We should resist the temptation to neglect our marriage in the face of the overwhelming task of parenthood, because it is through our marriage that we first model Christian virtue to our children.
by Melissa Gordon
Recently I was asked a question that struck me like a mallet strikes a gong: How do you pass the faith on to your daughter?
Now, it’s sort of a shock that the question came as such a shock. After all, it’s not like I haven’t thought about this—and thought about this and thought about this. In fact, I’ve thought about this nearly every day since Robin was born. I have thought about it abstractly, for example when I daydream about what kind of woman she could grow into. I have thought about it concretely, as with my plans to illustrate the prayer of Saint Francis for her bedroom as a daily reminder of what to strive toward. And I have thought about it with fierce resolve, like when I hear about another act of violence, or when I witness the unbridled discrepancy between the rich and the poor, or when I simply watch her at play, and I marvel at her sweet innocence.
Still, there’s a big part of me that wants to cling to my daughter’s age like a lifeboat. She’s only 15 months old, what can she really learn now, anyway? I still have time to think this one through and come up with a game plan, right? But one only needs to observe a 15-month-old for a few moments to know that such a strategy is mere procrastination. Babes this age are already absorbing a lot, all the time. In fact, they may never again assimilate as much information as they do right now.
So, how can I be mindful about passing on my faith to such a vigilant young child? The best description of my efforts (at this point, at least) is a saying I learned from the Amish: “More is caught than taught.” In other words, I try to model Christian virtues through my actions. And while this can be manifested in a variety of ways, I believe that perhaps the most influential way for me to model Christian virtues right now is through my marriage. My husband and I are the people with whom my daughter spends the most time, and we are the people from whom she witnesses the most interaction.
Some may think this response is a cop-out. I love my husband dearly, so modeling Christian virtues in our relationship should be easy, right? I might remind those skeptics that we have a 15-month-old. And that patience is one of the Christian virtues.
There’s nothing novel about the fact that marriage is not always easy. Nor is it news that marriage can become more difficult once a child is brought into the mix. Along with new stressors come new opportunities for impatience and frustration, while less time together can lead to less talking, less listening, less connecting, less laughing, and less forgiving. It can be all too easy to let a marriage fall to the wayside when little people are demanding nearly all of our energy and attention.
I think we need to resist—and resist with all our might—this temptation to neglect our marriage in the face of the often overwhelming job of parenting. It is in modeling loving-kindness towards our spouse that our children first witness Christian interaction with others. How can we expect them to speak lovingly to their siblings, share with their friends, be friendly and courteous to neighbors, if they do not see us interact this way within our own marriage?
Several years ago I read a list of suggestions for a healthier physical life. I’ve adopted the same format (more of this, less of that) to create a list for a healthier marriage. I’ve shared my list below. As you read through it, be aware that most items could be taken in a variety of ways (for example, intimacy can be interpreted as physical intimacy or emotional intimacy). I also invite you to create your own set of guidelines that might be more appropriate for your own marriage.
More appreciation, less taking for granted
More gratitude, less critique
More forgiveness, less resentment
More loving kindness, less indifference
More intimacy, less ignoring
More affection, less neglect
More sharing, less withholding
More listening, less interrupting
This little list serves as a reminder of what I aim for in my marriage. Some days I certainly fail. Other days I feel triumphant. Usually I feel like I’m doing better at some of the items than at others.
Recently I was holding Robin when my husband came up and kissed me. Immediately, she smiled and leaned in to join the fun. Now, whenever we kiss, Robin will run over and lift up her arms for us to pick her up so she can kiss and be kissed. Family moments like that are what motivate me to integrate this list into my marriage on a daily basis.
Melissa Gordon lives with her family in Minnesota. She is a first-time mom who is trying to figure out how to be a wife, a mother, and a writer.