When I went into full-time ministry, I feared my children would resent church if I gave too much time or energy to it. I had stayed home for 11 years and when my youngest son Trent was in kindergarten, I decided to move into vocational ministry. I began a leadership role at Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago. It was a challenging transition, but surprisingly, the person who took the greatest hit was my husband. To make sure my kids were not affected by my work, I made sure my schedule was flexible and that I could drop them off and pick them up from school. Also, if they were sick or out of school, I worked from home. Each day, I would help with the homework, make them a snack, cook dinner, and then set out the clothes for the next morning. I was exhausted but the kids seemed happy.
Now if you asked my husband about those early years of ministry, he may have painted a different picture.
He would acknowledge that I was good at keeping the kids happy but when the kids would get into bed, I would often have little energy for him. He could barely get me to converse let alone be up for romance. I was not making our marriage the priority it needed to be and we were both struggling. It was not long until we realized that it was far more important that our children see us happy together, spending time with each other, and also seeing moments of tenderness and romance, than to have their clothes laid out on their beds every night. A change had to be made.
We committed to three practices and one value. We started by spending some time at the end of each work day sitting on the couch together talking. We made sure the kids did not interrupt that time. It became know as our "Mom and Dad time." We also committed to weekly dates together. Since he had a flexible schedule, we made them Friday afternoons. Those times were sacred.
To insure we held the romance sacred we also instilled the practice of the "3 B's." The kids understood that after bedtime they were not to knock on our door unless someone is "bleeding, broken, or something is burning". I once heard my eight-year-old daughter explaining to my middle daughter, "I think mommy and daddy are romanticking." I hope they did not hear anything disturbing behind the closed doors!
The value we kept in the center of our lives was that of forgiveness. We never went to bed angry and we always asked for forgiveness even from our kids. Grudges have never been allowed. I have always struggled with the notion that you are never to argue in front of your kids. How will they learn to forgive if they do not see it modeled? Now having said that, I do not believe that you call each other names and be cruel to one another. However, the occasional disagreement, even an intense one, can help the kids know that Mom and Dad will "work it out" and in the end there will be a commitment to love and forgiveness.
My children are now ages 23, 20, and 18, and I am proud to say that first of all God is a God of grace. We all make parenting mistakes and we sure have made our share. I am also glad to tell you that I am blessed to have three kids who love God and ministry. Instead of resenting my ministry for taking time away from them, they are really proud of what God has done through me. My son Trent wants to pursue ministry to youth as a pastor. A couple of years ago, my oldest daughter told me she is really picky about the guys she dates because the bar has been set so high for her. She said, "You guys have made this hard on me. There is no way I would ever be with someone who did not love me as much as you and Dad love each other." Then she said the best thing of all, "I want a marriage like yours." It does not get any better than that!