Marriage and Your Children
About the Guest
Josh Mulvihill, the executive director of Renewanation, reminds parents that children learn what marriage is by watching them. Mulvihill shares how his own parents, who served as CRU staff for 37 years, modeled what a life and marriage following Jesus looked like. By doing so, they trained the next generation, just like he's doing with his own kids. Parents must start early teaching and modeling a biblical view of marriage for their children.
Josh MulvihillJosh Mulvihill is the Executive Director of Church and Family Ministry at Renewanation, where he equips parents and grandparents to disciple their family and coaches church leaders to help them design Bible-based, Christ-centered family ministries. Josh has served as a pastor for nearly 20 years, is a founding member of the Legacy Coalition, and has a PhD from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Biblical Grandparenting, Preparing Children for Marriage...more
Josh Mulvihill reminds parents that children learn what marriage is by watching them. Parents must start early teaching and modeling a biblical view of marriage for their children.
Marriage and Your Children
Bob: There’s a connection between how you correct sibling rivalry among your children and preparing them to, one day, be married. Here’s Josh Mulvihill.
Josh: When our children learn how to put others first rather than a me-centered perspective—parents, we will give our children’s future spouse an incredible gift by helping them learn to die to themselves and to put Christ first, ultimately, but others before themselves. When they can learn to serve their siblings, they can learn to serve their future spouse.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 17th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Moms and dads need to be involved in regular relationship training with their children if we want those kids to have a successful marriage one day. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, if I stop and think about where I learned what marriage should look like, probably the thing that makes the biggest impression on any of us about what marriage ought to look like is the home we grow up in and what we see our moms and dads do; don’t you think?
Dennis: I do. I think most of us, as parents, are really pretty oblivious as to the model we’re representing to our kids.
Bob: —and to the fact that our kids are paying attention.
Dennis: I’m telling you—they’re like radar units. They’re locked on us, and they watch how we argue. They watch how we come to a point of resolution around our disagreements. They also watch how we love and if we love one another.
We’ve got a guest who is all about marriages and families doing their duty of equipping the next generation. Josh Mulvihill joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Josh.
Josh: It’s good to be here.
Dennis: It’s always good to have a Cru® baby—
—[Laughter]—Campus Crusade for Christ®. Josh’s mom and dad served on Cru staff for 37 years. He actually has a lot of experience. What’s your favorite memory of Campus Crusade for Christ?—because that’s what it was called back when you were a little boy.
Josh: I loved our summers in CSU/Colorado State University—just the time as a family and the memories. But I also loved serving with my parents. They included us in ministry. The combination of what they talked about at home and how they lived matched—it was authentic.
Josh: All four of us kids all love Jesus with a great passion; and without any encouragement from them, all four of us ended up in full-time ministry.
Dennis: Josh has written a book called Preparing Children for Marriage and works in a ministry called Renewanation, which is all about helping parents teach their kids a biblical worldview.
Josh, I want to go back to where we started this conversation. What would you say was your number-one take-away from watching your mom and dad, and their marriage, as a child?
Josh: It was always based and centered around Jesus Christ; therefore, with that value and that model, it set the tone for everything. Therefore, as a family, our expectation was to love others as Christ loved us. “They will know you by your love,”—that applies in the family as well.
They set a wonderful example for us on faithfulness—lifelong faithfulness. What a gift that is to every child and grandchild—lifelong marriage. Whether we know it or not, our parents’ marriage, whether that was negative or positive, has a huge impact on our view of marriage and how we then train the next generation.
My encouragement and caution is this: “Our parents’ marriage—it’s success or failure—should not be the starting point for where we—what we accept or reject about marriage.” As I talk to parents, there’s a lot of negative experience with marriage; and so therefore, there is a low view of marriage. We can see this with cohabitation. Lots of young people question: “Why should I get married if it was so painful and it’s going to result in some negative experiences?”—or the flip side—“Just because a marriage, like my parents’, was an excellent model, doesn’t mean that that’s what should be copied without any testing of Scripture.”
Ultimately, our model is Jesus Christ; our guidance is from God’s Word—that’s where we want to fully go and take our examples and our models from. For those families that did not have a good experience and a good model, the great thing is—God provides that for us in the Bible.
Many parents I’ve had tell me: “You know, I didn’t have this modeled for me. I don’t really know how to do this.” Well, the great thing is—God has given us what we need in Scripture to train our children to love Him in this area and to walk with Him. That’s, hopefully, a great encouragement for all of our listeners.
