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Leave and Cleave: Independence of Married Children

Leave and cleave: married children form a separate family from their parents.Genesis 2:24 instructs a man to leave his father and mother and cleave (be joined) to his wife. When a young man and young woman marry, they form a new family unit separate from their parents' family.

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Consider with me some lessons people need to learn about what it means to leave father and mother and cleave to one’s wife.

An Overview of God’s Will for Marriage

Marriage Is Ordained of God and Must Follow His Will.

Genesis 2:18-24; 1:16-28 – God created marriage from the beginning. Since He created it, He knows the best way to conduct it.

2 Timothy 3:16,17 – The Scriptures are profitable to instruct us and provide us completely to all good works. That includes marriage.

Psalm 127:1 – Except the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it.

Many people seek to follow Bible teaching regarding salvation, the church, worship, etc. But do we likewise follow God’s plan for our homes?

Marriage Is a Lifetime Bond Between One Man and One Woman.

Genesis 2:24 – From the beginning, God intended marriage to consist of one man and one woman who cleave (“joined” – NKJV; “hold fast” – ESV) to one another and become one flesh.

Romans 7:2,3 – Marriage is for life. A person who is bound to a spouse in marriage must never seek another companion while their first companion lives. (Other passages list fornication as an exception, but we should never wish for that.)

Hebrews 13:4 – The sexual union is permissible only in the lifetime marriage of one man to one woman. Any other arrangement constitutes fornication or adultery which God will judge.

[Matthew 19:3-9; 5:31,32; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5,10,11; Malachi 2:14-16]

The Man Should Work to Provide for Himself and His Family.

Genesis 3:17-19 – From the beginning the man was responsible to labor with his hands to provide bread. A man who is able to do this but will not, is lazy and foolish (Proverbs 24:30-34).

Ephesians 5:28-31 – The man should also “nourish and cherish” his wife as he does himself. These terms include providing and caring for her, as well as protecting her.

1 Timothy 5:8 – The man who will not provide for his own, especially his own household, is worse than an unbeliever.

The Bible is filled with examples of men who were employed in various occupations by which they provided for their families: sailors, shepherds, physicians, tax collectors, carpenters, fishermen, preachers, etc.

[1 Thessalonians 4:10-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:10]

The Man Is the Head of His Family, and Parents Have Authority Over Children.

The husband is the head over his wife.

Genesis 3:16 – God decreed that the man should rule over his wife.

Ephesians 5:22-25,28,29 – The wife should submit to her husband as the church should submit to Christ. She must submit in “everything” unless her husband tells her to do something sinful (Acts 5:29). But the husband must rule with love like Jesus leads the church.

1 Peter 3:1-7 – Even if her husband disobeys God, the wife still must submit. But the husband should lead with honor for his wife and understanding for her needs.

[Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Corinthians 11:3,8-12.]

The parents exercise authority over their children.

Proverbs 1:8 – Children should hear the instruction of their fathers and not forsake the law of their mothers.

Ephesians 6:1,4 – Children are commanded to obey their parents. Fathers should bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. [Colossians 3:20]

Luke 2:51 – Jesus set an example of subjection to his parents.

[Genesis 18:19; Romans 1:30,32; Proverbs 22:6; Deuteronomy 4:9,10; 6:6-9; Psalm 78:4-8]

Each Family Should Function Independently from Other Families.

We emphasize that each of these Bible principles applies equally to each family.

* Each man is joined to his wife, and each woman is bound to her husband (Genesis 2:24; Romans 7:2,3). They are not bound or joined in marriage to any other man or woman.

* Each man must provide for his family (Ephesians 5:28-31; 1 Timothy 5:8). He does not have the same responsibility to provide for others.

* Each man should be the head of his wife, and each woman should submit to her husband (Genesis 3:16; Ephesians 5:22-25,28,29; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Titus 2:5). The man has no authority as head of any other woman, and the woman should submit as wife to no other man.

* Each father and mother is responsible to raise and train their children, and each child is responsible to obey his mother and father (Proverbs 1:8; Ephesians 6:1,4; Luke 2:51; Genesis 18:19). They have no authority as parents over the children of other families.

