Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
Mom and Dad, your job is to gently, strategically, thoughtfully, and purposefully release—one finger at a time—the grip you hold on your son or daughter’s life. Roll the relationship ball into his or her court. Work yourself out of a job and prepare him or her to invite someone into their life as a marriage partner. As parents, we need to equip our kids to have an epic love story that will pass down from generation to generation as a heritage from the Lord.
To accomplish this mission, you need to put on your glasses of faith. Many of us have or will soon need to get reading glasses or bifocals, and the optometrist will ask us during the exam, “Is this clearer? Or this?” Life and love are always going to be clearer when you look through the lenses of faith.
So take a moment and write down in your journal a description of your son or daughter on his or her wedding day. If you form a partnership with God, working to apply all the principles discussed in this book, that precious day will happen with God’s best partner in God’s best timing. Hang on to this picture of hope by faith, in the days between now and that wedding day. It will not help to dwell on a son or daughter’s failures, fumblings, and false starts. Look at your child through the lenses of faith, and God will give you light for the next step on your path. He will give wisdom to your child too as he or she stays tied to the heart of God.
We were at the beach with a group, singing by the campfire, and when we left to head back to our room we discovered we were not adequately prepared. It was pitch-black and no moon was out that night. We could not see the path through the chest-high grass between our spot on the beach and the beach cottage destination. Then one of the men, seeing our dilemma, said, “I just got a smartphone and I have a flashlight app. I will lead you.” With the light, the trip back seemed simple and easy.
In the same way, when we were youth pastors we saw many families struggling, arguing, and wasting precious family time in episodes of drama with their children. They too needed an app to light up the path to relationship wellness. They needed God’s light to sort through relationship issues as a united team rather than combating them as enemies. We sat down and drafted the Teen Relationship Contract and began holding yearly relationship and parenting seminars. Our goal was to help families unite and work together in more positive ways.
Many of our tools from these seminars are available at our website. They help you and your teen answer questions like…
• What does God say about relationships?
• Who should I marry (and date)?
• When am I responsible enough to date?
• How shall I date? Where should I go (or not) and what should I do (or not)?
• What role do parents play in all this?
• How can I avoid toxic relationships or unhealthy people?
• How far should I go physically?
• As things get more serious, how do I move the relationship forward in a healthy way?
• How do I know and how do I rightly handle a relationship that needs to end because we are not right as future marriage partners?
• Who will pay for dates? And transport me to a date?
• How can I avoid temptation, dangerous situations, or foolish decisions in relationships?
• When is it time for solo dating rather than double or group dates and activities?
• How do you meet quality people? How do you know who is a quality person and how can I be a quality person who handles relationships well?
• What do I do when I believe I have found “the one”?
The most important question the parent of a teen should learn to ask is, “Tell me, why should I say yes?” Then roll the ball into their court and have them present a case for their decision. So when they ask, “Can I date?” don’t answer yes or no. Instead, ask, “Tell me, why should I say yes?” and hand them the Teen Relationship Contract. Let them wrestle with the myriad of issues to land at a place where they own their convictions about how God wants them to handle relationships.
Defining Relationships from God’s Point of View
The terms dating and courtship are man-made words aimed at helping people get a handle on the wide variety of relationship choices and decisions. In addition, parents should keep themselves aware of what trendy terms are emerging and what teens or young adults might mean when they say they are “going together,” “going out,” “hooking up,” or “friends with benefits.” Some of these are just euphemisms for connecting romantically, while others are direct references to sex with no commitments or responsibilities. If you hear or see any term you don’t understand or are unsure of, do your research! In this final section, we are going to attempt to remove all of man’s terminology and simply look at how God runs relationships. These will be the foundational principles that you can use to equip your son or daughter to follow God’s path to marriage.
Individual Responsibility and Maturity
We often get the question, “At what age is it okay to allow our son or daughter to date?” We usually respond with a question of our own: “What do you see as the purpose of dating?” Some people see dating as entertainment, like golf or tennis. We happen to believe that dating is a process of finding out if this is the right person to marry. If that is the case, one would only need to begin solo dating (not in a group) if he or she is ready to begin the process of selecting a marriage partner (a process some call courtship).
