Home Life by Bev and Phil Haas
My fiancé and I will be getting married next month. I still live with my parents and they are having a hard time “cutting the apron strings.” My parents raised me well but their tight grip on everything I do is getting to me. It’s causing a real problem between me and them, and also between me and my fiancé. What advice do you have for us?
Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (English Standard Version). These words are referenced by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:8, and also by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:16 and Ephesians 5:31.
Whenever you come across a passage of Scripture that is repeated often you can be sure God, like any parent, is driving home an important point. In this passage God is laying out what every couple must do to experience oneness in marriage; they must leave their parents and hold fast to each other.
Ideally parents will let go of their children little by little over the years and then completely when they get married or become adults. When parents don’t loosen their grip, it’s up to the couple to help them. Leaving parents and cleaving to one another is biblical. Now we want to provide some practical advice on the leaving part of your question.
Establish Clear Boundaries
In his book, Intimate Allies (Tyndale House, 1999), Dan Allender made the statement that in his experience, he could trace 90 percent of marital discord to a failure to leave. The word leave from the biblical text above means to “forsake dependence upon.” It means to turn your allegiance away from your parents and toward your spouse. Leaving your parents does not mean cutting off your relationship with them. Leaving your parents means recognizing that your marriage creates a new family and that this new family must be a higher priority than your original family. Now is the time to begin setting limits on the involvement of your parents in your lives.
Be Patient with Parents
Sometimes parents don’t realize that the command in Genesis 2:24 is as much a command to them as it is to the couple getting married. Good parents hold their children close and then let them go. Some parents have more difficulty than others with the letting go part. It’s hard for parents to step back from their emotional investment—the giving, sharing, and nurture they’ve poured into their children’s lives—and instead encourage them to leave. They must realize they are not losing their relationship with you; they are redefining it. Your parents must begin relating to you more as a peer and less as a child.
Checklist for Leaving
In a radio interview Dennis Rainey, director of Family Life Ministry, shared a checklist to help couples determine how they are doing in leaving father and mother. According to Rainey, emotional, financial, and decision-making are three areas to test to make sure you are leaving well. Have you been released from your parents’ emotional control of your life, or are you still looking to them for support and approval? Be on your guard against a natural tendency parents will have to continue to parent you. Enlist your spouse to help you establish your own identity as a couple.
A second area to check concerns your finances. This is a common area where parents can exert control. This doesn’t mean parents can’t help out. Just make sure any financial help from parents is coming your way with no strings attached. The third item on the leaving checklist has to do with decision-making. Your parents have been dispensing advice for many years, and there will be times when you will look to them for wise counsel, but most decisions need to be yours as a couple.
In the weeks leading up to your marriage, you have an opportunity to begin sending signals to your parents to let them know you are switching your allegiance to your future spouse. At the same time, reassure your parents that you want your relationship with them to continue, but not in the same way as when they were parenting you. Many parents find this freeing since parenting is one of our most difficult challenges in life.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have one grandson.