The result is that each family functions separately and independently from every other family.

Applications of the Principle of Leaving and Cleaving

Since these Bible principles apply to every family, Genesis 2:24 says that, when a man marries a woman, they form a new family separate from their parents’ families. Each spouse must leave the family of his or her parents to establish a new family to which all these Bible principles apply separately and independently from their parents’ families.

Consider the applications of these principles of marriage as they apply to this new family.

Permanence of Marriage

Matthew 19:3-9 – Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24 to prove that God forbids divorce. A man leaves his father and mother to be joined to his wife, and what God has joined together, man must not put asunder. The only exception is that one may divorce a companion for the cause of fornication. If one divorces for any other reason, the divorce is a sin. And when he remarries he commits adultery. And whoever marries the one whom he put away commits adultery.

Many young couples just live together without marriage. This is a failure to leave and cleave. The sexual union is permissible only within the lifetime marriage commitment of one man and one woman.

And often when young married couples have difficulties, as couples almost always do, one or the other runs home to live with his or her parents. The parents may even encourage this.

Divorce for any cause other than fornication is a failure to leave and cleave. And separation, except by temporary mutual agreement for spiritual purposes, is also a failure to leave and cleave because it fails to fulfill the spouse’s needs and it tempts to fornication. (1 Corinthians 7:2-5)

Parents used to tell their children, “When you get married, if you have problems, don’t come running home to mom and dad. Work your problems out.”

The new husband and wife must leave their parents and cleave to their spouse.

Financial Independence

Parents should provide for their children while they are dependents subject to the parents’ authority. But the time comes when a man is required by God to provide for himself.

2 Thessalonians 3:10 – If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. Many able-bodied men continue living at home, supported by their parents, when they should be out looking for work to provide for themselves. Or they refuse to work because the available jobs are not to their liking.

1 Timothy 5:8 – In particular, when a man chooses to marry, he is commanded to provide for his wife and children. Yet often young couples get married knowing the husband is not able to provide for a family. And often they continue to depend on their parents to provide for them.

The man who marries must accept the responsibility to provide for his wife and children separately from his parents. There may be unexpected problems in any family, but to deliberately choose to continue to depend on the parents is a failure to leave and cleave.

Independent Authority

Independent authority goes hand in hand with financial independence.

Sometimes when young people are living at home and being supported by their parents, they decide that they have reached a certain age so they get to make their own rules and do not have to obey their parents. It does not work that way.

Just as the church has only one head, so each home has only one head – Ephesians 5:22-25. Everyone in the household must submit to the husband, just like everyone in the church must submit to Jesus. So, as long as you are living in your parents’ home and depending on them to provide for you, you must follow their rules.

Fathers used to say, “As long as you put your feet under my table, you follow my rules.”

That is one reason why it is a problem when a young man marries but he and his wife still live in the home of his or her parents. How can he be the head of his family when he himself is subject to his parents? This is a failure to leave and cleave.

Sometimes the new husband or new wife depends too much on their parents.

When a man marries, he becomes the head of his wife and children. Yet far too often the husband or the wife continues to depend on their parents for decisions.

Genesis 2:24 – When a man and woman marry, they form a new family separate from the families of either of their parents.

Ephesians 5:22-25 – This new family has a head and only one head: the husband. Neither the man’s parents nor the wife’s parents are the head of this new family. To submit to the parents would make two heads in one family. This is as wrong as if the church were to have two heads.

Sometimes a husband or wife has trouble “cutting the apron strings.” The husband may make choices based on what pleases his parents instead of what pleases his wife and best meets the needs of his family. Or the wife may seek to please her parents, instead of her husband. This is a failure to leave and cleave.

Friends and family may make suggestions or give Biblical instruction when needed. But the husband is the head of the new family, and his decisions should primarily consider the needs and wishes of his wife and children.

Sometimes parents interfere with grown children’s decisions.

Parents often struggle with allowing grown children to become independent.

For many years parents have exercised authority over their children. Often it is hard for them to let grown children go without continuing to interfere. They are unwilling to give up control. If the children have different family rules, the parents may instinctively think the children are unwise and even are reflecting negatively on the parents.