This often then leads to the question, “Is there a better age to marry?” and studies say that there is. Here are a few bits of information to log away for a time when your child is ready to decide on marriage.
Marriage Prime Time
Recent research by sociologist Norval Glenn found that couples who married between 23 and 27 reported greater satisfaction with their marriages than those who married before and after them, and that those marriages are less likely to break up than those who marry in the later twenties (or marry before age 20).1 Focus on the Family concurs that the prime age is 22 to 25. An “earlier” marriage in the early twenties increases the likelihood of couples marrying as virgins, which is an important factor in marital stability and happiness. The 22 to 25 range of age at first marriage seems to be that which enhances both the quality and stability of marriage.2
The current age for the first marriage is higher than it has been since World War II, but not for a good reason: In a 1946 Gallup poll, most found the ideal age to be 25 for men and 21 for women. Sixty years later, in a Gallup poll the ideal age had increased to 25 for women and 27 for men.3 Premarital cohabitation contributed to the delay. From 1960 to 2011, the number of cohabitating couples jumped from 430,000 to 7.6 million.4
The biological clock is also a consideration. As Sharon Jayson puts it, “Fertility researcher Richard Paulson of the University of Southern California says that, as a general rule, women should start having children no later than age 30 and be done by 35, when statistics show fertility declines.”5
Some of our friends, professors at a seminary, were married at nineteen. They told our 21-year-old son and his 20-year-old bride, “It isn’t how old you are; it’s how committed you are.” And we agree. We know couples in midlife who are less mature than our son and his wife were on their wedding day. And we know couples of all ages and all income brackets who wouldn’t know what commitment is if it walked in the door and shook their hand.
But there are some basic commonsense parameters. Do you have enough education to support yourself and your spouse? If you marry now, can you better achieve both of your goals and God’s call on your life? Will marrying help you maintain your integrity? When we hear of couples delaying wedding dates because they can’t afford a wedding, we know priorities are askew. An actual wedding is very inexpensive: a license, a pastor, and a place to wed (which can be a home or home church). It is the party that is expensive. If more time and energy is going into the wedding and the reception than is going into the premarital training and the relationship, no matter how old the couple is, this is not a healthy sign of commitment. Much of the world’s culture values a lavish party over purity. Relationship expert and pastor Mark Gungor says, “If young adult couples say they want to get married, parents should support them, even if they’re still in college. How can we tell young people that living together and premarital sex lowers their chances for a happy marriage, and then say wait to marry until 28? What do you think you’ve just set up?”6
One of the best places to meet a future spouse is college, especially a Christian college, or on one of the opportunities offered during college like mission trips and Christian clubs. Most people graduate college around age 22. Given a year to establish some kind of income if that wasn’t accomplished in college and get the premarital training, mentoring, and basic wedding plans accomplished, age 23 is not out of the question. (Having a college degree does lower the rate of divorce.) If a young person is able to provide, choose a mate wisely, and live out his or her call, a marriage could happen earlier in life (as is the case with many in the military). We told our kids that their age wasn’t as important as their readiness to provide, their desire to remain pure before marriage, and their ability to wisely select a mate. Our financial help for college was not tied to their marital status; it was tied to their choice to maintain integrity.
The Dating Window
So with mid-twenties established as the overall best time for marriage, we can begin to address the original question: When should you start dating? How long does it take to really get to know if someone is right for you? We encourage couples to spend at least a year together. This will allow them to meet each other’s friends and family and see how they function under stress and how they manage life when the pressure is off. It is also healthy for a couple to go on several dates that include ministry and service so one can see how well they can serve God as a couple. With most people this process takes at least a year and often two or even three, especially if they do not live in the same city. This pushes the dating window back to the ages of 17 to 21.
In our home, we thought a son was not ready to date until several factors were in place. First, he had to show responsibility in the major areas of life—grades, chores, and keeping their promises. Second, he had to have his own source of income (since we weren’t going to fund dates). Third, since we weren’t chauffeurs, he had to have a car to drive, gas in that car, and a license to drive with another person in the car. It is a proof of maturity to arrange your own driver’s education, and in some families this might include paying for the classes, the car, the insurance, the fees, etc. (In metro areas, you can require your son to navigate mass transit or pay for a date’s taxi ride.) Finally, the son needed to meet with the young woman’s family, explain his Relationship Contract, and explain how he planned on keeping their daughter pure.
