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Though the idea of marriage is becoming more and more confused in our culture, it’s still a popular notion, especially in the Christian community. Every parent has approximately two decades to prepare a son (or daughter) for the most challenging, rewarding, and extended relational context that they will experience. We call it marriage. You may not know what your child will do vocationally; you may not know where he will live, but you should assume he will marry someone.
Think of the early years of a child’s life as training years. It’s how you would consider anything that you value. For example, if you wanted to become an engineer after college, you don’t wait until you’re old enough to apply for an engineering job downtown. You begin plotting a course that will lead you to the eventual day when you can get the job of your dreams. Marriage is no different.
The problem with marriage is that a child does not have the capacity or common sense to chart such a course. This problem is why there are parents. A child’s dad and mom are life coaches who have the responsibility and opportunity to gift experienced marital training to him to get him ready for that special wedding day. Parents wear many hats, and perhaps none is more significant than that of a trainer.
To teach or not to teach is not the question. You are the parent, and your child will learn how to think and behave by the clues you give him, which is how you live your life. You are a living, breathing clue that is teaching him all the time. I recall asking a teenager if he wanted to get married in a few years. He said, “No.” I asked him why, and he responded by saying that the dysfunction in his family was so disappointing that he would never marry.
Though his parents did not train him biblically, they did teach him. Their poor example unwittingly trained him to the point where he rejected the idea of marriage altogether. He may change his mind in the future—after he meets that hot babe—but at that time, he did not want anything to do with marriage. His parents trained an anti-marriage worldview into him. If he does marry, he will not have the equipping to do it well.
Nearly all the marriage counseling that I have done had something to do with a parent’s adverse effects on the child. The parents were not the cause of any of these marital problems, but they were a shaping influence—even if the adverse impact was from one parent. It only takes one ineffective parent to impact a child’s future marriage negatively.
Parents rub off on their children. You are training him—at least passively. One of the best gifts you can give your child is to take the bull by the horns by actively exporting a Christlike example and Jesus-centered instruction to him. I do not recommend waiting just before the marriage ceremony to explain the “art of husbandry” to your son. If he has not learned how to be a husband by the time he becomes one, he will have to go into OJT mode (on-the-job training).
Your first ten years with your child (dependent to interdependent years) are the best opportunities to teach him the art of husbandry. As he moves toward the end of his interdependent years (ten to twenty) and into a more independent living, your job will be to affirm and adjust any good or bad habits he has learned from the first decade of his life.
Your son’s most attentive and pliable years will be those early ones. As he moves into the teen phase of his life, he will want to push away from you by exploring and experimenting with his worldview. Your influence will slowly lose its effectiveness. If you have been positive, intentional, and actively training, he may still want your advice. If you have been a negative and passive trainer, he will resist your efforts to instruct him after he launches into a more independent lifestyle.
There are many things you can teach a son about the art of husbandry. Three of those things—in sequential order—are (1) learning, (2) loving, and (3) leading. They flow out of 1 Peter 3:7—the how to be a good husband verse. Fortunately, our son has three women in our home to ply his trade. Since he was about three years old, I have told him how he treats the women in our family will be a snapshot of how he treats his future wife.
My son will not be profoundly different in attitude, words, and deeds with his future wife than he is with his sisters and mother—after the honeymoon wears off, of course. If he is selfish now, he will be selfish then. If he is a servant now, he will be a servant then. I want him to learn how to make practical applications of the gospel with his sisters and mother. If he can master the practicalized gospel in these relationships, he will be in an excellent position to do marriage well.
One of those practical data points is serving. Jesus did not come to earth for others to serve Him (Mark 10:45). If my son could learn this aspect of the gospel, he would be a rock star. Paul said it another way when he appealed to us to count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Just this one aspect of the gospel’s application could make his future marriage soar.
Today’s call on his life is to not only understand the females in our home by learning them, but he must put what he has learned into practice: he must love them. Paul gave us a template for what love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As you read this passage, note the fifteen pieces of evidence for biblical love and think through how to teach them to your son.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Who wants to marry a millionaire? If these concepts are how your son loves others—especially his wife, he will be a rich man, and she will be overwhelmingly blessed. Your goal is to train these things into your son to the point where his thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions have a “love reflex” to them. What you’re looking for initially is the presence of these things rather than the perfection of them. If you plant the seeds of these ideas in his little heart, you will have a decade to mature them into a harvest of love.
The best approach is to teach him one concept at a time so that you don’t overwhelm him or over-expect too much from him. As you teach him, you will have many opportunities to observe and encourage these traits. Each time he nails it, you want to draw attention to what he did. Motivate him by grace by identifying and isolating the evidence of God’s good work in his life. Affirming words build up and motivate while assuring him that he is doing it right.
A great leader will take the time to study (learn) his audience and then seek to serve (love) them based on what he has learned about them. A self-centered person will only think about himself, and his desire to do stuff will be about his selfish pleasures. You will find everything I’ve said about loving in the leadership style of Jesus. He became like us (Philippians 2:7) so that He could understand us (Hebrews 4:15) to love us (Hebrews 2:14-15).
There is no more extraordinary model for leadership than Jesus, and if your son learns to emulate the life of Christ, he will be a fantastic leader and husband. You can begin your early assessment of him by asking these three diagnostic questions:
The question you should never ask is whether your son is a leader. He is. Every person is a leader, male or female. The question to ask is about the kind of leader he is. What kind of leader is he choosing to be right now? This perspective is why you want to teach him an others-centered worldview and practice. He will need that to be an others-centered leader.
If he chooses a self-centered leadership style, he will perpetuate frustration among his relationships while sucking the life out of his future marriage. Any saved, sane, humble, and wise woman would love to follow a man who spends his days counting others more significant than himself and who knows how to care for them practically.
I gave you a practical template to teach your son in 1Corinthians 13:4-7. It provides snapshots of the life of Christ, which is why it is so powerful. A good practice is to write down those points and do a personal assessment of your son. Identify his strengths and weaknesses. Discern the kind of person he is today, which will give you the starting point to develop him into a competent future husband. With your starting point nailed down and Christ in view, you can begin plotting your course that will equip him for the rest of his life.
If you are not currently modeling the life you want him to live, you have a new starting point. It would be hypocritical and disastrous to attempt to teach your son something you are not trying to perfect in your life. If you attempt to bypass the personal modeling of Christ, he will more than likely reject you and the Christ you hope he will emulate. As you do these things, remember that your most powerful parenting tool is prayer.
Do your best to train your son, but never forget that if your child transforms, it will be because of the grace of God. Awful parents can have God-loving children, and good parents can have Christ-rejecting children. Realizing you’re operating under God’s sovereignty is not a call for sloppy parenting practices. It should keep you from over-trying and over-worrying about the results. Leave the results to God. Your job is to go and make a disciple out of your child.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).