Marriage While Parenting

Which is more important, your marriage or your children? The answer is your marriage, and the answer is your children. The answer is neither. The answer is both. The answer, actually, is to begin asking a different question altogether.

Our kids should never be more important than our marriage, and they should never be less important…Family is about the constant ongoing work of finding the balance.

The Way We Think:

We are trained to think dualistically, black-and-white, or to think in either/or categories. As children, we are taught to think of good guys versus bad guys, friends versus enemies, jocks versus nerds, etc. As we grow older, our either/or thinking usually grows bigger and it usually grows into political and religious dualism – we separate people into groups and then separate ourselves from them.

We need a place where we can be trained in non-dualism, where we can learn to exchange either/or for both-and. We already have such a place. It’s called marriage. It’s called family.

The Way We Might See:

As my wife and I approached our wedding altar, two small candles were burning. As the ceremony progressed, we took part in an ancient ritual – the unity candle.

We each took one of the individual candles and together, we lit the unity candle – symbolizing two becoming one. However, instead of blowing out the individual candles, we placed them back in their stands and they continued to burn next to the unity candle. We wanted to symbolize that in marriage two become one, yet also remain two. Not either/or but both-and.

Marriage is meant to disrupt our dualism. Two souls come together in a mysterious joining. Two people pledge themselves to one love and one purpose  yet remain separate people with their own thoughts, beliefs, dreams and desires. One; but not one. Unified; but separate. The same; but different. It kind of messes with your head.

It’s supposed to mess with your head and open up your heart, because our minds tend to think in either/or, while our hearts tend to see in both-and. In marriage, our hearts are given the freedom to stop choosing and start including. Am I most important? Yes. Is she most important? Yes. Are we most important? Yes. People say marriage is hard work, and they are right. It is hard work to quiet our dualistic minds and to let our hearts reveal, over many spinning years, the truth of this radical inclusiveness.

It is hard work that prepares us for welcoming our children into the same kind of both-and unity. What if we had a unity candle ceremony for our families, too? Each child would have their own individual candle and as every member dipped his or her flame into the unity wick, the message would be sent: you are an integral part of this wild adventure we call family. You are not more, not less. You are equal, and you are equally loved.

The Way This World Might Heal

I don’t think we’ve fully embraced the radical, transformative power of families who are learning to live in the both-and, who are striving to love everybody first. Can you imagine a world in which an entire generation of children, when asked “Who mattered the most in your family?” could sincerely answer, “We all did.”

Can you imagine a generation of kids growing into a generation of adults who, when asked, “And who matters the most in the world?” could answer “We all do.”

I do. You do. We all do.”

This stuff doesn’t get better overnight. It gets better one generation at a time, as one generation after another learns through the family experience that we are all worthy of love and belonging, that we are all important enough to warrant the hard but essential work of valuing everybody with hearts of unity, rather than minds of duality.

“Which is more important, your marriage or your children?” It’s the wrong question.

The question we need to begin asking is, “How do our families become a training ground for mutuality and kinship and a love that elevates everyone to equal importance?”

How do we trade in our dividing minds for our unifying hearts? How do we live from there so that, one day, we might become a people who can welcome everyone home with equal joy?  

Dr. Kelly Flanagan
About Dr. Kelly Flanagan

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a licensed practicing clinical psychologist who writes regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again.

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