The soonest these things could all be accomplished was around age 17. This was the age that they could begin to pursue a special or exclusive relationship (and show through handling group dates then double dates well that they could then go to the parents of the girl and ask to solo date her). Even after they gained permission to date alone, we still encouraged the majority of interactions in a relationship be in groups or with family members. That’s a more realistic portrayal of what life is: a series of interactions in the larger context of family, friendships, a church, and a community.
Before all these things were accomplished, our teens were welcome to invite friends of the opposite sex to any church activity or Christian group and they were welcome to accept invitations from a girl’s family. Groups are good!
Studies back up a more conservative dating age. Dr. Jim Burns shows that 91 percent of children who begin dating at age 12 will no longer be virgins at their high school graduation. If they delay dating until at least age 16, the percentage drops to 20.7
Give God Maximum Glory and Have Maximum Influence on the Kingdom
We tell our audiences exactly what we told our own kids: “Your partner is on the path to your passion.” This means we equip our children to pursue God wholeheartedly rather than chasing relationships. When a young person passionately pursues God’s path, they will meet and make connections with someone who is on the same journey. As each pursues the plan He has placed on their hearts, God will intersect their paths. God is a master chessman, the best of matchmakers, and He connects people so that His will for the world is accomplished.
When your son or daughter pursues that special someone, it should be because he or she can see how together they can be better servants for God. God’s intent is to build couples and families that are strong, healthy, and vibrant so they can be a landing spot, a safe place, an oasis of hope, a training ground for their future children but also for those around them at work, in their community, and in society.
Protect the Heart and Future of All Involved
We have questions in the Teen Relationship Contract that help a teen think through things like gifts, active over passive dating, and more vital concerns like how relationships gain intimacy and the amount of time spent talking heart to heart. But most vital is how physical touch is managed. Sexual promiscuity is not a harmless, victimless activity.
What you will see missing from this chapter is a list of contraception options. The world thinks safe sex means pregnancy prevention methods, or maybe some options to prevent STIs. However, no contraception will protect the emotions, the heart, and the mind. In addition, contraception is not the “safe” path as the world preaches it to be. Condoms often fail and cannot be relied upon to protect against pregnancy and disease. Condom use means you are playing Russian Roulette with your life. “Safe sex” is not all that safe. The only way to make it safe is to save it for marriage.
Hooking Up or Hooked?
Why is sexual integrity so hard to find in this society? People are hooked on sex. Here is the science of it: This fascinating process is clearly visible with modern brain scan technology, revealing different areas of the brain lighting up. Sexual activity releases dopamine, a “feel good” chemical. Dopamine rewards us by flooding our brains and making the brain cells produce a feeling of excitement or of well-being. It makes us feel the need to repeat pleasurable, exciting, and rewarding acts.
It should be noted, however, that dopamine is values-neutral. In other words, it is an involuntary response that cannot tell right from wrong. The doctors continue to explain that sex is one of the strongest generators of dopamine, so people are vulnerable to falling into a cycle of dopamine reward for unwise sexual behavior—they can get hooked on it.
This feeling is created by God to enhance marital stability, but for singles it can cause a person to attach to someone who might not be healthy for them. If a person decides that he does not want to attach to the same partner over and over, but is addicted to the rush of sex that dopamine creates, he might go from partner to partner. When this action is repeated it can cause his or her brain to mold and gel so that it eventually begins to accept this sexual pattern as normal, damaging their ability to bond in a committed relationship.
The Cohabitation Lie
Sex outside of marriage leads to an attitude of compromise. You might have heard someone say, “Marriage is just a piece of paper.” This might be a good line of reasoning except for a few compelling facts:
• Sex can bond you to an unhealthy person. If you have had many sexual partners prior to living with this one, then your brain is still patterned to love and leave.
• The majority of cohabitating couples describe their relationship as “on the rocks.”
• Cohabitating couples are twice as likely to divorce compared to those who did not live together prior to marriage.
• Cohabitating couples are more prone to violence.
• Cohabitating couples are four times more likely to cheat than those who marry.
