Rules and kids dating is a subject that I have been reluctant to write about because I don’t want to put the spotlight on my kids lives. But it is something that is really important to my heart and I’d like to share it with you. This is just rambling thoughts – as if you and I were having coffee.
There is so much information out there on dating, courting, or relationships before marriage. I grew up with a very conservative church that encouraged courtship. Peter and I got together based on being friends and then our dating/engagement time (not courting) was spent as a long distance relationship, and I do have some teeny tiny regrets that we don’t have ‘going on dates’ as a part of our memories. So there is a mixture of experiences and understanding in all that.
We talked about Dating from a Young Age
We raised our kids with the expectation that they would keep themselves for marriage – that was fairly basic understanding in all our discussions. Over the years we talked about so many issues surrounding the different ways people encourage young adults to approach finding a life partner. We talked about your first kiss being at the wedding ceremony (good idea or bad), we talked about pros and cons of dating or courting, about needing father’s permission, we talked about being friends first, and about different levels of friendship and intimacy.
Joshua (our oldest, and therefore our guinea pig as we work out what we believe about certain things!) Josh went to a few Christian camps with a university campus. Each time there was a ‘relationship’ session and yet, he always came home frustrated that the talks were always about sexual purity. Surely there is more to it he would say.
People often asked me for a booklist of the books we used to teach our kids, books that we gave them to read to be prepared. I don’t have such a list. Or I didn’t then – I do now! My plan was to teach them to have relationships, good, honest, friendships; to have the skills to build and maintain relationships, to have the understanding and commitment to purity and the self-control to live it. We didn’t read books to teach those things.
We did have an expectation that during school years there would be no boyfriend/girlfriend. But after school years, when they started to think about these things we have given them two books:
- Sacred Search by Gary Thomas
- Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud
These books add to our perspective that a marriage relationship is built on solid friendship skills and character choices.
My Ah-ah Moment about Rules for Dating
Then one day, in the midst of all this discussion it hit me – the #1 thing that is wrong with setting rules for your kids dating – is that we are talking about them as adults. Parents don’t set rules for their Adult Children.
Now, this might be different for you – if your kids are wanting to date in school, before they are 18 years old – you may well want to set some guidelines, expectations and consequences for them. We did (or would have if the situation arose) – no dating during school years.
But once they are adults – we cannot set rules for them. Even as I write this my heart palpitates – it is so important to me. If we want our children to grow up to be self-governing adults, we have to let them self govern. That means they set their own rules.
How scary is that! We know, from either our own experience or our own observations that sexual relationships have lasting effects on people’s lives well after the relationship is dead and gone. We also know that in the throws of love and desire we don’t think clearly – and we want to be a clear thinking head for our children.
But setting rules for our adult children is not the way to go.
This doesn’t mean we take a hands off approach either – it just means we can’t lay down rules and expect them to obey. This is why relationship with our kids is so important. When we have relationship with them we walk with them, we talk with them (not at them), they share life with us and we share life with them. When we have this type of relationship it is the best opportunity we have to help them do well in this aspect of adult living (romance and finding a life partner). When we connect at a heart level they will share their little secret (of who is starting to pull at their heart and desires), they will share their struggles, they may even ask for advice, support, or help. This of course is ideal – and we need to have that ideal in front of us as it gives us motivation to build, strengthen and protect the relationship we have with our teens.
Our reality may not be the same as this ideal. We can have a good relationship with our kids and they don’t open up this area of their life to us. We can’t do anything about that. The least we can do is approach them and share our heart for a better relationship, share our commitment to give them unconditional love and support. But ultimately it is their decision to open up their life, their heart to you or not.
When they do open this part of their life to you – once again, it is not our place to give them rules. Instead we need to:
- Be Humble and in awe of the privilege they give us by inviting them to walk with them.
- Be Wise – we need to be able to share wisdom – practical applications of living out your values.
- Show Self-control – we need to always keep our eyes on the big picture (relationship) and watch our words, our tone and our actions.
- Find ways to encourage them to articulate the values they want to live by.
- Be available to hold them accountable to the values they want to live by (ask them if they want us to).
- Be loyal and helpful – always expecting the best of them, always finding ways to help them live to the values they say.
- Be forgiving and gracious – being there with an open heart when (if) they share they stepped away from their intent.
Rules are not the Way
As a parent my desire has been to be an influence to my kids. I want to be a physical example, but I also want my presence, my values, my belief system to influence my kids’ heart. For many years Peter and I have kept this quote as a baseline:
When you show character, people begin to respect you…
After time, that respect grows into trust…
After time that trust builds a relationship…
When you have relationships with people,
You have influence into their lives.
And that pretty much sums up what our perspective has to be with our young adult children – especially in this area of romance and relationships – we must act with character at all times, because that will gain their trust, and that will build and strengthen our relationship with them – and that will open doors into their heart, and give us opportunity to influence.
The power of influence is far more reaching than the control of rules.
Over to You:
Have you started to think about this season in your kids’ lives? How have you been talking about it with your kids?
Preparing Our Children for Marriage: There are things that we can do to prepare our kids for marriage even now while they aren’t particularly thinking about it.
When Letting Go Doesn’t Have to Hurt: Letting our children go doesn’t have to hurt – we have been training them towards this day.
Am I an Enabling Parent when I Help my Child? We need to understand what being an Enabling parent really is and not be intimidated from helping our child or teen when they really do need help.