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Volume 9, Issue 3: Childer

Leave and Cleave

Douglas Wilson

The subject strikes close to home--often the subject is close to home.

The demeanor which helps parents to be outstanding parents while the children are still at home frequently becomes an occasion of grief when the children have left home and married. That demeanor is one of warmth and closeness. But how could this ever cause a problem? For just one example, here is a trouble-making question which can seem so innocent. "Are you kids able to come home for Christmas this year?"
Speaking more biblically, the question should have been phrased, "Are you kids willing to leave home for Christmas?" Whenever a young man has taken a wife, he has established a new primary household, with a new center of gravity. This necessarily leads to an alteration in primary allegiances and concerns. The fact this occurs is not a sign that anyone has done anything wrong, but rather that the pattern established by God for the world in the beginning is occurring yet again--"a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).
But what happens when a young man cleaves to his wife, but in various ways does not "leave"? To continue our example, what frequently happens is that a young couple, for fear of giving offense, begin spending all their holidays with "the folks," or, if they have a potential problem on both sides of the family, they start alternating. If they are not careful, they can soon find themselves with young teenagers of their own who have grown up in a home with no indigenous family customs. The only custom they have is that whenever a holiday comes around, everyone piles into the car.
As children leave home and marry, they must take care to establish a home with all the necessary roots. Such roots include the establishment of certain family traditions--which include birthdays, holidays, etc. At least some of these traditions should be celebrated alone with the family. Of course this does not mean that married children should neglect their parents, but only that their visits and time together with them are in addition to their own family traditions, and not a substitute for them. For example, our children have grown up with the wonderful privilege of celebrating three Christmases within the space of a week--our own, one with my parents, and one with my wife's parents.
For their part, parents should not have to adapt themselves to an "empty nest" which has somehow taken them by surprise. If they have been wise parents, this is the situation toward which they were self-consciously working. Far too many parents are blindsided by the inevitable. If the departure of the kids comes as a shock, the parents may sometimes try to compensate for it by having the kids come over at every possible opportunity. This in turn tempts the kids to neglect the establishment of their own family.
Children do need their grandparents, and it is a great blessing to have them around. But they do not need to be around their grandparents when there is some constant underlying tension because two separate families are laying a claim on the same time period. This competition over time is one of the reasons why many families wrangle and quarrel when they should be carving the turkey and thanking God for the ham.
This means parents should bring their children up understanding the principle of governmental separation. Sons should grow up expecting to leave, daughters should grow up expecting to be given, and both should grow up expecting their parents to be demoted in relative familial importance. This is not an insult; it is a design feature. This is how God made us.
Wise parents understand this. When the kids marry, an openhanded, open door policy should be laid out. "You are welcome to visit us any time. And whenever we invite you to join us for a holiday, or a special occasion, we wanted you to know that these invitations never have strings attached to them. You are always welcome, and we expect to see you a lot. But as far as we are concerned, you have a free hand to determine when and how."
The irony is that parents who are able to do this gladly are the kind of parents that children and grandchildren really enjoy being around. When we insist upon the loyalty of others, we generally have some trouble getting it. When we freely give our children the freedom God designed for them to have, we find that we never really lose them.
Children grow up, and this should not catch godly parents off guard. The goal of successful childrearing is godly maturity outside the parents' home. Too often parents are trapped by the sentimentalism which wants to "freeze-frame" their childrens' growth. "This stage is so wonderful--I wish the children could just stay like this." This may sound sweet but is really a revolt against maturity.
The rule is a simple one, and, as is often the case, it turns out to be yet another variation of the Golden Rule. Do unto your kids as you once wished your parents had done unto you.

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