We've been married for 20 plus years. We had no clue what we were in for, and we can say with lots of joy that it’s been harder than we ever imagined and better than we ever dreamed. As we lean on Jesus every day as the foundation of our marriage, and as the Holy Spirit lead us into deeper friendship with each other, we’ve noticed our two teenage sons noticing us — our talks, our flirting, our disagreements, and our personalities.

After homeschooling them for seven years, and now watching them flourish as missionaries to their schools, we can reflect back on some things we did early on that seem to be paying off in big ways now.

We read all the statistics and realized that our kids would be less likely to engage in sex before marriage, less likely to get divorced, less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and more likely to succeed in every single measurable category if we were consistently involved in their lives as a team.

We made a decision together. No matter what we had to do, we would prioritize the hard work of raising and training our kids to love Jesus and to be responsible people. We would have to be intentional. We would have to be involved. We would have to be a team.

Make Your Marriage the Priority

While there’s no easy way to have a strong marriage or raise good kids, we’ve learned that there is a rather simple way to approach both. We see our marriage first and foremost as a lifelong friendship where we do everything as a team. This mindset helps us be present, spiritually and emotionally, as we raise our sons to become children of God.

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the constant push and pull of everyday life. If we’re not careful, we’ll realize when it’s too late that our kids grew up before our very eyes and we lost precious time when we could have been making memories, discipling them, and instilling values we want them to live out.

The first step to assure this doesn’t happen is to make your marriage the priority. Tackle life as a team, because when the kids grow up and move out (they will eventually) it will still be the two of you; one flesh, together, a team until the end.

Learn to Say No

Before we had kids, we learned that there was a never-ending flood of invitations and opportunities to do other things besides focus on our marriage. We learned to politely say no to dinners, parties, speaking events, writing projects, and ministry, so that we could connect as friends. It was the single best thing we did, because not only were we a true team when God gave us kids, we had already learned the discipline of saying no when we needed to. Every no to something outside the family is a yes to something good inside the family context.

Be a Purposeful Influence

We’ve all been overwhelmed by the pressures of parenting: laundry and meals, ball games and piano lessons, practice and church. The incessant, never-ending emotional roller coaster of your teenagers’ changing hormones and moods. Then there are their friends (the ones you like and the ones you fear). Busyness leads to ignorance; when we say yes to too many other things, we naturally lose track of each other’s lives and the things happening in their lives.

We know how fast those years fly by. Choose to be an influence while you have them at home. You can’t influence them unless you’re involved in their lives, such as:

  • creating a home where they have their friends over often for meals, movie nights, bonfires, or ball games;

  • having a tradition where their first date is always at your house, beginning with a meal at your table;

  • setting aside 15 minutes every night before bed with a family meeting, where you talk about their day, upcoming events, chores, school, and so on;

  • setting limits on video games, TV, Internet, and social media interaction.

"We found that intentional involvement in our children’s lives created trust. Even when they push back, they internally crave your presence. They need you to be there."

Model Face-to-Face Relationships

Influence begins by being intimately involved in the lives of your children, particularly in their relationships. You have to get face to face with them, and this needs to begin as early as possible. You can’t be career-driven and uninvolved until they turn 16, then all of a sudden decide you want to become the authoritative parent. It’s important to:

  • eat dinner together four to five nights a week;

  • choose how many sports your kids can play in a year, prioritizing church over sports;

  • plan family trips together;

  • play games, watch movies, do Bible studies, and have fun together;

  • teach them skills, such as cooking, exercising, shopping, yard work, and household chores.

They will learn to be adults by watching you be adults. If you’re involved in conversations and activities, they’ll crave your wisdom and involvement as they get older.

Build Trust Hand in Hand

We found that intentional involvement in our children’s lives created trust. Even when they push back, they internally crave your presence. They need you to be there. By the time they’re approaching graduation and deciding what to do after high school, the goal is to walk with them hand in hand.

They need to be able to come to you with their temptations and failures. They need a safe place and a godly voice when cultural pressures are bearing down on them. Let them know that if and when they do mess up, there will be more than just consequences. There will be forgiveness and unconditional love. If you’ve already been intentionally involved for years in their lives, you won’t have to rely on your words alone. They will know it intuitively.

If you want your children to walk with Christ, if you want them to honor God with their bodies, and if you want to one day see them flourish in a Christ-centered marriage, then it’s actually easier than you thought. Be a team. Love each other first as best friends. That love will spill over onto your kids. It’s caught more than it’s taught.

Together, Clayton and Sharie King have written 20 books and won “Young Adult Book of the Year” for True Love Project. They are co-founders of Crossroads Summer Camps and Conferences and Clayton King Ministries, an organization that serves thousands of churches each year. Clayton is an evangelist and pastor at Newspring Church in Anderson, South Carolina, and Sharie has a successful podcast called “Overcoming Monday.” They have two teenage sons.