I don’t know when you listeners will hear this episode, but it’s initially launching online on a Monday, which is commonly a day for pastors to take off. A stay-at-home mom writes in: “Hello, Pastor John! I’m a stay-at-home mom to three darling daughters under five and also a pastor’s wife. Like most pastors, my husband takes Mondays off to recharge. But I find there is never a day I can take off from laundry, dishes, cleaning, etc. The work never ends for me, and I find this to be a challenge for a lot of moms who are feeling burned out. Without questioning the value of our husbands’ day off, should moms get a day off too? Should we try? Or is this a selfish request?”
Whether it’s a selfish request, I can’t tell, because I don’t know your heart; God does. But it certainly doesn’t have to be a selfish request, and I don’t assume it is. It may be the same as the question that my wife and I posed at church, and with the staff, and at home during my pastorate over and over: How do we find, how does the staff find, how do we as a couple find the pace to finish the race? That’s the way we put it. The marriage race, the parenting race, they are marathons, not hundred-meter dashes.
Noël and I have been running the marriage marathon for 50 years as of last December. And the parenting marathon we’ve been running for 47 years. And believe me, you still run the parenting marathon after your kids are grown and you’ve got 14 grandkids. And we ran the pastoring marathon for 33 years.
“Imagine what an emotional burden is lifted if children simply do what they are told the first time.”
So, the question for all of us moms, single moms, husbands, single dads is: How do you find the pace to finish the race? That’s the question. We don’t want to loiter on our heavenly journey, and we don’t want to fall exhausted halfway through. That’s not a selfish question to ask; it’s a wise one to ask: How can I find the pace to finish the race? So whether it’s a day off or some other configuration of off and on, work and rest, a sustaining rhythm, here are five observations that might prove helpful to think about.
1. Honor the Sabbath
The Sabbath principle was God’s idea before there was a fall into sin. Before there was a fall, with all the added burdens that the fall brought, one day in seven was different from others, without the same pressured work, but with relief and spiritual focus to say to the Lord, “I am not God. You are God. If I stop upholding the universe by the word of my power for one day, it’s not going to go out of existence. I’m not God.” It is also to say on that day to your own body, “You’re not superhuman, body; God is.”
That principle, one day in seven, to be honest with God and humble with God and restful with God, that principle was true for all the people of God, men and women. So, husbands should take the lead — I’m going to assume this in every one of these questions. Husbands should take the lead in helping the family think through what that will look like for them all as the kids are growing up, including mom. If all seven of mom’s days are the same, something is amiss given the Sabbath principle.
2. Pace Yourself for the Present
Recognize that marriage and children and ministry will have different seasons with very different pressures. Children under 2 present a different challenge than 3 to 6 and 6 to 13 and so on. Every season is demanding, but not in the same way.
I was just talking to a young fellow over at Desiring God today who’s got a brand-new baby, and he said, “I never knew it would be so hard.” And mainly he had in mind sleep. Where are we going to get enough sleep to function the way we need to? It may help to remember in those seasons that this season is going to be over. Someday it will be over, and we just need to find the pace to get through this part of the race.
3. Dads, Lift Mom’s Load
Husbands, take responsibility for knowing your wife. Peter says to live with her according to knowledge. She is a fellow heir “of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). Which means study her, listen to her, watch her, discern how you can help her flourish and be maximally fruitful. That’s what you want for her: to flourish. How can she be maximally fruitful and happy in her calling as a homemaker, as a mother, and all the other aspects of her church and community life?
That help will probably include daily relief of some kind from you for her, and periodic relief of more extended time. For example, I aimed, as a young pastor with four kids, to get home or to come out of my study at home before supper at 5:30. We had four boys at one time (Talitha came along later), and from rounding them up for supper at 5:30 and until 7:00, the children were my responsibility. We called it playtime. Noël might work, or she might rest. She might read, or she might do the dishes. She’d do something, whatever she wanted to do, between 5:30 and 7:00.
“A husband’s calling is to be a decisive, uniquely responsible leader in the family.”
But at least for that hour and a half, I lifted that part of the day’s load. On vacation, we traded off. She took the kids in the morning and let me read till noon. We ate together. I took the kids in the afternoon, and she went off and visited the town and visited bead shops or lay down by the lake or whatever she wanted to do. She was free to do what she wanted to do alone, and I’d play whiffle ball with the kids for four or five hours. And then, in the evening, there was all-family time until the kids went to bed.
Now, there were other times when I would see to it that she could go with her friends or go on the women’s retreat. And the point is, husbands, leadership does not mean making endless demands on your wife. Can we be done with that notion of what leadership is? A husband’s calling is to be a decisive, uniquely responsible leader in the family. It’s not leadership to make incessant demands. That’s an immature tyranny. Leadership means: Know her. Be creative in putting into place strategies of renewal that work for both of you. Take the initiative to do that. See that they get carried through.
4. Ask for Help
Be open and on the lookout for multiple families and relatives and neighbors to help in caring for the children. This is especially relevant for single parents. That’s a given. We should feel very jealous to be helpful between families for all kinds of reasons. We run into difficult circumstances that are seasonal. The nuclear family is God’s idea, but the isolated family is not God’s idea. A mom who feels isolated and trapped in the walls of her home is probably not going to be emotionally and spiritually healthy.
When Hillary Clinton — let’s dare to quote Hillary Clinton — said, “It takes a village to raise a child,” she wasn’t making that up. That’s an ancient proverb; it’s ancient wisdom. Everywhere children need more than mom and dad; children need other human beings. So, husbands, we need more leadership here. How’s the family doing in its wider network for the good of the children and the relief of the mom as we all share in the raising of our kids and help each other bear one another’s burdens?
5. Require First-Time Obedience
I want to make a special appeal to young moms and dads that you give the energy and focus and consistency of effort while your children are under two to build into them the habit of obeying on the very first directive that you give them — no whining, no disobedience allowed. “You will do what you’re told on the first request.”
Now, this requires a huge outlay of focus and attention and courage and wisdom and energy and love when the children are very small because it’s just easier to stay on the couch and let the child disobey three times in a row because you’re too lazy to get up and do any enforcement. So I’m saying it’s a long, hard job. But the payoff is so beautiful to see later on. Now, I could argue for this because the Bible says, “Children, obey your parents” (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20). It’s not rocket science. That’s what it says, and they don’t do that naturally. And parents, “bring them up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord” (see Ephesians 6:4).
“The Sabbath principle was God’s idea before there was a fall into sin.”
But my point here is that, for the sake of mom’s sanity and health and strength, dad, help her raise obedient children. It’s amazing to me that so many parents of young children don’t require obedience. That seems crazy to me — insane. That’s how to make your life miserable for fifteen years. No wonder everyone is dead tired. It’s simply exhausting to follow your children around, trying to keep them from killing themselves because they won’t do what you tell them to do.
I’m going to say this: Yes, you can require your children, say, under 6, 7, or 8 years old, to go to bed at 7:00. Yes, you can. I don’t care what they’re made of. You can require that, and they don’t get out of bed unless their house is on fire. They’re going to encounter dad’s wrath if they get out of bed and they don’t smell smoke.
I say this not to add burdens, but to lift them. Imagine what an emotional burden is lifted if children simply do what they are told the first time you tell them to do it. That takes enormous focus and effort and love and follow-through and discipline in the first two years of life.
So, dads, this is your agenda: know your wife, know your children, know your Bible, know yourself, and make sure your wife has what she needs to be fruitful and happy as a wife and mother.