A couple of weeks ago, Ben and I got into it – right as I was dishing dinner onto plates. It was that time of day where everyone is a bit tired, emotions run high, my tank is empty, and there’s still quite a bit of work to be done. I can’t even remember now what the argument was about, but it was clearly something we both felt strongly about, and it wasn’t resolving quickly. So we told our children to get started on dinner, we’d be back in a few minutes, and we went back to our room to work it out.
A few minutes turned into 45, and multiple times, a child came back to ask for something. We said, “Mom and Dad are having an argument, we need to work through it, and we’ll join you soon.” We heard them repeat the story to the others, “Mom and Dad are having an argument. They’ll be done soon.” In the end, we completely missed dinner, and our conversation ended memorably with all four children back in our room with us, on our laps, as we discussed American politics and explained the current candidates to our curious children.
Ben and I have plenty of conflicts and arguments; this is one aspect of the work of marriage, to die to self daily, listen well to the other, and seek humility. And we are growing in it. But something I have thought about over the past few years is how we want to model healthy conflict – and in this case, marital conflict – to our children.
We all have different childhood experiences of watching our own parents handle conflict; maybe your parents never fought, and so you were unprepared for dealing well with conflict. Maybe your parents fought loudly, angrily, and it was frightening for you as a child. Maybe your parents fought in front of you, but resolved issues behind closed doors, so you were not able to witness the resolution. Maybe your parents separated because of too much conflict.
For Ben and I, we want to model not only healthy conflict – as in, handling our arguments in a way that still respects the other – but also healthy conflict resolution. We want our kids to see us apologizing to and forgiving each other, embracing each other, laughing together, our relationship completely restored. We want them to know that even though we may get angry at times, we still love each other, and we always will.
Just as we work hard in our home at restoring sibling relationships when there’s been discord, and restoring child-parent relationships when there’s been disrespect, so too we work hard at modeling restored marriage relationship. Because this is a picture of the gospel – working out right before our eyes, again and again. Just as in Christ, we are forgiven our many sins and brought into restored relationship with him, so too our human relationships – the conflict and the restoration – is a picture of his redemptive work.
So I’m pondering lately, how do we do this better? We want our children to see both the hard of conflict and the beautiful of restoration, because it’s a picture of life in Christ. And that – life in Christ – is the life we want them to see.