boy walking away from camera with backpack representing leaving father and mother

Have You Left Father and Mother?

I left father and mother at nineteen: Not for a husband, but for an education in Chicago. So when I moved to New York well over a decade later to marry Trevor, I was certain I had God’s command down pat. “Leave father and mother”? Check. After living on my own for thirteen years, what else could I possibly need to leave? 

But waving goodbye to the man and woman who raised us and physically moving out of their home is not what Moses had in mind when he wrote,

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother.”

How do I know? Because when Moses wrote Genesis 2:24, a married man didn’t leave his parents. In his excellent commentary on Genesis, Dr. Kent Hughes writes: 

Neither before Moses nor after Moses was it ever the custom for a man to leave his father and mother when he took a wife. It just was not done. In fact, the custom was for a man to marry and remain in his father’s household.

Take Isaac and Rebekah as an example. Isaac’s father, Abraham, sent a servant to find a wife for his son. When the servant discovered Rebekah, he escorted her to Isaac’s family, and Isaac “brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother” (Gen. 24:67). Isaac didn’t physically leave his father and mother when he married; he simply had a new priority and responsibility to his wife.  

Let’s travel back in time to understand why leaving is essential to becoming one. In fact, let’s travel all the way back to the dawn of time, the sixth day, when God presented Adam with a compatible companion. 

“Leave Father and Mother”: A Key Ingredient in God’s Marriage Recipe

boy walking away with backpack and quote "becoming one flesh begins with leaving"

If you read this account in Genesis 2, you notice that in verse 24, Moses interrupts his spellbinding story with this side note, 

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Then, just as abruptly, he turns away and resumes his story: 

“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). 

What should we make of this “interruption”? Well, we know Moses is addressing us—not Adam and Eve—because as the first and only humans on earth, Adam and Eve had no parents to leave. Through the Holy Spirit’s leading, Moses wanted to make sure we didn’t miss this momentous moment.

God established marriage when He inspired Moses to write,

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Becoming one flesh begins with leaving; It requires exchanging the priority of one earthly family for a new one. (As believers, it also means doing this in the framework of our lasting, heavenly family: the church. More on that another time.) God wanted us to understand that the one-flesh bond between a husband and a wife is to be stronger even than the original parent-child bond. 

Leaving father and mother is necessary, but not always painless, as Kennan experienced. 

“Firmly Glued to My Man”

Kennan was used to gathering at her grandma’s for lunch each Sunday with her close, extended family. But when she married Marcus, leaving her father and mother meant accepting that she and her husband would live too far to drive home for Sunday gatherings. 

She frequently cried on Sundays, knowing that four hours down the road everyone else was gathering at her grandparents’ house. On top of that, she often ate Sunday lunch alone, because her husband worked long hours as the church’s media minister.

After their first baby arrived, Kennan’s desire to move back to her hometown only grew, but her husband still felt called to Houston. Kennan prayed and cried nearly every night in the shower. 

And then, a couple years later with baby number two on the way, Marcus’ job shifted. Suddenly, it was his idea to move back, and of all things, now Kennan wasn’t ready to leave her friends and community group. 

Kennan and Marcus did move back, and they resumed Sunday dinners with her family. This is what she now has to say about their seven years away: 

I know living near my family sooner would not have been right for us. God used those years living at a distance to firmly glue me to my man. We needed that time to solidify who we were, our family culture unique to us.

Prioritizing a new family over an old one isn’t easy, but it’s invaluable. God knows what is best for us. As the author of the family, God makes it clear that this unique, one-flesh relationship trumps our relationship with our family of origin. This new relationship deserves to be fueled. 

What Do You Need to Leave to Embrace This One-Flesh Relationship? 

I don’t know whether you already had one foot out the door when your husband came along, or whether leaving your parents still feels like ripping your heart out. But I know this: The call to leave your father and mother is a call to leave anything that comes between unity and intimacy with your spouse. That will look different for each of us: 

  • Maybe you need to leave behind your expectations for what you thought marriage would look like. 
  • You might need to throw out those flirty interactions with other men. 
  • Or you might need to leave your single-life-mindset and independence behind. 

As a newlywed, I needed to leave my unwavering loyalty to myself, and to my image of “having it all together.” (When my husband would call out my flaws rather than sing my glowing praises, I would passionately defend myself. My “love” for Trevor would suddenly sour into hate.)

God calls us to leave our father and mother and cling to our husband because becoming one flesh necessitates exchanging the priority of one family for a new one. He knows that at times we will feel pulled in two directions by these two earthly families, so God makes it easy for us to know who to prioritize when that happens. If the two are ever at odds, our one-flesh relationship is to always take priority over our relationship with our parents. 

I wonder, what do you need to forsake in order to love your husband with a love fitting of this unique, one-flesh relationship? 

In Case You Need Personalized Help Leaving Father and Mother

The Bible gives general principles like “leave father and mother,” but it requires wisdom to know how to live that out in our unique family situations. If you could use more specific, personal direction, I’d love to help. Contact me here for Christian relationship coaching

Paula (Hendricks) Marsteller is a compassionate Christian communicator.

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