Family planning is a controversial topic that brings out strong feelings and visions.
The family is a focal point of life that God has designed. That’s why the Apostle Paul devoted so much space in Ephesians to the issues of married couples (5:22-33), kids (6:1-3) and fathers (6:4).
If two people marry in their 20s and live into their 70s, that’s a substantial marriage commitment and a long life together. One would never enter into a contract for that length of time without clarifying a few things like job description, work expectancy and costs involved. But many young people don’t have any idea of the lifetime of work they are taking on when they recite wedding vows.
It may be good to know that there are five phases of marriage. Each requires spouses to work together as a team and combine their unique talents, temperaments, personalities and strengths. There are “seasons” of life together, and building a relationship is a lifelong process.
• The Honeymoon Years: During this first period of married life, two people from different families discover one another. Differences and similarities begin to surface in areas such as finances, sexuality, faith, time management and personal habits. Each difference gives them an opportunity for, perhaps, conflict and, hopefully, growth. Patterns they establish will affect what happens in the next five phases. The honeymoon usually ends with the birth or adoption of the first child.
• The Childbearing Years: Children usually bring rapid transition. Even though they are welcomed with a grateful heart and a miracle from God, babies can cause “an invasion” to what had been a cozy twosome. Often, the father feels more displaced because most mothers bond much quicker with the infant through birth, nursing and nurturing. Let’s face it: The childbearing years can be extraordinarily draining and difficult. The parents undoubtedly will give much more than they receive, and tension and conflict can erupt in their relationship that started off so lovingly. That’s why it’s important to set aside some time each day to talk to each other. Communication is everything, between the couples and in prayer. God still is the best wireless connection there is.
• The Child-Rearing Years: As a couple’s children pass through elementary, middle and high school, new authority figures emerge. They will be teachers, coaches, youth pastors and the most influential of all, their peers. It’s a great time for parents to help children see themselves and the world through discussion, prayer, Bible study and support that creates unity of values. If the parents are secure in their marriage, they can help their kids face many tough issues the right way — through God’s word.
• The Child-Launching Years: With the onset of puberty, children begin to notice the opposite sex and discover what love may mean outside the home. This is the beginning of the “leaving process,” as kids grow into young adults and take steps towards their own independence. They start to realize that their future contains work, study in high school or college and perhaps marriage. They will experience trial runs of freedom, may bump their heads and learn the easy or hard way about right and wrong. It makes a huge difference that both parents remain available when their children make wrong turns.
Failure — whether in academics, financial matters, work, social relations or experiments in freedom — offers important opportunities for learning and perhaps forgiveness. If young people never experience the freedom to fail, parents are making perhaps the worst decision in their lives by not leaving the legacy of life’s experience. We raise our kids with one simple legacy: To look at them with a gentle smile, surge of emotion at their accomplishments, potential success in life and, most of all, God’s blessing and grace in their lives.
• The Empty Nest Years: “They’re gone!” The echo in your home may be joyous or sad, but now the couple will find out whether they’ve grown together or apart. It’s important for every marriage to understand the difference between a “child or career-centered marriage” and the balance that God desires for them. Spouses can experience a joyous recovery of full attention to their marriage. They have more time to spend with each other and usually more resources to do so. They also have the potential excitement of their children’s futures and hopefully, welcoming grandchildren into the world. And that’s what makes God smile upon us. To many of us, being a grandparent is a true testament of God’s love and grace. Just as we think that each phase of our marriage is the greatest time in life, we open a new chapter in our lives and discover that it gets better!
Going through phases in your lives? Need someone who understands and would like to listen to your questions and thoughts? Stephen Ministers can make a huge difference in your life. We’re here to listen, understand and walk with you through joys and sorrows. We are gender-sensitive, Christian ministers who care about you and how you feel in a one-to-one, confidential manner. Call 912-320-7840 for a confidential appointment.
Scherer is a crisis-intervention minister and the leader of the local Stephen Ministry.