One of the reasons that I am promoting chivalry over the last few days and the primary reason that I wrote Falling For Your Madness was so that I could encourage my children (who are between the ages of 7 and 14) to make wise choices in their relationships. As a mother, I take this instruction seriously. I believe that it is my obligation to communicate wisdom to them, remind them of how much they are valued and emphasize to them that the choices we make when we are young (and possibly foolish) can effect us the rest of our lives.
In my effort to become a better parent and be equipped to do this, I sought the advice of parents around me; ones who I’ve known for many years and have the kind of children I would want my children to be. Three of them — Julie from Oklahoma, Steve from Texas, and Kate from Virginia — all agreed to answer some questions about how they guided their children into their dating lives. They have fifteen children between them so if anybody can give good answers, they can!
All of these parents have similar traditional value systems and I think they have taken proactive approaches to child-rearing. This may seem counter-cultural to some, but I think there is wisdom in their words.
Please welcome Julie, Steve and Kate!
First, How old are your children?
JULIE: 21, 19, 16, 16 and 11
STEVE: 18, 16, 15, 14, 14, 12, 11
KATE: 20, 19 and 17
What restrictions did you put on your kids as they approached dating age?
JULIE: Our children do not “date”. If there is someone they are interested in getting to know better, they are allowed to have them over to spend time with our family and vice versa, assuming the other parents are present and we approve of the family. By this, I mean they are providing a safe home for our child to visit. Obviously, this means that Tom (her husband) and I have met the other parents. Of the four that are of age, three had mild objections and one did not. We also allow them to invite friends of the opposite sex along on family outings or dinners.
STEVE: Our kids were always told when it was time for marriage, we would help them find a spouse. Their main concern was whether or not they would like our choice so we assured them they had veto power. We would all be in agreement. As they grew older, they realized this was not entirely practical in our culture, but we have and continue to make it clear that we ‘re not in favor of romantic relationships until they are ready to consider marriage. Dating for fun to a prom or homecoming dance with a friend and in groups is acceptable
KATE: I have to admit that we did not give a lot of restrictions, just a ton of encouragement toward circumspection. I feel it’s somewhat unrealistic to think that kids won’t date. From what I’ve seen, kids who are forbidden often do it behind their parent’s back and therefore without any guidance. I wanted everything out in the open so we could give inputs and encouragement to date wisely.
How old were your children when you began to instruct them in these matters?
JULIE: Because we homeschool, they have all heard at least bits and pieces of these rules when we talked with our oldest. She was 16. Otherwise, we address it when it comes up.
STEVE: As they began to ask or notice relationships, it’s always been discussed. Grade school age for sure. As our children integrated into school environments from home schooling gradually at various ages, the conversations became more frequent as they noticed friends ”dating.”
KATE: Probably about 6th grade.
My kids are young teens; the oldest is 14 and is serious and worried about dating. Part of me is worried that she’ll be SCARED TO DEATH to date when she gets old enough and miss out on something. (She is a sensitive over thinker. I wonder where she gets it?) Is this a legitimate concern for me or should I just be grateful that she takes it so seriously?
JULIE: Be grateful! I dropped the “what will they miss” attitude years ago. Dating is for adults, not children. The purpose of dating is to spend time with someone that you would consider marrying to get to know them better. Just like the main purpose of school is learning, not socialization. We believe that our children are not equipped to operate in and deal with adult relationships and situations as children. It is OK that she is scared. As she grows and matures, this will fear will diminish. Our preparations and instructions, and their natural growth will prepare them for these relationships when the time comes. If we are wrong, I would rather be wrong on this side of caution as opposed to the other side.
STEVE: My opinion is to be happy she is reserved. Dating (or courting) is to help you determine your mate. She’s probably many years from that. When God’s man comes around, she’ll be unable to resist and will probably miss out on a lot of heartache from failed relationships in the mean time. I just see much value or purpose in dating so young except to have fun at events with friends.
KATE: I don’t see any reason for her to be afraid to date because I’m sure you have instilled good values in her and because she’s a thinker she’ll choose who she dates carefully. I feel like those who are afraid are those who kind of missed the window to start with simple group dating, things like going to homecoming dances and prom in high school, where there will be tons of other kids around and they can choose to “group date” in a structured environment. People who go off to college without ever having done any “couples” events are at a disadvantage because everyone else is comfortable with it.
What resources have you used to reinforce your guidance with your kids? Books, websites, speakers, etc?
JULIE: Our pasts, complete with good and bad experiences, and the Bible.
STEVE: We’ve resourced “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and ”Dateable” but have also relied on statistics, exposure to other, more conservative cultures and good sense.
KATE: We mostly talked to our kids about it ourselves. There is also always one night a year of youth group at church where they talk about sex, dating, and wise choices. A good friend of mine leads it for the girls, and she really lays it all out there. I appreciate that she’s willing to get real with the kids. It’s amazing how many high schoolers have already made terrible choices, so it’s important to start these talks early – during early middle school. If they don’t hear about this stuff at home, believe me, they will hear about it from their friends.
Have you ever thought about what if the worst should happen? What have you done to prepare yourself? What conversations have you had with your spouse about these matters? How would you like to think you would communicate love to your kid who either made a life-changing mistake or picked up destructive habits?
JULIE: We believe that even with all of our efforts, our children are capable of making dumb choices and stupid mistakes. We tell them this. We tell them that we are here to raise them, support them, teach them, love them, discipline them, etc. They are children and “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child”. We expect them to make mistakes, but we do all we can to guide and advise around and through these situations and issues. If an unfortunate situation were to occur as a result of their choices and actions, we would support and love them, pray with and for them, and then make them take responsibility for their actions…..to the end. (assuming they are under 18).
