Through the contact me feature on the Parenting Like Hannah website, I sometimes get questions parents want me to discuss. One of the most common questions is some variation of “What do I do when my child wants to date someone of whom I don’t approve?”
I have struggled with how to best answer the question, because what the person means can vary from “the other person is married” to “I don’t like the way she wears her hair.” Evidently, one is of much more spiritual importance than the other.
If your child is dating someone who is pulling them quickly away from God or is causing them to break God’s commands merely by being in the relationship, I urge you to get help from a minister or Christian counselor. You can give them more details and they can act as mediators between you and your child if necessary.
If the spiritual danger is more tenuous or is more a matter of personal preferences or taste, the following suggestions may help you:
- Pray. If you are not already praying about your child’s romantic relationships, it’s not too late to start. If this relationship has serious spiritual implications, discretely ask trusted godly friends to join you in praying.
- Separate spiritual concerns from preferences. Be honest with yourself. Are you concerned about this relationship, because the person is actually pulling your child away from God or merely because something about them makes you uncomfortable or is not your personal preference? Spiritual concerns, if real, are valid. Ultimately, other aspects are up to your child to decide. If they marry, your child will need to appreciate all of those things which annoy you. Your child does not have to marry your dream spouse, only his or hers.
- Love the people your child dates. First, it is the godly thing to do. Second, he or she may eventually marry your child and become a part of your family. Invite the people your children date to spend lots of time with your family. Encourage them to spend time at your house or doing fun things with you. Double date with your child. By developing a relationship of your own with the other person, you not only remove the need for your child to stay in a relationship “to prove” something to you, but you can counsel from a place of real knowledge and relationship – not just first impressions or hearsay.
- Create an atmosphere in your home where your children feel comfortable telling you anything and everything. This does not mean you will approve of all of their choices, but that you ask thoughtful questions and truly listen to their answers. If you have established this kind of relationship with your child, any concerns you express will be heard better than from a parent who barely interacts with their child.
- Don’t be afraid to share legitimate concerns. Be prepared though to back them up with scripture and real life examples. Resist the temptation to exaggerate and jump from point a to point z with no evidence (Ex. “She has blue hair. People with blue hair always end up getting divorced.”) If your child hears an obvious logical fallacy, they will stop listening to anything you have to say – even when it is totally correct.
- Casually point out the things you love about your spouse. Don’t bring your child’s relationship into the picture. Over the years, your child will begin looking for the characteristics you found in your husband which made you happy. Conversely, if you are watching tv and see an example of someone acting badly in a relationship, share why that behavior will cause huge problems in the future for that couple.
- Encourage godly dating behaviors in your child. Dating in groups or in public, avoiding dating too young, keeping physical intimacy to a minimum, taking short breaks at key points in the relationship to clear their heads and make sure they aren’t just getting swept up in the drama and romance – all will help keep your child’s relationship manageable. Ungodly behaviors in a dating relationship can tie people together in ways they were never meant to be connected and often for a lifetime instead of a few weeks. (Be aware some teens are encouraged by their peers to date people who are very willing to be physically intimate with anyone. The teens often use them to get past the label of “virgin”. Teach your child virginity is a very special gift which should be saved for the person you love enough to spend the rest of your life with – your spouse.)
- Have regular “ice cream” dates with your child. These dates should be non-threatening. Ask questions to show you are legitimately supportive and want to know how the relationship is progressing. Encourage your child to voice concerns. Avoid “I told you so” and focus on helping your child brainstorm how to manage those concerns.
- Remember most dating relationships don’t work…until they do. We have all been there. How many people did you date, that you now wonder what in the world you were thinking when you said you would go out with them? Some stories are sad, some are funny, but most ended with minimal scarring. In fact, it’s often the not-so-great dating relationships that teach you about the wonderful, godly, loving relationship God wants for us in marriage. Stay as calm as you can and if and when the relationship does end, ask your child what they learned from the relationship. It may be things they liked and still want in the next relationship and it may be things they want to avoid with the next person.
For most of us, the dating years of our kids are quite possibly some of the scariest years of parenting. We have no control and we know the implications of a poor choice can cause consequences for a very long time. Hopefully these tips, will help you and your child navigate them a little more smoothly.