Love is a tricky subject. There’s only one word for it in English. It’s easy for your child to think the butterflies caused by the person he or she is dating is the same love your child is looking for in a potential future spouse.
Hopefully, you’ve been talking about dating, love and marriage with your child for years. Or perhaps you haven’t discussed it at all, thinking it would work out well regardless. Your child may be a young teen with a crush on a schoolmate or a young adult hoping to marry in the next few years. Is there anything you can do at this point to help your child through this critical stage? Yes, but you need to be very careful.
It’s important to remember, ultimately this is your child’s life and decision. If you have a healthy relationship with your child though, you can probably do these things to help.
- Pray. If you’ve already been praying for your child’s future mate, great! If not, it’s never too late to start. Pray very specific prayers. Pray that your child and their special someone make wise choices. Pray that they keep God at the center of their relationship. Pray God will help them see clearly if it is in His will that they remain together.
- Have your child make a list. Detail oriented young people probably already have one. This isn’t to set up expectations anyone will perfectly match the list. If however, there are many areas where the person fails to meet the list, there may be a better match in someone else. (You don’t need to see the list, but be aware some of it may be unrealistic.)
- Spend a lot of time with your child’s boyfriend/girlfriend. You need to spend as much quality time together as possible without making things awkward. Get to know them as a person. What are their hopes and dreams? How do they feel about God? How do they treat your child, their parents and others? How do they react under stress? As a somewhat more casual observer, you may be able to see red flags your child has missed. Watch particularly for controlling behavior, someone who tries to separate your child from you unnecessarily and if your child’s friends dislike the other person. It may not mean anything at all, but it indicates a need to look a little more closely.
- Learn about the boyfriend/girlfriend’s family. This isn’t about money or status. It’s about how healthy the family environment was. If it’s not great, that doesn’t mean the relationship must end. They just need to be aware they may need more outside help to work through issues that are created by the trauma.
- Help them set safe boundaries. The closer they get to engagement and marriage, the more difficult it is for many couples to obey God and avoid pre-marital sex. You don’t need to hire a professional chaperone, but you can casually suggest ways to help them avoid unnecessary temptation. (If your child’s an adult, this must be handled very carefully. You can’t give consequences and rules to adult children.)
- Suggest pre-marital counseling before the engagement. My daughter and son-in-law developed this idea. They are from two different countries and wanted to make sure they had discussed everything that might cause an issue when people are from different cultures. It’s great because had they found serious issues, it is much easier to end a dating relationship than an engagement. In fact, you may want to add this to your family list of future expectations (like asking the parents first).
- Be loving and supportive. Don’t sweat the small stuff or you will push both of them away and set yourself as the common enemy. Focus only on anything that will put your child in danger spiritually, physically, emotionally or mentally. Everything else is personal taste and you need to accept those choices – even if they don’t match your personal taste.
You can’t control whom your child chooses to love. With love and care however, you can help your child make wise romantic choices. It’s a delicate balance, but with such an important life changing choice, you need to be supportive in godly, parental ways.