The joy of a happy marriage blessed with loving, respectful children who easily transition from childhood into responsible adults is a dream of most men and women. Found in almost every nation and culture, this desire seems to be hard-wired into our minds and genetic makeup.
Traditionally, marriage has been an exclusive bond between a man and a woman that includes that most intimate of acts, the sexual union.
Yet in recent years this pattern has been changing. Some are choosing to have children apart from marriage and others are opting for same-sex relationships. Nevertheless, it seems everyone wants the joy and blessings of family.
Even many of those who deviate from tradition still want their relationships to be called "marriages"; and their social units, "families." Homosexual couples, unable to reproduce, struggle to adopt children or make other arrangements so they, too, can have progeny.
Isn't it ironic that the social experimenters want the terminology and fruits of traditional marriage but don't want to follow the traditional recipe? Why is it that we human beings are so attracted to the terms marriage and family?
Marriage: Will it survive?
Looking at the state of marriage today leaves no doubt that the institution is under serious attack. In Western nations, including the United States, Canada and Europe, close to half of all first-time marriages end in divorce. People who willingly say, "I do," increasingly end up changing their words to "I won't anymore."
Based on the failure rate of today's marriages, some sociologists have predicted that marriage will soon become obsolete. But despite the high odds against a happy, lifelong relationship, couples still get married and still hope to spend a lifetime together.
Why do we continue to pursue this ideal? And where does God fit in the picture? Did He have anything to do with the institution of marriage and, if so, did He give us any instructions? When all else fails, maybe we should read the directions!
Of course, the problems encountered in marriages are not limited to just husbands and wives when children are involved. For when they enter the mix, they also experience the consequences of their parents' relationship—whether sound and strong or troubled and broken.
Child rearing in crisis
A crisis in child rearing has developed in part because of the crisis in marriages. Reflecting the consequences of divorce and parents who don't know how to parent, children arrive on the doorsteps of schools unprepared to learn. Schools are now burdened with teaching children basic principles such as civility and respect that used to be universally taught by parents and that helped prepare children to learn.
Now schools must teach children these fundamental concepts before they can hope to educate them. In conjunction with the added job of preparing children to learn, schools today are being heavily criticized by demanding parents for not doing a better job of teaching their children.
Psychologist Robert Evans argues that in the United States educational system the crisis isn't one of schooling (as the news media, parents and governmental leaders often complain) but rather one of child rearing.
According to Evans, "The symptoms of this crisis—an accelerating deterioration in the civility, values, work ethic, and academic achievement of many youth—appear most vividly at school, and so the crisis is often seen as educational, but it begins well before school and extends well beyond it . . . Its immediate cause lies at home with parents, who are suffering a widespread loss of confidence and competence" (Family Matters: How Schools Can Cope With the Crisis in Childrearing, 2004, p. xi).
Where can you find answers?
So what are the keys to a happy, successful marriage and family? Recognizing the unique value marriages provide for individuals and communities alike, many churches now offer (or in some cases require) premarital counseling for couples before performing their marriages.
Some couples are choosing a new type of marriage called "covenant marriage"—a relationship more difficult to end—in an effort to "divorce-proof" their marriages.
Many organizations and programs have been established to strengthen marriages and families. Marriage retreats, seminars, enrichment programs and parenting classes abound. Counselors specialize in helping couples repair broken relationships and in helping parents work with their children. But the results are limited and not overly encouraging. Marriages still end in divorce and the crisis in child rearing continues.
What can we offer in this sea of knowledge that can help you experience a better marriage and contented, respectful, responsible children who will be successful in school and life? The answer is a clear understanding of God's purpose for marriage and family, the primary reasons people experience problems in these areas and practical things you can do to strengthen your marriage and family.
Join us as we explore the path God reveals and steps you can take to enjoy the universal dream of a happy, successful marriage and family.