November 25, 2013

Baby Bouncing

Gary Thomas — 

There is a common trap in marriage that younger couples need to be aware of. I call it “baby bouncing.”

In a real-life case (names changed), Francine ultimately grieved when her husband Jacques fell madly in love with their firstborn child (Eliane). That might sound odd; wouldn’t a mother love the fact that her husband so adored her daughter?

Well, we’re human. Francine explains it this way: “I had loved and admired Jacques since I was 18. Our meeting had been providential and had changed our lives completely. The arrival of our baby…seemed to complicate things. Jacques only had eyes for her, she was his little angel. I was no longer the only one he loved. I felt frustrated, as if something had been taken away from me.”

Although Francine isn’t proud of this, you can kind of see it, can’t you?

This man she had loved all of her adult life suddenly seemed to be pouring his affection out more vigorously on someone he seemed to love more than her. Even though that “someone” was her daughter, it still hurt. And when we hurt, we do hurtful things.

In this case, Francine eventually compensated by pouring out her love on second-born Suzanne, who arrived four years later. Jacques didn’t seem to love Suzanne as much as he did Eliane, so Francine felt justified in compensating by loving Suzanne more than Eliane. Now, she had an ally in her war of hurt against Jacques. Now, it was two against two: Francine and Suzanne, suffering the favored union status of Jacques and Eliane. Without knowing why or even seeming to choose to do so, Francine found herself constantly critical of Eliane, making her feel as if she could do no right while Suzanne could do no wrong.

The issue, of course, wasn’t Eliane or Suzanne.

The issue was spurned love in the marriage, being played out through the kids, i.e., “baby bouncing”–compensating for favored status of one child by favoring another. The children become pawns in the marital shifts of power and affection.

Jacques and Francine went on vacation and took the leisure time not only to pray, but to listen to God. They sensed Him pointing out the dark dynamics of why Francine felt bitter and why she favored Suzanne. Not only did the recognition and resulting confession restore Jacques and Francine’s love, but Francine took it one step further and apologized to Eliane, who said, “At last you’ve admitted it. You did love Suzanne more than me. I knew it!” Eliane gave her a big hug and all was restored. That might seem like an awkward conversation—a parent admitting that—but what other choice was there? Eliane knew it whether Francine admitted it or not. Best to confess, explain it, and use it as a pathway to grow and as a demonstration of God’s redeeming work.

Don’t bounce marital dysfunction from child to child.

Don’t let the dynamics of your marriage cause you to enlist your children in a covert war against your spouse. If you feel neglected, tell each other. If you believe you’ve lost your spouse’s heart, don’t ever think you can compensate by trying to gain control of your child’s heart. Our children aren’t pawns, they’re not pacifiers, they’re not to be used to soothe the aches in our marriage. They’re to be cherished, supported, nurtured, trained and launched into their own life of love.

Have you ever seen spouses do this with their kids? Have you fallen into this trap? What was it like? What are the tell-tale signs? How can we avoid this in our own marriages, and help others when we see it happening in theirs?

[photo:Pete Labrozzi, Creative Commons]

**Quotes taken from Annejet Campbell’s book, Listen for a Change

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