• Cohabitating couples tend to move in together before knowing each other well, so there can be errors in judgment on selecting a partner.
• Cohabitating couples are more likely to produce children and this can place undue stress on a relationship that has yet to be rooted and strengthened.
• The effect of cohabitation on children is vast. Children in cohabiting homes are 20 times more likely to be abused and are 22 times more likely to be incarcerated as an adult than a child from an intact home.8
• Cohabiting couples have love that is temporary: Only one in six will stay together three years, and only one in ten will last ten years or more. Most cohabitating couples, in fact, will last a mere 18 months.9
It has been our experience as pastors and as relationship specialists that the majority of people who cohabitate do not end up getting married. A few do, and a few of those stay married, but they are defying the odds. There are a few reasons why living together is counterproductive to long-term love. First, you are deciding together to disobey God. This is not a great start or a strong foundation to build on. Second, you are deciding to not decide on the key issue that will move your future forward. Are you willing to place all your eggs in this relationship basket, knowing that your partner could move to another city, move to another partner, move to another residence at a moment’s notice and there will be little recourse available to you? Finally, you are not really trying out the relationship because it is not the same as marriage. Living with a back door open, an escape hatch, an exit plan, is not the same as marriage. If testing the relationship is the goal, cohabitation will not help you discern it in a realistic way.
Purity in All Areas of Life
Sexual integrity isn’t formed in a vacuum; it is the natural outgrowth of a pure heart and a life of integrity in all areas. One of the most important parts of the Teen Relationship Contract is the How Far Should I Go? chart, explaining God’s view of the most-asked question we get from teenagers: “How far can I go?”
It is actually the wrong question. It shouldn’t be How far can I go and then be outside of God’s will? It should instead be How close can I get to the heart of God and how would that be reflected in my relationships? God doesn’t play with people’s hearts and emotions. When God reaches out in love, it is a clearly defined relationship: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Ask your son or daughter to answer this before God: “How far back do you need to push your line to maintain a pure heart toward the person you are in relationship with and a pure heart toward God?” We know that sex actually begins where foreplay begins (and oral sex is sex), so the line should push back to petting outside of clothes at a minimum. However, the switch is ignited for most people at “making out.” It is easy to get lost in the passionate kisses, lost in the moment. The flesh, the lust, the craving can easily take over making it difficult to pull back.
Let us share a personal example from our own love story. When we first started dating, I (Pam) came to a crossroads in my relationship with God. I had made a list of the kind of person I wanted to someday marry by listing traits I saw in the New Testament in Christ and His disciples. It was a list of internal character qualities: loving, respectful of women, a good listener, kind and compassionate. Bill fit the list. Our hearts and plans were running in the same direction, but because we were allowing God to rework our dating patterns we were both in new territory emotionally. One week in my quiet time, I became impressed with the fact that on the following weekend when I saw Bill, I would need to know where I stood on areas of physical boundaries. I knew my past pattern of letting the guy take the lead wasn’t very wise, so I let God take the lead this time. I studied and saw the verses that backed up my decision to remain a virgin. But I also saw a pattern, and as I prayed I became convinced that our physical relationship needed to progress forward only after tangible measures of commitment. When God said, “I love you,” He demonstrated it! I thought that was a good principle!
That weekend Bill and I sat on a rock in the sunshine and talked for hours as we watched the ocean. It was one of the best days of my life. I felt so cherished, so loved, so wanted. Bill had a list of questions he wanted to ask me about and they mostly concerned our physical boundaries. How far did we think God wanted us to go and when? We navigated our conversation through, holding hands, hugging, walking arm in arm. We’d already decided God was clear about no sex before marriage—it was all the stuff in between we were concerned and confused about now. I knew God had prepared me for that weekend.
Bill took me to my friends’ apartment where I was staying to get ready for our evening date. And that evening was magical too—a quiet, romantic fondue dinner and a walk through the downtown district over bridges and creeks and under gas lamps on a foggy night. We walked and talked and talked and walked. I was getting cold so Bill wrapped his arms around me and tucked me into his car to take me back to my friends’. Before he did, he asked, “Pam, can I kiss you?”
My body wanted to rush into his arms and let him kiss me over and over again, but the Holy Spirit inside me reminded me of my quiet time conversations with God that I had journalled all week.