This is a difficult transition, but to continue to attempt to control their married children violates the principle of “leave and cleave.”

Conflict can occur in many areas, but some areas can be especially troublesome:

Raising children

If the new family has different rules for their children, the grandparents may interfere. They may contradict their children’s methods. Or they may deliberately try to influence the grandchildren to think or act differently from what their parents have taught them.

Sometimes grandparents want more time with their grandchildren and may resent restrictions that hinder their contact.

Ephesians 6:1,4 – God commands children to obey their parents, not their grandparents. Surely the grandparents may have wisdom to offer. But if they really are wise, they must remember that they no longer have the right to speak authoritatively. They may seek to advise or persuade calmly and patiently. But they must remember that their children are now in charge.

Religious differences

Parents sometimes view religion as a matter of family pride or family tradition. If grown children make different choices, the parents may feel rejected or failures as parents.

If parents believe their children’s choices are sinful or spiritually dangerous, they should speak up; but they must do so respectfully, as they would address people in any other family. They have no right to use the fact they are parents as reason to demand submission.

Parents may think children dishonor them by choosing different courses.

Ephesians 6:2 – “Honor your father and mother.” Some parents claim that grown children dishonor them or are disrespectful if they make decisions that the parents disapprove.

However, “honor” means to value, regard, or praise: the idea is appreciation or reward. Obedience and authority are not inherently part of the meaning. The word is often used for people who have no authority. Honoring someone does not mean we must obey or submit to them.

1 Timothy 5:3 – Honor widows who are really widows. This especially carries the idea of providing for their needs. Must we obey the widows?

1 Peter 2:17 – Honor all people. Does this mean we must obey all people?

John 12:26 – God honors those who serve Him. Does this mean God should obey us?

Matthew 15:3-6 – Jesus showed that honoring parents requires caring for them in old age, and He contrasted honoring parents to cursing them.

So honoring parents means appreciating or praising them and caring for them when needed. But it does not require children who have left their parents’ household and are supporting themselves to obey their parents’ instructions. To say otherwise would violate the principle of leaving and cleaving.

How should parents and grown children respond when they disagree?

Instead of calmly reasoning about disagreements, parents of grown children may try to get their way by manipulation and pressure. They may nag, bully, ridicule, make accusations, try to make children feel guilty, or even accuse them of sin. Unconsciously or not, this is an attempt to control their grown children.

Consider these Biblical principles:

1) Remember that parents and grown children make independent choices.

The children’s family is a separate family from the parents as surely as any other family. To pressure or manipulate them would violate Biblical principles of leaving and cleaving.

1 Peter 4:15 – But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Decisions of other families are their business. That includes our grown children. We must avoid pressuring them to accept our personal preferences.

2) Respect one another’s personal conscience.

Romans 14:13,19 – Let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way. … Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.

If your child chooses a course which is not sinful, it is just as wrong to ridicule or pressure them to violate their conscience as it is to disrespect the personal conscience of anyone else.

3) Follow all Biblical principles of reasoning based on God’s word.

If you are convinced a child or parent is in sin or their choice is dangerous spiritually, then reason from Scripture like you should with any other Christian with whom you disagree.

James 1:19,20 – Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.

Proverbs 10:19 – In the multitude of words sin is not lacking; he who restrains his lips is wise.

Acts 17:2,3 – Paul persuaded people by reasoning with them from the Scriptures.

2 Timothy 3:16,17 – The inspired Scriptures thoroughly equip us for every good work, including the good work of convincing and instructing people in righteousness.

Don’t nag, yell, lose your temper, pressure, bully, or manipulate. Calmly reason from Scripture. Discuss like you would with any other Christian.


All of these concepts are important for parents to understand regarding their children. Young couples should also understand these principles,. They may do well to discuss, even before marriage, how they will relate to their parents, families, and friends.

If a husband and wife have problems with in-laws, let them discuss these principles with those in-laws, explain the Bible teaching, and stand for what it teaches.

Let us learn to leave and cleave.

(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2018;

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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.

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