Love Thy Spouse

Has someone failed to get the word out that studies repeatedly show the best thing a parent can do for his or her child is to love one’s spouse, the father or mother of that child? How often have you met a parent who assures you: “I really love my children,” but then goes on to express how much he or she hates a (usually former) spouse? What do such parents suppose this expression of hatred does to those children?

If studies showed repeatedly that reading to your children every night was extraordinarily beneficial to their future success and development (and they do), wouldn’t you read to your children? Or if you found out your son or daughter was diabetic, would you feed him or her loads of sugar? Loving children isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling we get when we look at them, it’s a commitment we make to do whatever good we can for them, even when it’s hard.

Let’s put it this way: If you came upon a parent who insisted: “I really love my children,” but then he or she could never be bothered to get off the couch to feed them, what would you think? That might be love as a “feeling,” but it’s not love as a commitment.

So too, since children need more than just food, water, and clothing, they need, as much if not more, care and commitment and a sense of belonging, if a parent isn’t willing to put aside differences with the other parent to give these things to their children, what are we to say?

No one denies that this sort of reconciliation can be hard. But then again, it’s often hard to put up with your boss every day, but you do. And it’s hard to put up with the police officer who pulls you over for speeding, but you do. And it was hard in school to listen to your coach yelling at you, but you did.

Now here is the man or woman with whom you stood before all your friends and family and pledged before God to love, honor, and protect for the rest of your life, and now you can’t even spare a kind word for him or her when the well-being of your children is at stake? I’ve met people who have insisted they would walk over burning hot coals for their children. What good that would do their children escapes me, but let’s say they would. What has happened that they can’t put their pride or hurt aside long enough not to infect their children with hatred for one of their own parents?

“Divorce Child” by Javad Alizadeh, 2007
“Divorce Child” by Javad Alizadeh, 2007

I am not unaware or unsympathetic about the fact that “problems arise.” Problems arise in jobs. Problems arise in school. Problems arise when you do plumbing or replace the spark plugs in your car. Name a human activity where problems don’t arise. Problems arise; problems must be dealt with. What I’m suggesting is that problems will get dealt with (or should) if, as you say, you love your children.

There are also times, however, when the father or mother of your child is not your spouse. These situations are especially ripe for tragic results. It’s hard enough to put aside differences and put a damper on one’s pride when you’re dealing with someone you know, respect, and have pledged your life to. It may be impossible when it’s someone you hardly know. But this is the reason the Church suggests people not engage in the act of sexual intercourse with anyone unless they know, respect, and have pledged their life to that person. Is that really so ridiculous as the “cool, sophisticated” group makes it sound?

No matter what such people say, the reality of human reproduction entails that you will be the biological parent of that child for the rest of your life. You and your partner will have created a new life: something entirely new and unprecedented and irreplaceable in the universe.

From one perspective, creating a new human life is just about the most remarkable thing two human beings can do. Try to name something more remarkable. Making a really good putt in golf? Making good money for a few years at a corporate job? Hitting a home run? None of those are bad things; they’re just not like producing a new human being.

Did Dr. Frankenstein say: “Now I have done it: I have succeeded in getting a well-paying job at Google”? Or: “Igor, stand back, this putt will amaze the world!” There’s always another job and always an even more remarkable putt. But there will never, ever be another child, with infinite capacities and “in the image of God” in just this way, like the one amazing human being produced by you and your partner.

So don’t screw up and turn what should be the greatest miracle two human beings can achieve together, the greatest gift God can bestow, into the greatest tragedy of your life. Reserve sex for someone you have committed yourself to love and serve for the rest of your life.

If you’ve made a mistake and you’re doing everything you can to make the best of it, God bless you. He will not abandon you or your children. I am not writing to condemn you. My experience with such parents is that they would be the first to warn others against making the same mistakes they did.

For the rest, please don’t fool yourself into thinking you can love your children and then simply dispose of their mother or father. Children don’t work that way. We can all wish they would; but then, how often does reality simply conform to our wishes?

Right; children don’t either.

Randall B. Smith is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. His latest book is From Here to Eternity: Reflections on Death, Immortality, and the Resurrection of the Body.