rest of his life (he does a great job at it, I might add). Spiritually, it is as though the umbilical cord was severed between our parents and us. New boundaries had to be formed.
In a healthy home environment, our closest relationship before marriage is primarily with our parents. They hugely influenced us as we grew up, shaping our character, our values, helping us make our most monumental decisions and, hopefully training us in righteousness as we matured into adults. And though we are not called to sever the relationship completely, there must be a mutual understanding that our spouse comes first and foremost in our life. God has called us to relinquish our commitment to and dependence on our mother and father and become devoted to the relationship with our spouse above all other relationships. He’s set this principle in place to help ensure the survival of the marriage.
TOO MUCH INFORMATION
There may be times when we, the parent, have to tell our grown child that they are sharing too much information (TMI). I don’t want to know when my children argue or have money problems within their marriage. Lord only knows I’d be up all night worrying about it and trying to fix it myself (don’t judge me…I’m a closet worrier walking out my salvation daily). I’ve instructed them that unless there is a problem with physical abuse in the home, drug abuse, mental illness, or unfaithfulness (pornography and sexual addiction would fall into that category), I don’t want to know. Ignorance is bliss! I pray for my children and their spouses daily, and I trust that Holy Spirit can quicken to me any problems that might need prayer regarding their marriages. I must add, however, that if they choose in agreement to come to Joe and me seeking our advice on a matter, we will be happy to give them godly counsel.
My son has experienced the pain and heartbreak of divorce. His first wife was like a daughter to me, and I loved her dearly. We called or sent texts to each other almost daily. I prayed for them often and knew, by the Spirit, when something was just not right within the marriage. She’d stopped calling me and answering my texts. As I sought after God, the Holy Spirit led me to be praying for their marriage. It wasn’t long before we found out that there was trouble in paradise and that she was having an affair. My son didn’t have to tell me. The Spirit of God did. If we seek Him, He’ll tell us what we need to know so that we can intercede (not interfere). I only gave my son advice as he came to me and asked for it. Mostly, I prayed for them as individuals and for the marriage to survive. I learned that even though he had to suffer through this intense time of pain and brokenness, he survived and is a better man for it. I’m thankful that I didn’t know when the problems started or I would have gotten into the mix and tried to fix it myself instead of allowing God to have sovereignty in the relationship.
I would have been mortified had I found out my husband had shared any of our marital struggles with his parents. I’m sure the feeling is mutual. I can honestly say that both sets of parents are in the dark as to any problems we’ve ever had.
My children deserve the same respect from my husband and me as we required of our parents. They deserve to work out their problems without our interference. They deserve their privacy and for their boundaries to be honored and respected.
I knew a young woman who confided in her mother about everything. She knew every fight she’d ever had with her husband, every financial problem, and even the difficulties in their sex life. Of course, all of this negative information affected the way her mother viewed her husband. She began to dislike him and treat him with contempt. It was no surprise when I found out that this young woman was getting a divorce. Allowing our children to share this type of information (or seeking it for that matter) will only lead to the destruction of our relationship with their spouse and, possibly the downfall of their marriage. Who would want their mother-in-law to know all the details of their marriage; the good, the bad and the ugly? It would be as though there were three in the marriage bed instead of just two!
It’s not our job to fix our children’s marriage, save them from financial ruin, or tell them how to train up their children. God has called them to fly from our nest for a reason. He desires to be their God and longs for them to run to Him when they are in desperate need.
Don’t get me wrong; we can still have a fulfilling relationship with our children without having to meddle, manipulate and maneuver ourselves into remaining a prominent part of their lives.
So, now that my children are gone from the nest, they, too, have learned to leave and cleave, to set healthy boundaries, and trust in God. I’ve learned the importance of letting them go. I see a healthiness in their marriages that might not be there had they not learned this important principle.
How about you dear sojourner? Have you set healthy boundaries with your children who have left your nest? Do you feel like perhaps you have crossed boundary lines that you were not meant to cross? We all do at one point in time or another. No worries! We can repent and ask God to help us understand our proper boundaries. It’s important that we ask our children (and their spouses) for forgiveness and continue learning and growing so that our relationships are happy and healthy.
Feel free to email me and share with me some of your trials, lessons learned, and the experiences you’ve had as your children have left the nest. I’d love to include them on my blog (without names of course).
Leave a comment, and please…share with friends that, along with us, need strength for the journey!
Learning to soar,
[i] Merriam-Webster Dictionary app
Connect with Cindy at Sftjm7@yahoo.com
Cindy Schroppel is an author, blogger and speaker.
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