STEVE: We have discussed these possibilities, though not at great length. Having family members [in destructive habits] and simply pondering the great love I have for my children as well as the unconditional love my heavenly Father has for me causes me to believe any situation could be overcome, though not without breaking hearts. I also work with woman and children in a brothel in India, so the idea of worst case scenario isn’t un-experienced, though in my immediate family, the impact would be different for sure.
KATE: I pray over my kids every morning before they leave for high school. We ask for covering, wise choices, protection from evil, and even that when they do wrong they will be caught so they can learn and grow from it! We have always communicated that we love our kids NO MATTER WHAT, but that we expect them to maintain the kind of values our family upholds. Somehow, I have gotten three very straight-arrow kids who are horrified by the bad choices of their peers. I really attribute that to a lot of prayer and thousands of inputs from home over the years of their upbringing. I also believe that increasing levels of trust as they prove themselves worthy of that is really important. NOTE: I refuse to make it easy for my kids to access porn or other destructive influences on line. No use of computers in their rooms until after they have left for college – it all has to be out in the public areas of the house where anyone can see what they are doing. I believe it’s a big mistake to give a young teen, especially a boy, unlimited access to what’s available on TV and on line.
What did your parents do right in teaching you about making wise choices?
JULIE: Our parents did not approach child rearing as we have. I don’t know why one of us made better choices than the other as we were growing. (enough said) Maybe it was a male/female difference. It seems parents of our generation thought we would get vital info for living from osmosis or Sunday school atttendance.
STEVE: Not much.
KATE: Pretty much the same things I have done with my kids — exposure to good values and right thinking at home, through church, and through godly examples. Also by being open about the mistakes my parents made or struggles they lived through. We have done that with our kids too.
Have you ever had an “I told you so” moment? How did you handle it?
JULIE: Yes, we discussed it briefly because no one likes to hear, “I told you so!”
STEVE: My daughter, against our advice decided to “date” a young man at school for 2-3 months on and off. When she decided to call it off for good, she felt very awkward and uncomfortable for a week or so until she got the nerve to end it. The relationship caused her a lot of anxiety, particularly at the end. He is a decent kid from a decent family, but their values are not similar to ours. Although I did want to say “I told you so,” I instead took the opportunity to speak into her life, to remind her of our preference of using dating as a tool to find a marriage partner and to encourage her as her father about the kind of young man who would pass my scrutiny because she is so highly valued. We also reinforced that she is complete in Christ and doesn’t need a boy to complete her. I also reminded her that she and her sister could live with us the rest of their lives, but their brothers had to leave and get a job after college!
KATE: Plenty! But really kids are going to make mistakes, and there is only so much we can do to guide them. Ultimately, they make their own choices and have to live with the consequences. We just try to support them through heartache when needed, and gently debrief what could have been done differently for a better result.
How forthcoming are you about your dating past?
JULIE: We generalize with comments like, “I made some poor choices.” “I don’t want you to go through what I did.” No details.
STEVE: We tell them what they ask and thankfully don’t have a lot to hide. We did both date throughout Junior High, High School and somewhat in college though. So far, their patterns of behavior are different/better than ours.
KATE: Pretty open. We definitely discuss how “Your body doesn’t know you aren’t married” and how hard it can be if you have time alone with someone you’re really attracted to. We always encourage staying in groups or mixed company to keep temptation at bay. I have to admit, now that my oldest kids are 19 and 20 and have moved out for college, it really has to be their choice how they handle time with their significant other.
Do you find that the differences in generational culture make it harder to communicate wisdom? Or, do you resign to the fact that your kids live in a different world than we did in the ’80s and ’90s? What do you say to your kid when they think you don’t get it?
JULIE: No, we don’t give any merit to generational differences and , frankly, we don’t care if our children “get it” or not. We are raising them the way we feel is best. They have bucked our ways at times, but if you ask the two who are out of the house (over 18 and one is married), they will sing the praises of homeschooling and the “protected” upbringing they received. It is definitely not the norm, but it works for us…..so far. I am very close to my children and I attribute that to homeschooling. I would have it no other way. Our time with them is so limited and they grow up so fast that I want to spend as much time with them as possible. That idea is also rare in this day where some moms can’t wait for school to start every Fall so they will have a break from their kids or free day care at the local school.
STEVE: We communicate fairly well with most of them. Sandi (his wife) especially has a good rapport. I think they realize we are old fashioned but seem to respect our views for the most part. We do get a lot of eye rolling from one daughter in particular.
KATE The biggest difference I have seen in the open homosexuality that pervades our current culture. Other than that, I feel like I saw it all too. Because my kids run with good kids who generally share their values, they aren’t as pressured to conform to what society dictates. This is the same way my husband and I were way back when. The world is different, and it’s the same. I think because we are relatively young for parents of young adults (had my kids between the ages of 23 and 27), it’s not so hard for our kids to believe we aren’t horribly out of touch. We’ve also worked with college students for the last 10 years, so we are around their generation a lot!
How much has your local church helped you in reinforcing wisdom in this area?
JULIE: On a scale of 1 to 10, ten being an amazing, supportive church environment, I would have to give a three.
STEVE: The church is very proactive with our kids and has also been incredibly supportive with family decisions which vary within the church like dating or Santa Clause. They support and do not contradict the family which has been great. As our kids get older, the church continues to support and encourage us to parent our kids intentionally while offering support to assist with difficult subjects. For example, they are currently offering a Song of Solomon bible study for high schoolers with parent permission.
KATE: I think church has been great reinforcement, but the teaching and example have to stem from home.
Thank you Julie, Steve and Kate! This gives me a LOT to think about!