Long story short, I met my husband’s kids in the middle of the wedding rehearsal. Flown in from California, out of foster care, in the middle of a terrible legal battle, they showed up in a flurry. I knew I was in trouble.
The week after the honeymoon, I was a mom. At 23, I found myself dealing with a new marriage, an 8- and 10-year-old out of a high risk situation, and all the legalities and personalities that come with that kind of trauma. See what I mean? Not a chance. We were like a test tube experiment gone wrong; a war-zone with walking wounded.
Nope, my marriage was doomed.
Amazingly, and only through the grace of God (and I mean that sincerely), we’re still married two decades later. We really like each other. Our first two kids are raised and we are bonded by the scars of the wounds we suffered through.
Here are a few lessons from my early marriage. May they bless yours.
1. The First 5 Years are VITAL
Parents, those foundational years are SO important. Do whatever you can to pour your lives into your kids in their first 5 years. You never get that time back. Those are the years our character is formed. They are the years our kids learn right from wrong, and they learn to trust, to love, and to live.
We decided two things about our next “set” of kids: they would know we love them, and they would know Christ. If we mess up anything else, those are the two issues we must communicate.
2. Media Matters
Nothing drives home the point of media like parenting two lives that have been exposed to everything.
Our kids are made in the image of the Creator. He has given them personalities, skills and bents. He has a plan for their lives. We can support that plan and point them to Him, or we can indoctrinate them in the world.
The world is a very broken place. I learned that little minds are no match against carefully designed messages; messages contrary to the message of the cross.
3. Kids are Worth Protecting
This lesson brings tears to my eyes, even all these years later. Our children are worthy of our protection and care. They can not defend themselves. Our job is to oversee their safety–physically and emotionally–until they are old enough for us to gradually entrust their safety to God’s care alone.
Do I think we can protect them from everything? No. Am I advocating completely sheltering them? No.
Our boys know about pain and suffering. They’ve served in shelters, spoken to the homeless. We’ve read the Bible to them. Try reading the Bible and not explaining rape, incest, murder and abortion. Our kids know about danger and the ugly human condition.
I’m saying we need to protect our children–for as long as possible–from living the evil we hear about. It is our job to know where our kids are, to investigate the people watching them, to oversee their safety.
4. Pick Your Battles
As I stated above, my husband and I have agreed that all of our kids will leave this house knowing we love them, and knowing who Christ is. Everything else is negotiable.
How can I say that? Easy. I raised two kids, from the ages of 8 and 10, who couldn’t read, hadn’t gone to school, and had never been introduced to basic hygiene. Everything was a fight. We learned quickly to pick only the battles that were most important, and to be sure we won the battles we picked. Again, this was a hard-fought lesson. I didn’t get to raise our first two kids the way I wanted, but some days I sure tried!
I’ve found that even with our from-scratch-kids, this is important to remember. We don’t want to exasperate our kids–we want to train them up in the ways of the Lord. That means we have to let some things go. If there is anything I regret, it is the times I’ve exasperated our children by choosing to battle over things that really don’t matter in the long run.
Great Christian Parenting Books
Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating BoysLove, Honor, and Virtue: Gaining or Regaining a Biblical Attitude Toward SexualityNo Longer Little: Parenting Tweens with Grace and HopeMore Than Just the Talk: Becoming Your Kids’ Go-To Person About SexIntentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by DesignPitchin’ A Fit!: Overcoming Angry and Stressed-Out ParentingGive Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of JesusParenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your FamilyEngaging Today’s Prodigal: Clear Thinking, New Approaches, and Reasons for HopeYour Child’s Profession of FaithPraying for Girls: Asking God for the Things They Need MostPraying for Boys: Asking God for the Things They Need Most
Lessons from My Marriage
1. S – U – B – M – I – T
Ugh, right? I’m a child of the 70’s. A woman of liberty and self-sufficiency–we bow before no man!
Learning to submit to my husband was a painful lesson for me.
Ephesians 5:22-24 says: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
Directly following this slightly inflammatory section of Scripture is a passage detailing the man’s responsibility to his wife. After a lot of thought, I’ve decided I have the better end of the deal. I just have to be kind and respectful.
I learned that respect is essential in marriage. Especially as a non-biological (you may prefer the term “step”) parent, there has to be submission to the parenting of the biological parent.
Don’t believe me? Think you can do better than God’s plan for marriage? Try it out. I did, and it was ugly.
2. It’s Not About ME.
I’ve heard it said that God’s plan for marriage might not be to make us happy. Maybe His plan is to make us holy. It was quite a shock to learn that my life is not about me. Again, this was a hard-fought lesson.
I’ll spare you the gory details.
However, in the midst of our test-tube experiment gone awry, it occurred to me that there were two small broken hearts involved in the deal. I also came to understand the impact a wife has on a husband. Looking back, I can see the generational impact that marriage and parenting have.
My actions don’t just impact me. I don’t just wound or love my husband, or our kids. The decisions my husband and I make will impact generations of Cooleys. In fact, they already have: For the first time in memorable history, four kids in my husband’s blood-line have been raised with a father.
3. Expect Little, Give Lots
Marriage is not a 50/50 proposition. In fact, I’m not sure it’s a 100% contribution we make; there were times when I felt like I was giving 200%. It took more than everything I had to get up and face the day. I’d look over at my husband and be sure he was giving 300%.
How did we get so much to give? We turned to Christ.
We weren’t graceful. We didn’t do it well. I made some terrible mistakes.
But I quickly abandoned the idea that this was going to be an “equal”, split-down-the-middle union.
“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (Even be content with little or with much–after all, that’s what the verse is about!)
4. ‘Til Death Do Us Part
I made a deal with myself early on: I could leave our marriage, but I would forever be married. That’s a long time to be alone.
Now, I have to note that there are some really biblical reasons for divorce. My husband and I were faithful and both believers, so those reasons never applied to us.
Great Christian Marriage Books
My Beloved and My Friend: How To Be Married To Your Best Friend Without Changing SpousesWhat Did You Expect? (Redesign): Redeeming the Realities of MarriageThis Momentary Marriage: A Parable of PermanenceThe Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of GodGod on Sex: The Creator’s Ideas about Love, Intimacy, and MarriageMarried for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can BeLove That Lasts: When Marriage Meets GraceWhen Sinners Say
Loving both your kids and your spouse
GIVE GRACE. Forgive, forgive, forgive.
Colossians 3:13 says: “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”
If I’m not going to live in a state of grace, life is going to be miserable–for me and for those I “love”. <– After all, love is a choice. It’s an action. It’s not a warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with little saccharin message hearts.
Well, there you have it–the lessons from my early marriage.
They’ve been some painful lessons. Perhaps you’re one of those wonderfully wise people who learns from others. I hope so. I sure wish I had been.
Thinking Kids Posts You’ll Love
Bible Road Trip™ Year One CurriculumMemorize Bible Verses with Bible Road Trip™How to Volunteer with KidsPreborn Life in Scripture with Bible Verse Cards5 Questions to Ask When Making Parenting DecisionsFive Things that Occur When I Encourage My ChildFive Things that Occur When I Complain About My Children
Join the newsletter
Get the Family Prayer Box Project FREE!
Teach your children to pray with this fun project that includes 7 printable sets!