Does parenthood trump marriage?

Marriage or parenthood? Which do you value more? Is it more worthwhile to work at marriage and being the best spouse you can be, or to be devoted to your kids and raising them to be the best they can be?

Obviously, a lot of us would say, “Do I have to choose?” But a Pew Research study found precisely that millennials (roughly those 18-29) value parenthood far more than marriage. What do we make of that?

Of course, there is a lot of good in millennials valuing parenthood. It certainly beats the simplistic alternative of not valuing it. So there was part of me that wanted to celebrate this affirmation of parenthood and move on. But something wouldn’t let me. I kept coming back to the two words far more. They value parenting far more than marriage. Not just more – FAR MORE.

It reminded me how I felt as a 9-year-old when I asked my dad who he loved more, my mom or me. And he paused, in a way very characteristic for him, and confidently responded, “Your mother.” I’m sure my face showed my disappointment. But he patiently explained to me that by loving my mother well, he was actually loving me well. I only kind of got it then, and probably still felt somewhat disgruntled at not getting to be in first place, but thankfully, I never questioned that I was loved.

Four kids and fifteen years of marriage later, though, I get it.

It’s no coincidence that God instituted marriage first with Adam and Eve and then gave them children. When Adam was lonely, God didn’t give him a child. He gave him a help-mate, a spouse. Marriage makes a family—not having children. That’s a point that Charles and I regularly bring out in premarital counseling. When you get married, you become a family.  A married couple without children is just as much a family as one with children.^

I wonder why the majority of millennials in this study don’t agree.

  • Could it be that they are entering marriage with wrong expectations that its purpose is to make them happy?
  • Could it be that they have seen countless marriages break down, and they don’t want to open themselves up to the same pain?
  • Could it be that parenting has become much more about self-fulfillment, realizing our own unmet dreams in our kids, and therefore parenting appears, on the surface, much more hopeful than marriage?

I am sure there are multiple factors and that they vary by individual, but I am confident that God values marriage a lot. It is marriage that over and over he uses as an image to point to the relationship he has with us.

And so I want to live marriage in a way that makes people value marriage. I want my kids to grow up thinking marriage is worth fighting for – that by loving my husband I am actually doing them a great service. Hopefully, with the help of God, the next generation might produce different results in a similar study.


^Just as a parent without a spouse, with kids, is also a family. I have the utmost respect for single parents and recognize that many of them find themselves in this situation not of their choosing. And as such, that the question proposed in this blog post may not be a choice they even have. This is a hard place to be, and I don’t pretend to think it isn’t. 

*Originally posted April 15, 2015

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