“Bill, I want to say yes, but I can’t. You are so godly, so incredibly gorgeous, and I really want to say yes! But I’ve wrecked all my past relationships because I haven’t watched over this area of my life very well. I’m afraid if I start kissing you I won’t be able to stop there. I value my relationship with you too much to kiss you. So until you’re ready to commit to me as the person you’d like to marry, then I have to say no. I care for you a lot but I care for God more…so….”
I trailed off as he stared at me in silence. He brushed my tear-stained cheek with fingertips for a brief moment, took my hand and drove me home in utter silence for 20 minutes.
I told him again at the door what a wonderful day I had had with him and how much I loved being with him, and he mumbled something about picking me up for breakfast. I opened the door and burst into tears. My girlfriends rushed toward me. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
I blurted out, “I am so afraid I might have said goodbye to the best man I’ve ever had in my life!” I explained the story of how I knew God had been preparing me and I had a choice, Bill’s will or God’s will, and I chose God.
One of my friends tried to comfort me. “Pam, we all know Bill and that he wants God’s best in his life and in yours. You have to trust his character. If he really is the godly man he appears to be, he’ll handle this.”
Another said, “God led you to this decision so He has to have a reason—trust the heart of God!”
The group of us prayed together. They slept and I lay awake a while longer, wondering what morning’s light would bring.
Bill was smiling when he picked me up in the morning. “Pam, I didn’t say anything last night because I didn’t know what to say. I’ve never been in the presence of a woman as committed to God as you are. Just being with you strengthens my walk with God. Pam, I was hurt and embarrassed last night. I felt like I should have been the one who protected our purity—that’s why I was quiet. But I want you to know I totally agree with you. You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and I don’t want our relationship to crumble because we didn’t watch over our sexuality. I won’t play games with your heart. When I am ready to marry you, then I will ask to kiss you.”
A few months later, at the same beach house where Bill first asked me for a kiss, he bent on his knee, sang a song he wrote especially for me, and asked me to marry him. I of course said, “Yes!” Then he asked, “May I kiss you?”
“Yes!” I cried. And it was a kiss worth waiting for.
The Best Payoff for a Parent
The best part of choosing God’s path is that years later the fruit continues to grow. Let’s use our oldest son, Brock, as an example. He signed the relationship contract and each year we would meet and he’d update us on his plan to stay true to the standards God had called him to. His love story has become an epic tale of romance.
We had sent Brock’s profile to a host of highly competitive schools. Being an undersized quarterback meant he needed a miracle to get a scholarship despite his record-breaking performances. In answer to his prayers, Liberty University called. We all celebrated as he signed his letter of intent. Since Brock’s birth, we have prayed for his future bride. When Brock had been at Liberty just a few days, I spoke at a book signing event at a bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona. I struck up a conversation with the owner and his wife, Sheryl. She asked me, “Where did you say Brock got his scholarship?”
“He’s the quarterback at Liberty University,” I replied.
“Our Hannah goes to Liberty!” she said.
We gave the kids each other’s phone numbers and our two strong-willed, firstborn kids decided to go on a date! After eighteen months of dating and a week in fasting and prayer, Brock took Hannah on a “tour” of their relationship, a visit to meaningful places. To safeguard their purity, they had not even kissed yet.
At the place they first met Brock gave Hannah nails. At the place they first talked seriously, he gave her a hammer. At the place they first prayed, he gave her a piece of wood. Finally, at the home she was living in with friends, he gave her a second piece of wood, which they hammered together to form a cross. He knelt on one knee next to the cross and said, “I want our relationship to start at the foot of the cross. Hannah, will you marry me?”
Brock and Hannah tied the knot and became husband and wife. Brock is now a football coach and educator, building into teens those same leadership qualities we prayed over and poured into him. Hannah is the amazing mother of our grandchildren and a leader serving in women’s ministry. Together they are changing the world around them for Christ.
