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No, we have not joined the Mormon faith, and we’re not polygamists. I have one wife, and she’s sufficient. One’s enough. Two is too many. Three’s a crowd, but my son is different. He’s in training. He has been in marriage training since he was about three years old. The hope is that by the time he ties the knot, the “art of husbandry” will be like painting by numbers. Three “practice wives” will give him many opportunities to get his reps in.
If he can get along with the three ladies in our home—his mom and two sisters, he will have the necessary up-fitting to marry a young lady to love, learn, and lead her well. I introduced this notion of “three wives” to him as wearing leg weights (Hebrews 12:1-2). After you remove them, you feel like you can run forever. For now, he’s persevering under the burden of his “three practice wives.”
Let me explain. Every home is a tight, inescapable community where sinners live elbow to elbow with each other. How each individual treats the other family members is a snapshot of their strengths, weaknesses, qualities, and quirks. The “paying attention parent” sees these relational clues in their children, which signal areas where work must happen to make the family member a better, relational human being.
A marriage certificate will not make a person mature or immature. The wedding day sets the long-term context for people to be who they were before the wedding. There is no upgrade when a guy becomes a husband. Whatever he brings to the wedding day will determine the kind of marriage he and his wife will have. This perspective applies to girls, too, not merely to boys.
Some dating and newlywed couples do not understand this idea. They fall prey to myopic love, which restricts them from seeing beyond what’s in the moment. The good news is that they can see into the past—beyond the “hot date,” who has a history. There were shaping influences that molded him into the person he is today. Sadly, after the honey drips from the honeymoon, myopia burns off, and this reality can bite hard.
Ladies, the man you married is like a long train with many baggage cars. Just because you were not aware of his baggage—or chose to ignore it, it does not mean that it never existed. A parent could help their child to avoid this problem if they provide the appropriate training in the art of marriage while the child is young. I’m speaking “under the sun” because even practice will ultimately not bring what the child needs. It’s by grace that any of us doing anything well, but you don’t want to presume against that mercy by not being all you should for your child.
Sadly, most parents concern themselves more with college choice than equipping the child for the most important and longest relationship he’ll ever have. They steer him to the ideal university and motivate him down the right vocational track, but, too often, they don’t equip him to be a spouse. This problem is why a son should practice the “art of husbandry” long before becoming one. Here are five of the more common responses when I bring up this concept.
Most boys who do not learn to respect, honor, and serve the women in their home—even if it’s their mom—will not intuitively pick up on these concepts after marriage. These character traits are habits. Like all habits, it takes repetition to make them second nature.
A boy’s home is the perfect laboratory to teach and test, hoping to release him into the best version of himself when he’s older. Think about some of your bad habits. You can trace most of the roots back to your childhood. Many of our unappealing traits started as children. Why not use that time to build healthy biblical habits into the psyche (soul) of a child.
The similarity between childhood and marriage is striking. Both are two long-term relational constructs. The child is within a family dynamic where he learns interpersonal, relational skills. One of the most important things he will gain as a child is how to humbly, practically, and wisely respond to sin, which is everyone’s kryptonite. His immediate family will give him ample opportunities to sin, and they will respond in kind.
Sinning is what fallen people do. Living well with other fallen people is the most challenging thing you’ll ever do, which is why some folks choose to isolate themselves from others. Living well with others is the ultimate litmus test of a person’s maturity—especially those inescapable situations. If external relationships turn sour, you can unfriend them and find new ones.
A child can’t leave his family—at least not as quickly as some of them would like to go. Some teens talk about how they can’t wait to get out of the home. They are marking the days until the great emancipation. They typically choose college, military, girlfriends, or careers. They don’t perceive their shortsightedness or factor in how the doctrine of sin is their core problem. Even worse, they don’t see how the next long-term relationship will be a different dance but a similar song.
These kids live in a golfer’s fantasy. The retiree shanks the ball on the number seven-hole and says, “I’ll get it right on the next one.” There is always one more hole to play, even after the eighteenth, because there is still tomorrow. Though the scratch golfer can live in this dream world, it will prove disastrous for the immature relationship expert to stay there. I’ve heard some of these disillusioned teens say,
I didn’t choose my parents or my siblings, but I can choose my wife. When I get to make the decision, things will be different.
