There are a lot of times in parenting that are scary. Like bringing your first child home from the hospital. The first time your child gets sick. The first day of school. Perhaps one of the scariest is when your children start dating and thinking about marriage. While they are often naive and blinded by “love”, your life experience tells you dating is a potential minefield for your children. The wrong choices can negatively impact the rest of their lives.
Yet there are things you can do years before your child even thinks about dating and marriage that will help make this minefield a lot less dangerous for your child. Here are some of our favorites.
- Give your children lots of love – using all five love languages. By now you know the list – physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and gifts. Your kids each have a couple of favorites, but they need to have them all from you as often as possible (and no, not showering them with gifts). Listen to tales of romantic trauma and very often there is a reference to feeling unloved by parents as a child. You can’t spoil your kids with love – spoiling is a product of a lack of enforced healthy boundaries and equating only gifts with love. Your kids need lots and lots of the other four love languages so they are not operating from a love deficit. Trying to fill that love deficit that was meant to be filled by parents is where bad romantic choices often begin.
- Teach your children how much God loves them. There is a space in one’s heart that is meant to be filled with God’s love for us. Your children need to learn about God and understand His love for them on a deep level. Once again, this is not a permissive ”do whatever you want” love, but a love that wants what is best for each of your children – which includes obeying God’s commands. If your children understand and feel the love God has for them, yet another possible love deficit is filled appropriately.
- Teach your children what real true love is. Love is not what they may see on reality shows, movies, romance novels or sadly often in the world around them. Real love is not based primarily on lust. It is agape love like God has for us. It is love that encourages one to be a strong Christian. That is supportive in good times and bad. It very often is said that you should marry your best friend and that’s not a bad description. True love is for a lifetime – and loves even during those times where liking one’s spouse is a challenge!
- Model a healthy marriage. No marriage is perfect. In fact, seeing you and your spouse disagree and resolve those disagreements is healthy for your children. If you are struggling, get help. If you have bad habits in how you treat one another, break them. Whether they mean to or not, your children will often mirror the marriage behaviors they saw growing up. Make sure your children see healthy, godly behaviors. When you make a mistake – admit it and apologize to your children as well as your spouse.
- Talk about God’s perfect plan for marriage. This is considered controversial by many, but it shouldn’t be. God’s plans are perfect. When we deviate from them for any reason, there are often negative consequences. We may not always understand or agree with everything God requires and people sometimes take a good command and make it toxic in how they implement it, but your children need to trust that God knows best. Thankfully, there are a lot of explanations and stories in the Bible of how disobeying God can cause marital issues. Share those with your children as well as any of your own insights as to why you believe God’s commands help marriages become stronger.
- Don’t rush your children. Nothing is more disturbing than hearing a parent encourage a three year old child to kiss a child of the opposite sex as their “girl friend” or “boy friend”. Be careful about pushing your children to date or participate in sexualized behavior. Honestly, I think dating should probably begin when the child is old enough for marriage to be a possibility. Before then hanging out in mixed gender groups is a great way to get to know someone of the opposite sex without the possibility of being tempted to go too far sexually. It also can help them refine what they do and do not want in a future spouse. (When your children are old enough to marry, don’t rush them. Keep reassuring them that it is better to never marry than to rush into a marriage with the “wrong” person.)
- As they approach dating age, talk about “red flags”. I had a friend who married a “player” as a young adult. He soon had an affair that destroyed their marriage. When I finally met him decades later, his player behavior was so obvious I was surprised she hadn’t noticed it when they were dating. She correctly pointed out that as a naive teen, player behavior can look attractive. They are often charismatic and “love bomb” you. Talk about red flags for abuse and other negative behaviors that can destroy marriages. Make sure to also discuss the positive traits that make someone a good spouse. The more clear the picture is of the person they want to marry, the more likely it is that they will choose that person.
There are many other topics you will want to discuss regarding love, dating and marriage. Starting with helping them understand what real love is can make the rest of the discussions much easier as they choose quality, Christian people to date and marry. It can make that potential minefield more like a walk in the park.