Bob: Yes; I’ve said to a lot of parents and to their kids: “Listen, your model / what you saw from your parents—that was influential, but it’s not determinative. Everybody makes their choices.” There are a lot of people today, who are saying: “We’re going to break bad cycles in our family, and we’re going to start in a new direction.” God is there to equip you and to pour grace over the mistakes that have been made.
But for moms and dads—we need to recognize we are influencing our kids by how we live; and then we—what we’re talking about is a part of how we’re living with our kids—because they see what’s important to us by the conversations we’re having with them; right?
Dennis: They see our values—
Dennis: —and what we love.
Josh, you write in your book that you can grow up in a good home or you can grow up in a less-than-ideal home, which most are by the way; but the world is out to seduce us. It is a tactical war for the next generation. You point out three tactics that the world has for destroying, really, a godly legacy through our children.
Josh: Yes; there are three that I want to raise your attention to. “Age Compression” is the first, which means that our world has aimed younger and younger. Most children are hearing the messages about: what marriage is—which is different than the Bible teaches—; on who a man and a woman is and what gender looks like; “What’s the purpose of sexuality?” For our young people—they’re hearing that sexuality is a rite of passage: “Explore it,” “Embrace it.” Those kinds of messages are hitting so young, which means we have to start, very early, with our kids.
If we don’t, we’ve created a void that then becomes replaced by others.
A second one is what I call “Exposure Therapy.” The number of images and messages that our young people hear is astronomical. I’ve seen studies that sexual images are in the thousands just through the commercials and the different things that kids are seeing; and that desensitizes them to what is good, and right, and noble versus what is not.
And the third then is what I call “Story Is Apologetic.” God talks in the Bible about telling the next generation the glorious deeds of the Lord—His might and His wonders—and He’s given us this testimony. The culture has taken that and twisted it to use it for evil purposes—to use story to convince our young people to embrace a different path from God’s Word.
An alternative lifestyle may be presented; and then questions like, “Is this not love?” is asked. Our kids are being captured by these experiences and these stories, because they don’t have a great grounding in God’s Word; and then confusion comes in. For us to recognize that becomes really important.
Bob: Yes; I want to jump in here, because I’ve heard of conversations happening between a 17- or an 18-year-old son or daughter and their mom and dad. The conversation sounds something like this: “Well these two people love each other; and if they’re committed to one another, the fact that they’re the same sex—who should we be to tell them that they can’t enjoy what heterosexual couples can enjoy? Why should we interfere with that? Shouldn’t we just let them make their own choices?”
If you wind up having that conversation with your son, when he’s 17, what’s your answer to that?
Josh: Well, God defines what marriage is.
Our culture has defined it as love—
—anything that is love can fit under the umbrella of marriage; so you can marry anybody or anything, for that matter / any number of anybody’s is the next proliferation, probably—and that is acceptable.
But we want to come back to God’s Word, and we have—that’s our authority. God tells us what that is and what that isn’t. And that’s the critical piece with our children—is to help them understand and embrace that; so when those conversations come up with others that they hear from, they can respond in grace, and in love, and can represent Christ well; but they also know God’s truth, so they’re not captured by those different ideas of our day.
Bob: Well, here’s a follow-up; because you’ll hear this too: “Well, my friend has this book that’s written by a Christian. He says that all of those passages have been misinterpreted and misunderstood and that we should understand the culture, and we’ve misunderstood that,” and “God’s Word doesn’t narrowly define marriage,” and “Homosexuality is not condemned in the Bible.”
What do you do when they say, “Can’t Christians just disagree on this issue?”
Josh: I come back to Genesis 2:24, which does not have a cultural time-stamp on it. It’s not a first century cultural expression—that’s a universal prescription. This isn’t a kind of marriage that God sets forth in the beginning; it is a—it’s a declaration on what all future marriages should be.
Ultimately, it comes back to “Do we believe the Bible or don’t we?” So even on this topic of marriage, dating, sex, purity—really, the key starting point, with every child, is what they believe about the Bible: “Is it true?” and “Is it to believed and received?” If that’s not there, then all of those kinds of conversations end up going in a direction we often don’t want; because that basic foundation’s not present.
That’s a great point for us—to say: “We’ve got to establish the authority of God’s Word first in order to even convince them on any of these subject matters.” I use the word, “convince,” because I believe parents and grandparents need to be diligently working to persuade a young person to help them defend their faith in this area / to help them answer these kinds of questions—not so that they just know the right answer—but because marriage is—both: for their own reasons, to have a healthier marriage; but also, because marriage is God’s message to a waiting world / a watching world now. It distinguishes us, as Christians, from the world. Therefore, if we want to have a healthy marriage, and to have a marriage that makes a difference in the world, that’s just absolutely critical.
