When it’s time to leave the nest

13848964_m-webAccording to Wayne Mack, “there is only one statement about marriage that God includes four times in the Bible” (Strengthening Your Marriage, p. 1).

Can you guess what it might be?

It’s this:

For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7-8, Ephesians 5:31).

Leave.  Cleave.  Become one flesh.

Sounds simple enough, right?

But how simple is it, really, when the rubber hits the road?

Mack suggests that couples can run into several road blocks quite early in their journey toward marital bliss, even just from the first of the three components listed above.

So let’s talk about this whole idea of leaving. What, exactly, does it entail?

Perhaps we should start with what it does not mean. When God says that a man must leave his father and mother, by no means does He mean that man should abandon or neglect his parents.

After all, the fifth commandment states that we must honor our mother and father (Exodus 20:12).

No, we are not to disregard them or become disrespectful toward them just because we are married.  It is certainly possible to leave your parents emotionally, while still honoring and respecting them and their opinions.

Mack also writes that leaving your parents does not mean that couples must make a significant geographical move away from mom and dad.  In fact, as Mack points out, “Living too close to parents at the beginning of a marriage may make it more difficult to leave, but it is possible to leave your father and mother and still live next door.  Conversely, it is possible to live a thousand miles away from your parents and not leave them.  In fact, you may not have left your parents even though they are dead” (Strengthening Your Marriage, p. 2).

You may read this and wonder how that could ever be possible.

Or, your eyes may skim over these lines, and you are instantly able to think of a handful of couples for whom this is true.

You know, your friend who would never dream of buying a new car without daddy’s approval.  Or the one who has to call her mom every time she tries on a dress or samples a new recipe.

If it’s possible to live far from our parents and still not have left them emotionally, then how do we do it?  How do we safeguard ourselves from falling into this trap?

Well, we’ve spoken about what leaving isn’t. Now let’s take a look at what it is.

Essentially, to leave your parents means to make your relationship with your spouse your primary concern.  That is, not to neglect or disregard other relationships, but to elevate your relationship with your husband or wife as your chief focus.

Mack elaborates on this idea like this: “It means that you must be more concerned about your mate’s ideas, opinions, and practices than those of your parents.  It means that you must not be slavishly dependent on your parents for affection, approval, assistance and counsel” (Strengthening Your Marriage, p. 2).

This can be played out in a number of ways. The main example highlighted in my own mind is when it comes to making decisions.

  • Who do you turn to first when a decision needs to be made?
  • Do you naturally consult your spouse’s opinion before anyone else’s?
  • Or does your finger start dialing your parents’ number for advice before you think to ask your husband or wife what he/she thinks about the matter?

Maybe it’s not an issue of timing, but one of weight.  Even if you say to yourself, “No, I always ask my husband first,” – do you also regard his opinion with higher respect than that of your father?  Or does daddy’s advice generally trump hubby’s?

These are issues that can squirm their way into our lives very subtly.  Sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re doing it.

Therefore, it’s important to take a step back and consider whether we have actually left our parents emotionally, or whether we’re still bound to them with an invisible tether that tugs at our hearts more strongly than the pull of our spouse.


Kate Motaung is the author of A Place to Land: A Story of Longing and Belonging (2018), A Start-Up Guide for Online Christian Writers, and Letters to Grief. She is the host of Five Minute Friday, an online community that encourages and equips Christian writers, and owner of Refine Services, a company that offers writing, editing, and digital marketing services. Kate blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@katemotaung).

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