A friend recently asked me how I prepared myself for the time when my children started dating. She was not asking how I prepared THEM, but how I prepared myself. I guess I had never thought about it before but she is right, there is a difference. Well, kinda….
We knew that day would come, when our children’s eyes would spark for a special someone. It seemed like so far off and then it happened.
As our children grew into the “dating age” we ushered it in just as we do everything in life, we talk a lot. Talking about dating didn’t start in the teen years though, it began long before.
I remember sitting in my sister in law’s kitchen. Her children had just gotten home from school and one of my nephews, (maybe 7 at the time) was telling us about a special girl in his class. My sister in law proceeded to lead him in a series of questions, “Is she a good friend? Does she treat others kindly? Does she love Jesus? Is she respectful to your teachers?”. It’s funny that such a simple conversation stuck with me. As I left that day, with my oldest child strapped into his car seat, I thought about how different their conversation was than what I had seen throughout life. The only conversation I knew about on this subject went something like this… “Is she cute? Does she like you?” and then teasing in a sing-song voice, “Do you want to marry her?” (Followed by giggles)
It was on my drive home that I realized the foundations for my children’s future dating relationships were actually laid down when they were in elementary school, or sooner! So as my children grew and interacted with other kids, often we would highlight character qualities in themselves and with others when there was opportunity to do so. Long before our children were in the dating years, we encouraged them to consider what was under the surface and to not make outward appearance a focus of their relationships.
Neither my husband or I had exposure to anything beyond the traditional American dating model so that was our frame of reference. We both had dated several people before we met each other in our early 20’s. By the time our own children reached their teens, we had heard a lot about dating, courtship and some hybrids of that. I can’t say that we sat down and formed an exact plan for our children but we knew that we wanted to walk with them through these upcoming years while reflecting on and putting into practice biblical principles. In doing that, we would come up with the best plan for our family.
As some of our teens developed friendships that turned into dating, there was a natural progression for all of us. Since we homeschool, we get to spend loads of time with our kids and their friends. We have at times, seen the emerging relationships even before our kids notice it themselves. When we do, we just wait, watch and talk. We talk about all of their friends and evaluate character qualities while working on developing their own. We really try not to single out any one relationship and suggest our notice of the spark of interest, we believe it is wisest to “not awaken love before it’s time”.
We have enjoyed hosting “teen game nights” to offer young people a place to gather and have fun. When 30-40 teens converge on our home to meet, we as parents remain visible but otherwise, the teens organize the night. We have observed them playing board games, volleyball, tag, “mafia”, and pulling out a guitar for worship. They have had quiet times of prayer and crazy loud times of English Country Dancing in the lawn. They consume immeasurable amounts of junk food (and so do my little kids… the perks of having older siblings!) By hosting, we are honored to watch our children and their friends interact and grow in relationships.
Back to my friend’s question, how did I prepare myself for the time that my own children would begin dating? The truth is, as happens in many situations of life, we just put one foot in front of the other. We maintain open communication and pursue places and times for good conversation. It seems that as we have walked with them, dating was simply the next step. We were confident in the biblical values and principles we had instilled in our young people. We had seen the type of young adults our own kids had become and the people they pursued friendship with. Preparing THEM was actually the preparing of US simultaneously. No separate study necessary.
We can’t really direct who our children will ultimately chose to date, what we can do is instill in them a desire to find someone with godly character and a love for the Lord. When we do this, it prepares our hearts for the next stage because we can confidently release them. I can trust my son’s and daughter’s choices in dating because I know that their foundation is sure. I know that if both they and their intended are following Jesus, they are on the right track.
It is possible that you are disappointed with my lack of a concise “to do” list to prepare you for that time when your child begins to date. I have talked to a few other seasoned moms about it and the consensus has been the same, it’s just one of those things you prayerfully learn as you go. The great news is, if you have more than one kid…… you get to rest a little easier the second time through!