Dennis: There’s no question that parents have got to give their children a biblical view of marriage that is: one man / one woman for a lifetime in a covenant-keeping relationship; and that God, as the Designer, has the authority to determine what a marriage is and what a marriage does.
Practically speaking, those five kids of yours, what are you saying to them about relational skills that are going to help their marriages go the distance?
Josh: Our relationships, as parents, to children and children with their siblings is a ripe training ground—
Dennis: Isn’t it! Isn’t it! [Laughter]
Josh: —for future marriage training. There are opportunities galore for us, right now, today with any age child—preschool all the way up to the teen young adult years—to help utilize every one of those interactions as applicable for future marriages.
Dennis: Now, wait a second!
Dennis: You’re saying that sibling rivalry is a training ground for helping your child become a better spouse?
Josh: It absolutely is; yes. When our children learn how to put others first—an others-centered rather than a me-centered perspective—parents, we will give our children’s future spouse an incredible gift by helping them learn to die to themselves and to put Christ first, ultimately, but others before themselves. When they can learn to serve their siblings, they can learn to serve their future spouse.
When they can learn to communicate with a parent and communicate with a sibling—to forgive / to resolve all the conflict that will be there—JC Ryle has a statement that I love—he says, “Marriage is the joining of two sinners not two saints.” Our children, when they—if God calls them to marriage, there’s going to be challenges they have—guaranteed.
And when that arises, how they respond could be the difference between lifelong marriage and divorce. We give them an incredible gift as we train them today to work through conflict in a biblical manor—to forgive / to deal with those sin issues.
We talk a lot about relationship components—but: “Do our kids know how to navigate sin when that arises?” “What happens when a spouse hurts them, and that happens repetitively, and there’s no repentance?”—how do our kids respond to that? Those are the kinds of training things that are very available to us today, because they will have those same exact experiences in the family’s sphere now that they will be needing to be prepared for in the family’s sphere tomorrow.
Bob: You think about what causes problems in a marriage relationship. Oftentimes, it’s around an inability to have healthy relationships—to know the relational skills necessary to have empathy, to be a good listener, to know what effective communication looks like.
The Bible speaks to all of these things. Or sometimes, it’s around life skills, like: “Do we know how to balance the checkbook? Do we know how to manage our money?” Sometimes, it’s around a lack of shared priorities: “I think this is more important; you think that’s more important,”—we can’t come to a common ground.
These are the kinds of areas that, as our kids are growing up—I’m just thinking of how we taught our kids to apologize to one another and to seek and grant forgiveness from one another. That’s training ground for what they’re going to be doing for decades in a marriage relationship; isn’t it?
Josh: Yes; it is. Those opportunities are often. When we have these foundational understandings, based on God’s Word in place, we can capitalize, intentionally, when they present themselves and talk to kids/our children about this—
—and I’ll say your grandchildren, as well, for our grandparent listeners. That is another opportunity to partner.
Dennis: You talk about—in terms of preparing a child for marriage—that you ultimately have to give them the ABC’s and communicate what the essence of marriage is all about. Share with our listeners what those ABC’s are.
Josh: Yes; “A” is “Accurate”—we want to tell them the truth. There’s a commercial by Kia® that a son asks his dad: “Dad, where do babies come from?” The dad fabricates a story about a place called Babylandia. [Laughter] The son says, “But my friend says that babies come when mommies and daddies…” and then he gets cut off as the dad says, “Car, play Wheels on the Bus.” [Laughter] That’s a reality that these are sometimes difficult and uncomfortable conversations that—from our perspective, as parents—to have with kids; but they’re curious and they want to know the truth.
We need to share that with them in an age-appropriate manner. By doing that, there creates a sense of safety—there creates an opportunity to be an ask-able parent, which we need to be—because if they’re not able to come to us, then they will go to other sources to get their information.
“B” is “Brief.” I look at the Bible and God summarizes marriage—the core of what marriage is—in about 13 verses—that’s Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:22-36. If God can summarize it that succinctly, we need to be able to have a pretty concise answer on: “What is marriage?” “What is the role of a husband and wife?” “What’s the purpose of sex?” And if it’s not clear in our mind, it’s hard to communicate that to a child. A lot of what we then say becomes commentary on those points.
Dennis: And if you’re brief, you’re less likely to say too much. I think most parents are answering questions their kids aren’t asking.
Do you know what I mean, Josh? They ask about where babies come from—they may just wonder if they’re coming from the hospital. [Laughter] They may not be asking for nitty gritty about the process of making a baby. I think, as parents, we need to use your counsel, at that point, of being brief.