Sin does not care who’s doing the picking. It corrupts all people—completely. (See Romans 3:10-12; 5:12.) You may feel better about being in charge, but you will soon learn that you were a primary contributor to your past dysfunction. There have been millions of young people who jumped from the frying pan of a disappointing home life into the fire of a disappointing marriage.
They thought the primary problem was the other person (Matthew 7:3-5). Then they married a different sinner. Guess what? The old patterns resurfaced. They blamed their parents. Now they blame their spouse. Some of these folks choose to divorce; it’s a golfer’s fantasy. Of course, sin will be waiting in the next relationship. Fallenness is the tie that binds all Adamic people together.
Children need a sin response plan. The first place to implement a sound sin response plan is in the home. One way you can think about this is to use “marriage, husband, and wife language” when you talk to your children. Let this language be a steady drumbeat in the home, which applies to a son or daughter. Discuss and demonstrate what it means to relate to a husband or wife within the marriage construct.
For example, teach your son to open the car door for his mother. If he has a sister, talk to him about serving her this way, too. When he’s entering a building with the females in the family, train him to stop, grab the door, and open it for the ladies. There are many other ways to do this, like not talking over each other in the home or never hitting another sibling. Of course, no yelling or name-calling are no-brainers. Self-control, restraint, and discretion are golden jewels in all relationships.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
The most effective means to equip a son in the “skill of husbandry” is for him to imitate his father. Pictures have a much more powerful impact than words. A husband’s teaching is secondary and supplementary to how he treats his wife and girls in the home. If he is Jesus to them, it will profoundly shape that little boy. If he is not, the adverse is powerfully and potentially devastatingly real.
Imagine a child receiving eighteen years of marriage messaging about the art of husbandry. Your steady stream of messages about being kind and thoughtful toward the opposite sex could become so ingrained that he’d never depart from what he learned from his relationship school—your home. The primary things you are looking for in your children are the heart attitudes they exhibit toward each other.
It’s possible to teach them rote behaviors, but you may rear a relational legalist if you don’t address the heart behind the actions. There is a world of difference between a spouse ticking the box of right relational responses versus the one who has a deep affection for the other person. Some of these heart attitudes are honor, love, and respect. I have already mentioned self-control, restraint, and discretion, which are observable fruits of those heart attitudes.
The most accurate way to measure a child’s heart attitude is by his reactions when he’s not getting his way. There will be times when he’s having a bad day. In other instances, a family member will be mean to him. Both situations are snapshots of his future marriage. By observing his current attitudinal responses, you can make at least two conclusions:
It’s vital to wrap up these concepts by circling back to the most crucial relational training you will ever give your child. If you’re not modeling the person that you want your son to become, all of this will fall flat in one of two ways. He will reject your relationship teaching if you’re not practically practicing what you’re teaching him to be. Or he will choose to be different from you, which could be a better version, but his reactions will come from a heart of anger, not because he’s head over heels in love with God and others.
Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).
Let him see you honoring your wife. Let him experience your affection for your wife. Let him know what sacrificial serving looks like by your example (Mark 10:45). Let him “compete” with you as you both try to outdo each other in loving the women in your home. If you have girls, treat them as “wives.” Let them experience what it is like to be cherished, nourished, loved, respected, honored, served, and led.
It provides the right view of what a biblical man should be. If daughters experience this from you, they probably won’t crave it from boys. You should “be their man.” Show them what biblical manhood is like by your example to them and their mother. Please don’t leave them to speculate on these matters. Be clear by the life you display before them in your home.
Yes, we joke around about my son having three wives, but he also knows it’s a serious business. We cherish the women in our home. We don’t presume on them. We seek ways to serve them. We want them to feel our love and affection.
It is part of being a man to lead and protect a woman. When Lucia and I go out on a date, I have told my son many times, “You’re the leader. You take care of the girls.” He loves stepping up to this responsibility. He loves practicing being a man. Someday, he will be the man.