From time to time I remind my children, “You are a welcomed addition to this home, but you are not the center of it. Your mom and I love you and we have big plans after you leave.”
My son then asks, “What are you and mom going to do after we leave, Dad?”
“We’re going to Disney World!”
That’s our family’s little lighthearted exchange as my wife, Amy, and I acknowledge that our children will one day leave the comforts of our home to start their own homes. And trust me, our kids know how to tug at our heartstrings.
Our daughter told me, “I ain’t leaving!”
I told her, “Oh yes, you are.”
She asked, “When?”
“We will send you to college when you are 18 years old.”
She immediately responded with, “I ain’t going to college.”
“Oh, yes, you are,” I said a second time.
“Then I’m going to college online,” she demanded.
That may be an option, but leaving home is not.
According to Genesis 2:24, the bond between husband and wife is to be stronger than the bond between parent and child: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” It doesn’t say a “child” or an “adolescent” leaves Mom and Dad. It implies an “adult.” It is the parents’ job to make sure their child leaves home as an adult, not still journeying to become one. Amy and I want our children to leave our home prepared for the responsibility of work, marriage and family.
Leaving home and getting married is simultaneous for some people. It may take place on the same day. You wake up one morning in your parents’ home, head to the church, get married and off on the honeymoon you go. You leave your father and mother and immediately start your new family. For others, there’s a gap between leaving and cleaving. In many cases today, the gap is 10 or more years. You leave home, finish school, get a job, move into your own place, save some money and establish your life as a single.
Whatever the gap between leaving and cleaving may be, a thriving marriage only works when both husband and wife leave home in numerous ways. Both adults must be prepared to leave home physically, relationally, emotionally, financially, spiritually and sometimes geographically.
Leave home physically. Two or more families living under one roof has its challenges. If at all possible, start and maintain married life with your very own physical address. Your own home is a tangible expression of leaving and cleaving. Plenty of adult children move back in with parents to work at a start-up company, care for their aging parents, or to be cared for themselves during a health crisis. But returning home works best when viewed as a season, not a permanent move.
Leave home relationally. Marriage requires new priorities. Your preferred person in life is now your spouse. Mom is no longer your No. 1 woman, and Dad is no longer your No. 1 man. Your wife’s cooking is now your favorite food ever! Your husband’s handiwork is to be revered!
Leave home emotionally. Good news at work is first shared with your spouse, not your parent. If you need to process a decision, talk it through with your spouse before calling a parent. If you call a parent, don’t allow Mom’s or Dad’s feelings on the matter to trump your spouse’s. Newlyweds do not need to call or text home every day to debrief their happenings in life. Just as you need physical and relational space, you need emotional distance, too.
Leave home financially. This, like leaving home physically, is a tangible boundary. It’s time to give back your parents’ credit cards and blaze your own financial trail. One of the greatest mistakes young marrieds make is wanting to have in three years what their parents spent 30 years accumulating. Live within your means. Work hard, give graciously, save diligently and then spend happily. You’ve got this!
Leave home spiritually. When did your parents’ faith become your own? Being raised in a Christian home and going to church your whole life does not make you a Christian. Faith in Christ alone leads to salvation. Have you both made that decision? Your family heritage does not bring you into a right relationship with God. Personal faith in Jesus saves you.
When necessary, leave home geographically. My wife and I moved 1,000 miles away from home right after our wedding. We have great and loving parents, but the freedom to make it on our own accelerated our cleaving. It was fun when our parents visited our apartment and could see that we were more than making it. We loved when our parents sat at our dining room table and ate food that Amy and I had provided. We are convinced this is one of the best ways we honored our parents — it’s as though we were saying, “Thank you, Mom and Dad, for teaching us how to do this.”
One final word of encouragement: After you leave home and cleave to your spouse, the need to return home may present itself later in life. The health of your parents, a job loss, marital crisis or short-term transition may cause you to return home. Please keep in mind that your return is just for a season; your marriage is for a lifetime.
Ted Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Missouri, and the author of Fun Loving You.