My son has been in marriage training since he was about three years old. We hope by the time he ties the knot, the art of husbandry will be like painting by numbers. With three “practice” wives, he’ll at least have time to get his reps in.
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No, we have not joined the Mormon faith and we’re not polygamists. I have one wife and believe that is sufficient. One’s enough. Two is too many. Three’s a crowd, but my son is different. He’s in training.
I figure if he can manage three wives, by the time he ties the knot he will be well-equipped to be married to one. I told him the other day it’s like 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 three wives: his two sisters and mom.
To all you young girls out there I want you to know if our plan works out, my son will be an excellent husband. Typically, how children treat the members in their family is an early snapshot of how they’ll treat their future family members.
A marriage certificate will not make a person mature or immature. Marriage provides a long-term context for people to be who they have been. There is no upgrade when a guy becomes a husband. He will be what he has been. Whatever he brings to the wedding day will determine the kind of marriage he and his wife will have. Their future life together will be determined by their past lives.
I think sometimes this idea gets lost on dating couples and newlyweds. They become caught up in the present while not giving proper consideration to the past. It’s only after the honey drips out of the honeymoon when their real selves resurface. On occasion, I’ve heard a few women say, “He’s not the man I married.”
The man you married is like a long train with many baggage cars. Just because you were not aware of his baggage does not mean it never existed. Most poor marriages happen because the participants were not previously trained in the art of marriage while they were children.
The biggest concern for most parents is college choice rather than equipping the child for the most important and longest relationship he’ll ever have. They may steer him to the right college; they may possibly put him in the right vocational track, but too often the child is not equipped to be a successful marriage partner.
Preparing for the Future
This is why it’s imperative a son practices the art of husbandry long before he becomes one. When do you think it’s a good time to teach a child how to be a husband? Here are five of the more common responses I have heard.
- He’ll figure it out after he’s married.
- Just make sure he has premarital counseling.
- I’ve never thought about it.
- Nobody ever taught me.
- I don’t know how to teach my son to be a husband.
Lucia and I thought that if we started early with him then it would give him time to practice, hoping by the time he gets to the altar he’ll have a solid practical understanding of how to relate well with another person in a long term relationship.
Boys who have not been trained to respect, honor, and serve the women in their lives will not intuitively pick up on these concepts after marriage. The premarital season and honeymoon were never meant to be the introductory training contexts for a marriage marathon.
Marriage practice, whether good or bad, happens in the home from the earliest moments a child can process and apply truths. A home is a laboratory where boys and girls are taught, tested, and released to be what they should be for the rest of their lives.
Statistically speaking my son will be single for just over two decades. He could potentially be married for more than fifty years. Marriage is hard enough, but it is profoundly more difficult to be stuck in a horrible one. Horrible marriages are full of spouses who were not prepared to do life well with another person.
The Tie that Binds
Childhood and marriage are two long-term relational contexts that somewhat mirror each other. The child is within a family dynamic where he learns interpersonal relational skills. Marriage is like post-graduation where he puts his childhood training to practice.
One of the most important things he will learn as a child is how to humbly, practically, and wisely respond to sin. His immediate family will give him ample opportunities to sin and to be sinned against. Sinning is what fallen people do. All the time. Living well with other fallen people is one of the most important things you could ever teach your child.
He will have relationships outside his family, but that is different. Living well with outside relationships is not a challenge. Living well with inside relationships is the ultimate litmus test to a person’s maturity. If his outside relationships turn sour, he can find new ones. If his job becomes too much of a hassle, he can find a new job too.
Your child’s family is an excellent proving ground that will prepare him for his future family. He can’t leave his family–at least not until he becomes an independent adult. And he won’t be able to leave his future wife either. Sometimes a teen will talk about how they can’t wait to get out of the home.
They are marking the days until they can be emancipated from their parents. They are looking forward to college, military, girlfriends, or a career. They can’t wait to be free from their current relationships that have gone sour.
They don’t perceive their shortsightedness. They don’t factor in how the doctrine of sin is the problem, and how their next long-term relationship will also be with a fallen person. They think their future life will be different because they get to choose who they’ll be with.
I didn’t choose my parents or my siblings, but I can choose my wife. When I get to choose, things will be different.
It won’t 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 the matter because you got to choose, but your choice will be another sinner. There have been millions of young people who jumped from the frying pan of a poor home life into the fire of a disappointing marriage.
They thought the main problem was the other person (Matthew 7:3-5). Then they were married. Guess what? The old patterns resurfaced. Different dance. Same song. They blamed their parents. Now they blame their spouse. Some choose divorce. It’s the golfer’s fantasy applied to marriage: I sliced it into the woods, but I know I can straighten it out on the next hole.
It won’t be different. Sin will be waiting for you in the next relationship. That is the tie that binds all Adamic people together. Children need a biblical sin response plan. The first place to implement a sound sin response plan is in the home.
Practice for Life
We choose to use the language of marriage, husbands, and wives when we talk to our children. We don’t do this all the time, but it has been a steady communication drumbeat as we have tried to envision them about how what they are doing now with each other is what they will be doing with their future spouses. (This also applies to our daughters. They have two husbands–their brother and their daddy.)
Practically speaking it means my son opens the van door for his mother if I’m not doing it. When we enter a building he holds the door for the girls in the family. There are many other ways to equip him about other-centered living (Philippians 2:3-4). It’s not hard to figure out. Just think about what a good husband should be and teach that to your child–over a period of years.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6
You have plenty of time if you start young. Imagine a child receiving eighteen years of marriage messaging about the art of husbandry. Over time, your steady stream of messages about being nice and thoughtful toward the opposite sex could become so ingrained that when he is old, he’d never depart from it.
Focus on the Heart
The main things we’re looking for in our children are not so much the practical things they are doing to each other, but the attitudes they exhibit as they are interacting with each other. It would not be good to teach them rote behaviors, while not addressing their hearts. That’s legalism.
Do they know what it means to honor, love, and respect each other? These things represent their character–who they really are at the heart level. If they are spiritually motivated at the ontological (being) level of their souls, then they will function well at the behavioral level of their lives.
A child’s heart can be objectively discerned by how he responds when he’s not getting his way or when his siblings are being unkind to him. Isn’t that the test for all of us?
There are times when my son’s sisters are not adorable. There are times when they can be downright selfish and ornery. Those are the times when we see how he is really doing on the inside.
It is a simple step to project those challenging moments into his future marriage, anticipating how his present attitude will be his future attitude. By observing his present attitudinal responses, we can make at least two conclusions:
- How he is responding now is how he will respond in the future when his wife is selfish and ornery.
- How he is responding now gives us the data we need to prepare him for his future marriage.
If he does change now by learning new attitudes and habits, then hopefully he can avoid future marital dysfunction.
You Are an Example
I think it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: If you’re not modeling the person you want your son to become, then all of this will be for naught. He will reject your teaching if you’re not practically practicing what you’re teaching him to be.
It’s great to be able to assess your child. It’s wonderful to be able to begin early training, which could serve him for the rest of his life. It would be horrendous if your example defiled your teaching.
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 see 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, and honored. It not only gives them the right view of what a biblical man should be but if they experience this from you, they probably won’t crave it from boys.
You be their man. Show them what biblical manhood is like by your example to them and to their mother. Don’t leave them to speculate about these things. Be clear by the example you display before them in your home.
Yes, we joke around about my son having three wives, but he also knows it’s 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 tell my son, “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.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. – Ephesians 5:25