How Parenting is Harder than Marriage


“We truly do not know how selfish and sinful we are until we live with someone in marriage,” Mark Driscoll says in his book Real Marriage.

Author Gary Thomas asks: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

I think both of these statements apply to raising children at least as much, if not more, than they apply to marriage.

Marriage isn’t easy.
It requires work and sacrifice.

But I feel like Josh and I entered marriage well prepared, and were both slightly surprised when it wasn’t hard.
That’s not to say we don’t work at it, and that’s not to say our marriage hasn’t improved with time and nurturing.

But being a new parent, by comparison, is remarkably harder than being a newlywed.

Josh and I agreed on three main reasons why parenting has proven to be harder, at least for us.

1) In marriage both parties benefit

In a marriage relationship, love is exchanged.
It goes both ways.
You are pouring yourself into the other person and they are pouring into you.
You give and you receive.

Children, however, are fully dependent on their parents for the first years of life.
You pour into them, and they don’t realize it.
You give and you give without receiving anything in return.

It’s important to note that parenting can be the most rewarding and fulfilling thing on the planet. But this reward has nothing to do with the small person giving back, and everything to do with the parent fulfilling their God-given role in life.

Someone told me that being a parent meant “it’s not about you anymore.”
I didn’t know how true that statement was.
In my mind, life was never all about me.
In realty, it was.

Marriage was about me and Josh, but it was half about me.
Josh and I can compromise and make decisions together that benefit both of us.
Malachi and I have yet to form such a compromise.
When it comes down to it, I’m here to fulfill his every need.
Any need.
Any day.
Any hour.
Whether I want to or not.
It is my job and my calling as his mother.

One day he will be old enough to say thank you, but not for a long time.
In the meantime, parenting makes us holy by highlighting the selfishness in our lives and forcing us to eliminate every form of it.

2) You date before you marry

Dating has it’s advantages.
You have time to get to know the other person before you commit to spending life with them.
You can choose someone whose personality compliments yours, who is easy for you to love and get along with.
You can “practice” before you leap into marriage by sharing each others ups and downs, serving each other, and making meals together.

Parenthood has no trial period.

The closest thing it can be compared to is an arranged marriage, where you fall in love with the person after the commitment is set in stone.

We have no say in who the child is or what personality they are born with. In fact, God often blesses parents with children so much like them, that they butt heads on every issue!

But this also can be used to make us holy. By learning to handle mini versions of ourselves, we are forced to come to grips with our own imperfections.

A father with anger issues will raise a son with anger issues.
We can’t just talk the talk.
We have to walk the walk.
We have to lead by example every day, lest our imperfections are magnified and passed down to our children.

Which ties in nicely to my third point…

3) The responsibility of training a child

Marriage doesn’t require “training a child in the way he should go.”

While we won’t be disciplining our little guy until he’s older, it’s a huge part of parenthood that I’m a bit apprehensive about.
Josh and I both agree with the discipline approach laid out in the book Shepherding a Child’s Heart. In this approach, the emphasis is less on behavior and more on intentions. It requires taking the time to instruct the child on the moral implications of their actions.

Not easy.
At all.

In marriage we believe we’re called to encourage one another and hold each other accountable for sin.
But a child is a blank canvas that must be started from scratch. And the thought of messing that up is so intimidating.

Not to mention sleep training and potty training!

To put it simply, both Josh and I were a bit surprised how easy being married was, and a bit blindsided by how difficult parenting can be.

Marriage and parenting do have some huge and noteworthy parallels though:
Your life does change in an instant.
A new normal is introduced.
Your independence is shattered.
You get good at sharing.
Your world is turned on its head – for the better!
You get a small glimpse of God and His goodness.
You will never be the same!


Add yours →

  1. Emily I am so thankful for these words that you so graciously laid out! Now on my forth day of motherhood, and this was so encouraging to read my thoughts and feeling written out by a new momma with some more experience! I especially like what you said about parenthood being like an arranged marriage… I was actually thinking about that on our second night after James was born and nothing I did would make him stop crying. But in the morning, he was my sweet angel and I knew I was going to be in love with him dispite the endless nights. Anyway thanks again for this post!!


  2. As a new parent, I could not agree more. Especially the point that a child is ‘a blank canvas that must be started from scratch. And the thought of messing that up is so intimidating.’ Eli is only 3 months old. His needs, desires, and understandings of the world are limited. But the day is quickly approaching that our influence as parents will be more profound, which is scary. However, I will continue to trust that God’s grace is greater than my faults.

  3. Parenthood is actually about change. Change in your home as you bring that new bundle of joy home. Change in your sleep habits as she cries all night or wants to be fed every 2 hours. Change in your perspective about what and who is important – not self. And change as they reach each stage of growing up. I am in the home stretch of raising 4 kids. My last 2 will be a junior and senior in high school this fall. The older they get, the dumber they think I am…until…they get out into the world and get knocked around by life’s challenges, and suddenly I am getting smarter again.
    I am stunned at how quickly it’s gone. Everyone says it will go so quickly, but you can’t really understand that until they walk out the door and you realize that your work, for the most part, is done. Then you look back in fondness at all the special memories you made with them and you pray that God will take over where you’ve left off. I have clung many times to the verse in 2 Corinthians 12:9
    But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
    I am inadequate for the job of raising my kids. But God plus me is fully sufficient for every good work.
    God bless you as you take on the most important job on earth!

  4. Paula Bernhardt June 14, 2013 — 5:29 pm

    Beautifully and thoughtfully written, Emily – thank you for sharing so openly. My experience was very different (I’ll be brief!). Parenthood was much easier for me than the early years of our marriage, due in part, I’m sure, to my immaturity, young age, and somewhat overprotected family background.

    It’s not all one-sided…one morning you’ll go into Malachi’s room and he’ll give you everything he has to offer in the biggest smile he’s ever produced! Kids LOVE to give. He will give all he can all the time, believe me.

    And I somewhat disagree with the idea that children are blank slates…I really had very little to do with my children’s personalities. They were distinct from me and Randy and one another from the first day (from several months before birth, actually) and have maintained their distinctive traits even despite my efforts to dun them out of some of them! For instance, I did not believe anyone on earth could be as stubborn as me…my son (now almost 30) has proven me wrong…and, when he directs his tenacity in a positive direction, he is just about unstoppable! I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed when none of my children wanted to pursue music as deeply as I did…but they are all creative and artsy in many different ways and are successfully using those gifts to the benefit of themselves and others. The final responsibility for their lives rests with them and God…of course I believe we as parents are held responsible for decisions and actions (and I’ve had some terrible moments!) but in the end, they are responsible to God. We are just the caretakers for a bit.

    They are made in God’s image and He is an infinite God, so nothing I see in them should surprise me – but I am continually delighted by my grown children. It only gets better!!

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