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:

  1. Sacred Search by Gary Thomas
  2. 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.

Dating and preparing for marriage is something that parents need to think about - before their kids get to that stage. (quote)

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.

6 Character responses for parents for when their kids start dating.

Do you need help in your Family?

Hi! I’m Belinda

About Me

Belinda and her husband, Peter, live in the far north-west of Australia on a small farm. They have four adult children whom they homeschooled from prep-year 12. Over this time Belinda has taught and supported women both face to face and online. Her heart is to encourage families to be intentional, relational and heart focused in all areas of family living. She continues to do this in her new season of life – as her kids leave home one by one leaving her with more time.

Certified Life Coach

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?

6 Comments

  1. T

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts…..God is so good as this is a subject that has come up in our home now but my daughter is only going on 13. Our rule is no boyfriends. Her friends are allowed to date and she doesnt see what the big thing is from our side…..she thinks it looks cool. I am trying to explain to her how she is far from ready emotionally for any of this but I am struggling. Any suggestions. …she is going through a pushing the boundaries stage….as we homeschool too she says she just wants a bit of her own life without parents protection…..I feel like my hands are full. Your thoughts will be helpful.

    Reply
    • Belinda

      I appreciate that my post today doesn’t help in your situation. My thinking was more about parents who are thinking they have a say in their adult children’s lives. But – your situation is very much a circumstance that parents face. So here are a few thoughts.

      At 13 you are wanting to get your children to start thinking about their values, what they look like, and the consequences/rewards of living those values out by their own choice. This doesn’t mean you give them 100% freedom of choice – but rather use the situations that come up as opportunities to explain your reasons and values, and let them think about their values in light of that.

      We certainly didn’t want our children dating at this young age either!

      We have talked a lot about what is dating. This is a term that really needs explaining because every generation sees it differently. What does she see her friends doing? How does that line up with what the Bible says about relationships? Let her answer this – in her words. And then share your thoughts.

      I know I said to my kids: What changes by having that boy as a boyfriend? From my perspective two things change: 1-he gets to be the only boy who spends a lot of time with you, he gets to know you like no other boy does (and of course – I talked the same with my boys about girls). and 2-he gets to touch you like no other boy does.

      This of course leads to conversation about why we hold hands, and kiss – actions that young teens may see as innocent and fun, but from an adults perspective we know they stir the desires and they are done in romantic relationships for that very reason. I also pointed out to them that I have male friends who just don’t do those things with me/to me – because it isn’t a part of friendship, but rather a very intimate close friendship I have with their dad only. This helped them see that there are different ways to relate to people of a different gender.

      I also encouraged the girls (probably more than the boys to be honest) to be looking at the boys they knew and start understanding their feelings of attraction. What do they like in a guy. This is a good thing to know – and quite okay to talk about. But I didn’t let my teenage girls drool over a boys looks (in real life – or on any sort of media).

      Hope this gives some thoughts to start with. Happy to keep talking if you have more questions – or something specific from what I’ve said here.

      Reply
  2. Liliane

    Thanks for another great post, Belinda. This has always been an important topic for me- for my children. I didn’t grow up a Christian- I was from a Catholic home. My parents didn’t really put any boundaries on us in respect to dating, purity etc. Infact, my mum once told me, if I were to come home pregnant, she’d always love me. I couldn’t think of anything worse!! I was just not inclined to even think this way, naturally.
    I never dated during school/uni. I watched my friends date one boy after the other. I just couldn’t understand how they could spend all that emotional energy to love and get to know someone, only to break up after a few months. It was crazy to me. Such a waste of their time.
    I never dated till I met my husband. When I met my husband, I just knew he would be someone I’d want to marry. He lived in another state- so we got to know each other long distance. We married only having seen each other a months worth out of 6!
    When I became a mum, I knew I wanted to be different in my parenting. By the Grace of God He has helped me (and my husband) cultivate healthy and open relationships with our children. We’ve always been intentional about all we do. What we talk about. When we bring in topics etc. We’ve always been intentional about sharing God’s design. If we are His children, His light, His ambassadors, then we need to be these things in all the areas of our lives.
    Our preferences, which we’ve shared with our now adult children (19 & 17- I do have a 10yo too) is that courting with a group is the ideal. To meet someone in a safe group atmosphere and getting to know them this way, until you are sure that this person is someone you would like to marry. I once read, and I agree ‘ dating is divorce practice’. It’s unfair to both people to get so emotionally involved only to then break up, because something wasn’t working. In our marriage, it hadn’t always been perfect or easy. Do we then divorce? No! We made a commitment, so we work it out. It’s forever.
    After courting, if they’ve made a decision then they can get engaged. And that doesn’t have to be a long period of time either. Unless there are things that they need to wait for. (If their spouse to be is interstate and they’re waiting for them to move 😉)
    Naturally, we’ve also spoken about remaing pure, and God’s design and reason for that. And the future health benefits to that too!!
    We continue to pray for our children. That they may make the right choices in adulthood. We can no longer tell them, we can only talk and advise should they ask.
    I can only pray that they make the right choices. That the Lord continues to speak to their hearts. Whatever decision they make, though. I will ALWAYS love them. They are adults now, and they need to live with the consequences of their choices- right or wrong.
    Some authors I like, which I share with them are Gary Thomas, Debi Pearl and Lori Alexander.
    Sorry for the long reply. But this topic is close to my heart. And I believe if more parents were intentional in training their kids in this area, we wouldn’t have many of the issues that we have in our society.
    Lil xx

    Reply
    • Belinda

      I love reading your long reply!! I think you wrap it up well – we have to be intentional and lay foundational solid beliefs when the kids are young, and then we have to let them walk in their choices. It is hard – but it is so worth it. The number of times I have held my tongue (not just with this topic) and the kids have come back to me later to say – well I won’t do that again! I am constantly reminded that we as adults/parents are still making mistakes, still growing, still learning – we have to let our adult kids do that too. We can’t protect them – ultimately that it will stunt their growth. Thanks for sharing your journey.

      Reply
  3. Dana Lavelle

    Belinda, Thank you for sharing your wisdom regarding this important issue. For some reason, it has taken me completely by surprise — all those years of home schooling and suddenly they are adults! My children are 25,22, and 19 and this is something I’m praying more and more about — that they find suitable mates. My oldest son has read Ravi Zacharias’ book I, Isaac, take Thee, Rebekah two times and its his favorite book on the subject. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Belinda

      Yes the years go by quickly and often the next season is suddenly upon us. I love it that our kids are finding their own favourite books – it means they are taking responsibility for their own choices. Love it.

      Reply

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