Josh: Yes; “C” is the “Correct foundation,” which is Scripture. Many of us, unknowingly, are looking to other sources to provide that guidance for young people.
“D” stands for “Discussion oriented.” I think there is a time when a child needs to sit and listen—that’s the model we see in Proverbs: “My son, listen to your father’s instruction and your mother’s teaching.” There’s a time for that, but there’s also the time when a young person needs to be able to share their thoughts and their feelings.
I think parents need to ask their children what they have seen about marriage and sex / what’s been done to them.
Many have had experiences that they haven’t shared with parents. Parents are just unaware of this, and young people are scared to tell them. This gets things on the table, and we want them on the table so that we can work through those issues. As a pastor, many young people are struggling with gender questions. Many have had some abusive experiences that parents don’t know about—it colors their whole perspective as a result—so getting that on the table is absolutely critical.
“E” is “Early and often.”
Bob: Hang on; you’ve got the whole alphabet covered here?
Josh: Yes; you can see more in the book if you want. But there’s some helpful—[Laughter]
Bob: We don’t have time to get all through the alphabet on this one, but you do give us a pattern for how we’re to engage with our kids on this.
Dennis: And what I like—what you just said—is a parent needs to be a safe person for their kids to come and tell what feels to them like a dangerous thing to admit. What a parent’s got to do, at that point, is not freak out.
Some of what harms them is not going to be easy to hear; but we, as parents, need to be shock absorbers. We need to take it and not tell our face what we’re really feeling. You can tell your spouse, later on, what you’re feeling; but to be that shock absorber.
I just want us to make one thing really clear here, Josh. You’re just starting out. You made a statement that we give our children’s spouses a gift when we equip our children to know how to handle relationships, conflict, asking for forgiveness, etc. All six of our kids are married, and I keep waiting for the check in the mail from the spouses— [Laughter]—the repayment for all we did, because I’ve got to tell you—it was hard work!
Bob: It was a gift. You don’t get paid back for a gift when you give a gift.
Dennis: I thought I heard him say that you should receive some kind of bonus or something around that; no? Isn’t that what you said, Josh?!
Josh: Yes; pretty much.
Dennis: Yes! [Laughter] He’s starting out—he’ll see.
Bob: You keep looking for the check, and let me know when it comes.
Dennis: I’ll keep looking for it.
Bob: I should just make sure listeners know you only go as far as letter “H” in the book; so if they are looking for the ABC’s, we don’t have the XYZ’s in here as well.
Dennis: There you go; there you go.
Bob: But there’s great counsel in Josh’s book, Preparing Children for Marriage, teaching them about God’s design for marriage and sex, purity and dating. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online to order from us, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order.
While we’re talking to parents today, don’t forget FamilyLife’s new Art of Parenting™ video series that’s available for church use or for small groups. You can do it as a Sunday school class or a small group series. It’s eight sessions long, and it’s available for use now as well. We also have a free online parenting course, and there is information about that at FamilyLifeToday.com. Order a copy of Josh’s book and look for the resources FamilyLife® has for you to help you raise the next generation.
Relational training for our children is one of the key sessions in this new Art of Parenting video series.
Our goal, here, at FamilyLife with these resources—the online articles that we’ve got / this daily radio program that is also available as podcast—there’s free download—you can listen to it on the FamilyLife app on your smartphone. Our goal with all of this is to help husbands and wives / moms and dads align their thinking around what the Bible teaches about marriage and family and to help us raise our kids to be thinking, biblically, about their lives, about their relationships, and about their future. We want to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We believe godly marriages and families can change the world, one home at a time.
We are joined in this mission by a group of listeners—some of you who are regular monthly Legacy Partners / others who donate, from time to time.
You are the group that puts the gasoline in the tank and determines how far we can drive, as a ministry—how far we can go, how far we can take this message, and how many people we can reach. We’re grateful for those of you who have, over the years, helped support the work of FamilyLife and partnered with us in this ministry.
If you can make a donation today, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of Dennis Rainey’s latest book, which is called Choosing a Life that Matters. I was talking to a friend of mine recently; and she shared that she had just given this book to someone in her church, who was new as a Christian. She said, “I think this is a perfect book for him to go through so that he gets kind of a foundational understanding of the Christian life.” The book is our gift to you when you go online and make a donation today. Go to FamilyLIfeToday.com; or call to donate: 1-800-FL-TODAY.
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Now, tomorrow, Ron and Nan Deal are going to join us. They’re going to take us into what was the darkest valley that God ever walked them through, as a family. We’ll hear that story tomorrow, and I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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