Parenting and marriage were designed together. God's gentle command to the first married couple was simply, "Be fruitful and multiply." "Don't merely have children," God says, "but have children that grow and prosper and have children of their own - fill the earth with your family. Your marriage is a gift - so parent well!" God envisions parenting as a natural bi-product of marriage, an extension of that relationship.
But far too often we blur the lines between our roles as husband and father, mother and wife - we focus on parenting first and then ask our marriage to fill in the gaps: "We'll find time for a date night when we find time!" But the parent's heart leans on the marriage for support, encouragement and strength, and so here are some suggestions to continue elevating our marriage despite the involved task of parenting.
Complement One Another
There is no such thing as the perfect parent. You and your spouse are each gifted differently, and are better at some aspects of parenting than others. Look for these differences, and rejoice in them - don't be discouraged by them, and don't fall into the false notion that, "He (or she) is a better parent than I am!"
If your husband is better at dealing with a temper tantrum, don't allow yourself to feel like a crummy mom - instead, praise God that you're a blessed wife. In the same way, if your wife can coax your son to talk about his day better than you can, it doesn't mark a failure on your part. It just means you just married well.
Look for the Other
Parenting is by nature creating in our own likeness: Genesis 5:3 records that Adam had a son, "is his own likeness, in his own image." Your children are miniature pictures of yourself. This is obvious in physical features, but also mannerisms, turns of phrase, thinking patterns and personality styles.
Naturally, different children will reflect different characteristics of their parents. As a couple, identifying these reflections, acknowledging them and finding joy in them can strengthen and empower your relationship. "When she laughs, she looks just like you!" seems like a simple and natural phrase, but it's powerful too - it's valuing your marriage and strengthening your relationship.
See Through Each Other's Eyes
The beautiful reality of marriage is that you and your spouse are different - sometimes very different. Sure, you like some of the same food and the same show here or there, but your preferences vary wildly. And as a result, the characteristics of your children that you delight and find joy in are different. Instead of allowing this to be a point of annoyance, embrace these differences as a chance to better appreciate your children and your spouse.
Does your wife's face light up when your son draws a creative picture? Perhaps you don't care at all, but embracing that delight will only help further your delight in your kids, and in your wife. Does you husband love to wrestle with the kids while you would much rather read to them? Rejoice in that difference and allow it to lead you to love your spouse more deeply.
We often think of the parenting years as a season to get through - producing good, healthy children - and then ending for us to focus again on our marriage and spouse. But if we wait for the end of the at home parenting season to focus on marriage, we'll miss some of the clearest marriage blessings God has for us. He calls us first into marriage, and then into parenting - don't switch the importance of those callings.
A Note for Single Parents
For those walking through the difficult journey of single parenting, I pray you don't feel alone. God designed parenting to flow from marriage, but we know reality doesn't always match. Without a spouse, the need for a healthy church family is only easier to see. But the wonderful news is that much of what has been said above about a spouse can be true for your church family as well. You can see your children through the eyes of friends and volunteers who pour into your children; you can rejoice in the influence of the bride of Christ in your child when she comes home acting like her handbook leader or teacher. You're not alone.