Smoldering Stress: Balancing Your Marriage and Raising Kids
I ran too fast, too far, too long on too many borrowed miles. And then it hit me like something just plain awful. I have been a psychological, spiritual, and emotional mess. I need to refine my life, my marriage, and my parenting so I can live again.
—A mother of three teenagers
I want the kind of marriage that makes my kids want to get married.
A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day.
Has stress and busyness pushed you into a danger zone with your life and marriage? Many families with teenagers are living life at 120 percent. Physician and author Richard Swenson described this situation in a HomeWord podcast. “Today, most of us routinely spend 20 percent more than we have, whether in money, time, or energy,” he said. “When life is continually maximized, however, there is no margin for priorities, relationship, depth, worship, rest, contemplation, service, or healing.”
Everything is more dangerous at high speed, and eventually, if we continue life at a fast pace, something is going to spin out of control and crash. Often it is the marriage, the kids, and our relationship with God. Normally these should be our three top priorities, but crisis-mode living and stress tend to smother what’s most important. It would be better for families to live at 80 percent and have margin for the unexpected. Living with margin takes some of the most focused discipline you can imagine, especially when there is so much being thrown at us from every direction, but it is possible to make the necessary changes.
In Jillian’s case, her husband wasn’t taking the lead, so she did. Without lecturing or nagging, Jillian made three decisions that brought back a sense of rhythm to the family and her marriage. Jillian established a nonnegotiable date night with her husband every week. She would have loved for him to come up with the idea, but he just wasn’t the type of guy to be proactive in this area of their relationship. Then, she let the kids choose just one extracurricular activity each season instead of all the activities and “stuff” that had the family running around so much. And finally, she made Sundays a very different-looking day of the week for the family, a much more restful day.
Jillian’s husband wasn’t opposed to the date night idea at all. She made sure the kids were set on those nights and planned fun and enjoyable dates that quickly become the highlight of the week and rekindled their romance. The kids first pushed back at participating in fewer activities, but Jillian stood her ground. There were more family dinners and less stress almost immediately. The most difficult change for the family was the Sunday activity load. When Jillian was growing up, her family held to a strict Sabbath, which means rest. Even as a child she looked forward to a family meal after church on Sunday, and then much of the rest of the day was geared toward slowing down the pace of life. For her family, Jillian instituted a “technology fast” as part of their Sunday routine. Smartphones would stay in their chargers except for an emergency, and tablets and laptops were off-limits except for schoolwork. As much as possible, they made Sundays family fun days. There were still ups and downs for the family each week—stress didn’t disappear—but Jillian’s initiatives helped to nourish their relationships, and margin slowly moved back into the family.
Busyness can seem necessary and unavoidable in today’s world, but it so easily becomes a habit that takes over a family’s life. You look up one day and realize that you have quietly and unintentionally been disconnecting from those you love the most, including God, and replaced what is precious with whatever is most pressing. When we are tired and exhausted, discouragement creeps in more easily. Are you talking care of your own soul? What are you doing to enhance your marriage? Do you have replenishing relationships around you to support you and keep you accountable when needed?
There was a time in the prophet Elijah’s life when he was so tired and discouraged that he wanted to just give up (see 1 Kings 19). What did he do? He went to sleep. After he slept, God sent an angel to give him something to eat and drink, and then he went back to sleep again. Only after he was rested and refreshed was he ready to take on the day. Maybe, like Elijah, we need to get more rest.