Full time care of 3 children. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. On purpose. This was the challenge my wife and I entered into 12 years ago when our first born arrived. Although we didn’t know at the time to expect the other two children, we did make a conscious decision to homeschool, for better or for worse. It is a decision whose return on investment was well worth the sacrifice, but did not come without consequences.
Fierce Marriage recently advised couples to form several habits that would instantly transform their marriage. Judging by the comments, there were several attempts to generalize the advice making it applicable to every marriage in the world. We as humans are prone to this type of behavior, always trying to dissect and assimilate whatever perceptual incomings are thrown our way. I, too, found myself in the same boat as some of the readership, wanting to apply the advice but realizing it falls short due to the limited nature of a homeschooling family.
With that being said, I wanted to take the message to heart, chew on it a bit, and offer my perspective on how to apply this to a homeschool family with the following attributes:
- a couple who met in college and married in 2000
- wife is from New Mexico
- husband was raised in poverty
- oldest child has sensory integration issues
- middle child has dyscalculia
- toddler is gluten intolerant.
While this is certainly not a definitive guide to homeschool marriages, its a great start.
1: Emphasize Gratefulness
A valid point for any family situation. Relentless stress is a guaranteed consequence of homeschooling your children, because they are present (read: demanding) all day, every day. Their natural curiosities and self-interests did not go away when we decided to keep them home for their education. In fact, the opposite happened as we utilized those curiosities as a platform for education.
If I am not careful, that stress weakens a link in my relationship with both my spouse and my children. Just observe me around the children’s bed time and you will understand what I mean. My patience instantly plummets at 9:00 PM every night, when my unrealistic expectation is that the children are in bed, calmly drifting to sleep, without needing to use the bathroom, having a drink of water, wanting to tell me something they forgot that happened to them during the day, etc.
A habit of emphasized gratefulness reminds us as parents & spouses to look at stress through a lens that is counter to the tendencies our own selfish nature lends itself. The stress of homeschooling our children becomes the blessing of homeschooling our children as many families do not have such an opportunity.
Ironically, my wife tagged me in this appropriate picture without realizing I was writing this post:
2: Give Affection Purposely
I would add to this that you must give affection appropriately. There is not a “one size fits all” when it comes to affection and that is perhaps one of the most difficult lessons I have learned in my 13+ years of marriage. My spouse and children are ever changing and it is a constant challenge to study their needs. As toddlers, I could lavish physical affection on my children without hesitation through snuggling, picking them up, twirling them around and kissing their precious little heads. I wouldn’t even dream of doing those same things with my 12 year old son. For my oldest, I have to carve out time to listen to him ramble about his latest video game module building (even if I don’t have a clue what he is talking about).
This is an unyielding challenge, but a rewarding one. I believe one of the greatest blessings of homeschooling my children is that I become one of the people they deem me sagacious enough to answer life’s toughest questions. When they leave the nest, my children will know that mom and dad are a phone call way. If this alone was the only benefit to homeschooling, it would be worth it in my book.
3: Play Together Regularly
Reality check: Hollywood lied to you. They sold you what you wanted to hear: that is that strong marriages are built on romantic flights and prolonged honeymoons. In reality, the strength of marriage is rooted in the mundane and every day life. In his book, Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas brings the table the concept of a sacred history. As a couple, you share a unique history that is the culmination of two lives that can never be reciprocated with anyone else in your life. By playing together regular, you make that history more memorable in my book.
Like affection, playing together takes on many forms. My wife would like nothing else than for me to sit and talk for hours, while going through an entire season of Grimm (in one sitting). Try as I might, this will never be reality. On the flip side, I would love for her to join my guild, level up her Night Elf druid and help with raids. Not going to happen.
Yet, we find time for each other and our children on our weekend rituals. By Friday night , our entire house is cleaned in preparation for Sabbath, pizza is ordered, and we settle down as family. The kids know there are no chores to be done and we make time for board games, going on a family walk, or doing something fun together. My wife and I then settle down to an alcoholic beverage of choice (I personally lean for a Hurricane) and we watch an episode of our favorite show together.
4: Plan for Sex and Do It
Warning: Not applicable to all couples. This doesn’t work for my marriage. We tried it and the lack of spontaneity ruined the mood. There are many couples who have health related issues that prevent them from being intimate, because for the most part, intercourse is a chemical reaction. Granted being made in the image of God, we are able to take it to soul stirring levels of application.
There also tends to be an emphasis on sex as health gauge for your marriage (hint: the real gauge your combined relationship with God). This perspective will change depending on the stage of marriage you are in and as you learn to adapt to your spouse’s needs. Paul encourages believers to sacrifice their bodies for each other:
“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” – 1 Cor. 7:5-6
This is not flat out intercourse. This is in response to the needs of your spouse. My wife does not enjoy hugs and kisses as I do, so she doesn’t initiate them as often. However, she always responds with a deep hug and a long kiss when I initiate it.
5: Put Jesus at the Center
I am not sure when I came to the realization, but it was a profound one. You see, God does not condone divorce because there is an underlying principle that there is nothing that two of his children should not be able to work through given the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It is essential to place Christ in the center of marriage if you truly want to understand the depths of marriage the way God intended it.
I am not foolish enough to believe that a couple must be practicing Christians in order to have a happy marriage and enjoy sex. There are many couples who practice all forms of religion (or atheism) that enjoy the fruits of marriage. Yet, a relationship with Christ takes it to a different playing field, strengthening our resolve to work on this marriage as we can unconditionally rely on him to give us wisdom, love, and relentless pursuit for each other’s interests.
Is there a habit that you have found in your marriage that should be included on the list?