Journaling my walk with God.

Journaling my walk with God.

Monday, January 23, 2017

So...Do You Guys Practice Courting, or What?

          I am aware that the title of this post is odd, but the reason I'm writing it is because I am asked that question or a very similar one all the time!  I'm not sure if it is because of the way we run our home, our limits on phones, video games, television shows, social media, etc.., or if it is because people have just noticed that none of my children are dating.  It's possible that people make this assumption because we home school and have a large family.  Of course, this assumption would be sort of correct,  unlike most home school family generalizations. 
     There was a time when my oldest was in elementary school that we began thinking about how we would approach dating rules.  A friend of mine told me about how she did not plan on letting her children date.  I had never heard of such an idea!  That is why I'm sharing this.  I do not intend to judge other parents on the decisions they've made for their children.  God will not instruct me on how to raise other people's children.  Please don't attach some imaginary voice of judgment to this post.  That is not my intent.  I post this because I never would have considered this approach had someone not shared it with me, so I'm sharing it for those who are interested. 
     In the Beginning
     After listening to my friend all those years ago, I decided to wipe away every idea I had about what age children are "normally" allowed to date.  I began in God's Word.  I looked into how people in the Bible approached the topic.  Guess what?  They didn't.  It appears that dating wasn't a "thing" in Biblical times.  I am sure that crushes, flirting, giggling girls and boys throwing rocks at girls that they like, were all just as normal then as they are today, but I didn't see any instruction on dating.  I am not saying that this means it is wrong to date, but possibly unnecessary. 
     My second bit of research was to go back into my memory and think of my dating past.  I should preface this by saying that my history in dating was a pretty big disaster.  I did not choose people who had the values I would someday desire in a husband.  Still, I decided to make a list of anything positive that dating brought into my marriage.  The list was very short.  Like, not one stroke of ink kind of short.  I could've made a list of all of the negative things dating brought into my marriage, but I was afraid I would get a cramp in my hand and run out of ink.  I summed it up into one word:  baggage.  All dating did for me, personally was lower my self-esteem, confuse me, wound my heart, etc...  Don't get me wrong, I do have some fond memories of certain dates, but the end result was usually not a positive one.  After I thought through these things, I decided I wanted more for my children.  My husband and I came up with a plan for the future of our children.
The Rules
     My husband and I began discussing what our plan would be for our children when dating became a possibility for them.  I'll be honest, we did not agree at first.  I wanted to lock them up and throw away the key until I had chosen the perfect spouse for them.  (Ok, that may be a bit of a stretch, but it's pretty close).  My husband was on the opposite end of the spectrum and didn't mind the possibility of allowing them to date in high school.  We decided to compromise so that we could approach this topic unified. 
     Our children are told throughout their entire childhood that we want them to enjoy 18 carefree years of childhood.  That is why we wait for the appropriate time for things like phones, social media, make-up, and dating.  Those things and other milestones are gradually introduced when the child shows the maturity and self-control necessary to handle each milestone.  We determined that dating would be one of the last things introduced. 
     The way I see it, we don't trust children younger than 16 to be able to handle the responsibility of driving.  We don't trust children younger than 18 to have the knowledge and decision making skills to vote.  We don't trust youth younger than 21 to have the self-control and maturity to handle alcohol, yet we are expecting youth who are younger than this to handle the responsibility, have the knowledge, decision making skills, and self-control to handle such a huge responsibility as dating!  I am very careful with my children's hearts and I am very intentional about them being careful with the hearts of others.  I want their childhood memories to be filled with adventure, friendships, family time, and exploration.  We came to the conclusion that dating would be a distraction from that.  I'm sure you are wondering where the compromise is.  Here is the little loophole of which my children are fully aware:  IF one of our teenagers makes a friend of the opposite gender with whom they feel they have a possible future and they feel that person is worth "breaking the rules", they will show the maturity to handle a relationship by approaching us respectfully.  I expect that conversation to include a plan for how they will hold themselves accountable to keep the relationship pure and avoid temptations.
