“For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:31-33).
Since I began these weekly reflections, I have written about families, and particularly on the relationship between children and their parents. However, I have neglected one thing: the relationship between husband and wife. I began with the above quote because it sets a tone for what marriage is to be: an icon of Christ’s love for the Church. A family cannot be an icon of a little church unless the relationship between husband and wife is an icon of Christ’s love for the Church.
I say the above because at times family life can become too “child-centered.” The priority is making one’s own children happy and doing what is done for their sake. This is fine, so long as the health and the stability of the marriage is not sacrificed for the purpose of making one’s children happy.
How often have we heard stories of marriages in trouble, in which a decision is made to not divorce for the sake of the children in the family? This puts the child in charge of the marriage. Yet when parents do get divorced, children are immediately told, “it is not their fault.”
Many children go the therapy because they have been “identified” as having problems. “Fix my kid and all will be well.” Yet in some cases, when a therapist gets to know the family system, the child’s problems are symptoms of dysfunction in the marriage. Until that is addressed, the child’s issues don’t get resolved. When a child is the “identified problem” who needs counseling, he or she serves a purpose of keeping the family together. He needs to be the problem so that the marital issues don’t get addressed. This is why individual therapy in these cases will not be helpful.
So, I would encourage parents to periodically talk about the state of their marriage with their priest. It is good to take an inventory and ask if there are healthy boundaries between children and their parents. Are parents making time for themselves? Do they periodically go out on a date? Do they find the time to pray together? Is marriage and family life child-centered or Christ-centered? The two are not the same. If there is a need for marital counseling, the parish priest might be able to help a couple see that and seek the necessary help.
There are other areas to explore with regard to family life. In the weeks to come I will write further on such issues as single parent family life and reconstituted families – when two people remarry and bring their own children into the marriage.
The blessing of the Lord be upon you,
The unworthy +Paul