The second part of that loophole is that you will be PROUD of the person with whom you want to pursue a relationship.  I expect to meet the person.  I expect them to be around us a lot.  I expect complete transparency.
     If they are showing any signs that they are not mature enough or their character is not ready for a relationship, the answer will be no, without hesitation.  If they sneak to watch a movie or download an app or listen to music that we don't allow, they've proven they are willing to deceive us.  If they have a habit of lying, they've proven their character isn't ready for dating.  If they can't follow a curfew, they've proven they aren't responsible or they feel the rules don't apply to them.  If they can't handle their family obligations of chores and school work, I'm not going to allow the distraction of a relationship. If they seem to be too focused on finding SOMEONE to date, that is a big warning sign that they are not seeking their identity in Christ and they are hoping the relationship will fill a void that is only intended to be filled by God. These are all reasons for me to say no.  Boundaries create security.  My children feel cherished because we protect them.  They know that we protect what we love.  My children know that I think highly of them, therefore my expectations are high.  I don't care if they are star athletes, famous musicians or actors, or straight "A" students.  I do, however expect them to have a good character.  Until they show signs of that, they aren't ready to have access to someone's heart.  Period.  In the meantime, we are doing our best to grow 4 gentleman and one lovely lady.  I pray they will not be nonchalant when it comes to relationships, but will take them very seriously.
    I do know my children are very human and very much sinners in need of a Savior.  I cannot guarantee they will make all of the best decisions.  What I do know is that I have equipped them to make the best decisions and I've equipped them to choose righteousness and wisdom.  If they choose a different path, it won't be because I didn't teach them those things.  I pray that when and if they do fall, they fall into grace.  We NEVER forget to teach about grace and mercy.  God offers it and so do we. I've taught them a lot about grace.  They know they need it and they know I do as well.  They know it is freely available to them.
The Results Thus Far
     So far, this has been a very easy approach.  Because we began at a very young age sharing where we stand on this, our children were not caught off guard.  We were very open about our reasoning.  They know that we want the most carefree and fun childhood possible for them.  Youth is tough enough without adding the drama of dating into the mix.  They know our decisions come fully from a place of love for them.  They know they have a voice in this if they feel they are ready to date someone.  I do know a few precious couples that were high school sweethearts.  I know that isn't impossible. 
     I was directing a youth play one time and a cast member came up and said, "Hey!  I know your son!"   He went on to explain that my son was a leader in his middle school church small group.  He told me that the topic of dating came up in the group.  He shared with me that my son asked him why he was dating when he was only in middle school.  He said that my boy told him that he could avoid a lot of drama if he waited to date.  That told me that this approach was no longer Mom and Dad enforced, but my son had adopted it as his own philosophy. 
     Another night at our church, one of my sons was approached by a group of young men.  They asked him why he never has a girlfriend.  He told them he didn't have time for one and hadn't found someone he was interested in enough to consider dating them.  This shocked those young men.  I love that my children are speaking about this to their peers.  They aren't embarrassed about this philosophy, but proud of it.  They see the stress and drama dating has brought into the lives of their friends and seem relieved to not have to deal with it.  They also know that they are different.  I've encouraged them to get used to being set apart, and occasionally standing alone.  That is part of being a Christ follower. 
    To summarize, the answer to the question, "So.....do you guys practice courting, or what?" is yes?  Not completely?  Kind of?  We allow our kids to have a voice in the matter.  Our way of doing things has been mocked, brought on eye rolls, and created much laughter.  That's ok.  I'm not asking anyone to do things like me.  I'm just here to say that this is one part of youth stress that we have successfully avoided so far.  This is a burden they are released from before it even becomes an interest.  I like seeing kids be kids.  Hopefully, this will help them to understand the responsibility that is involved with matters of the heart.
    




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