Our second son married his beautiful bride with a heart for God while we were writing this book. We asked our two daughters-in-law to comment on how we raised our sons—if they thought it produced the kind of man they are glad they married. Here are their answers:
Hannah: I don’t think I can put the payoffs into one quote. It would take a novel to summarize the benefits of being married to a Farrel. For our anniversary, I came up with 84 things that I respected about Brock. One for each month we’ve been married. What’s crazy is that it was easy to come up with that many things. I bet most wives aren’t blessed like the Farrel wives are.
Caleigh: Marrying a man who values his relationships as his top priority is the biggest blessing I could ever ask for! Zach tells me almost every day that he wants to make an impact on anyone that comes in his life. He follows this by saying, “As a couple, I want us to make that same impact on every couple we come in contact with! It is our goal to show people our love for one another and our passion to have such a STRONG relationship!”
If we teach our kids to give God glory in their lives and relationships, God will write a beautiful love story.
Answers to Have Ready
Parents can be divided into two categories—those who need to step up and those who need to step back.
If you use the Teen Relationship Contract and Media Contract and mix in an ample sampling of celebrations, your relationship with your child will become strong and satisfying as you watch him or her make wise choices. Some parents think all the contracts, all the planned discussions, all the oversight of commitments, and all the time, money, and effort for so many celebrations is just too much work. It is work—lots of work.
But neglecting these responsibilities can actually turn into more work, more effort, and more expense. Being your kid’s relationship warden is not much fun and extremely stressful. To wait up late at night wondering and worrying about where your teen is—that’s work. Calling all your teen’s friends because your kid didn’t come home last night—that’s more work. Nailing their window shut so he or she can’t sneak out, taking their keys, paying for weeks of counseling to help straighten out the life they have made a mess of—that is definitely work. Raising your grandchild because your teen bailed on his or her responsibilities—that is mountains of work. Yes, this book is packed with work—but you’ll find fruit for your labor! You have to plant the crop to reap the harvest; you have to tend the vineyard to taste the sweet, abundant fruit. It’s worth the work.
There are two ways to parent—by fear or by faith. There comes a time when you need to trust your parenting. There is such a thing as hanging on too tight and too long. We have seen some parents so paralyzed with trying to get this area right that they do wrong—fear is not healthy.
The Bible is clear that we are to live by faith. Faith has confidence instead of control. Faith directs instead of dictates. Faith liberates instead of locking down and latching on. We have seen families who have strong, peaceful relationships with their children become contentious, frustrated, and filled with drama much in part to mom and dad refusing to let go. The Bible gives clear reminders to parents. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” And Proverbs 14:1 tells us that “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.”
We have seen parents build not just a hedge around their children but an electric fence, with barbed wire and armed guards. It might keep evil out, but it can also keep sane, emotionally healthy, loving, godly, quality potential mates out too. If your rules are so rigorous, so domineering that healthy people, quality Christians, or church leaders see them as exasperating, you could be hanging on too tight.
We’ve come across some rules over the years that we concluded were unhealthy, unproductive, and unwarranted. There was the mother who wouldn’t allow her college-age son, attending one of the most prestigious universities of the nation, to go on any dates without her. Then there were the parents who wouldn’t let their daughter (a college graduate who had a professional career) go on a date without a written agenda, a pre-approved married couple to act as chaperones, and separate transportation arranged. Or the father who pulled a Laban, promising a young man that he would give his daughter in marriage after five years of weekly mentoring meetings. At the end of the fifth year he said he was still not comfortable and told the man at least two more years of weekly prayer meetings would be necessary for the hand of his daughter (who was nearly 30 at this point).
There are three outcomes we have observed when parents hold on too tightly for too long. The first is that the daughter or son acquiesces to the regulations but their spirit is extracted. They lose their ability to make decisions in other areas of their life, becoming stunted in their maturity and fearful about taking full responsibility for their life. The second is they rebel against the overzealous rules, pulling away to find their own path to live and serve Jesus. This often includes distancing themselves from the manipulations, controls, and overbearing parents. In this case, the one thing the parent longs for—a close relationship with his or her kids—becomes an impossibility, and it was all self-induced pain. The worst outcome is that they rebel not just against the rules and rigors, not just against their overbearing parents, but against God, seeing Him as the cause of all their emotional pain and chaos.
We pray that you will have faith that God is in control, love that is strong enough to trust, and hope that believes the best about a wise son or daughter. Trust so you can see the blessing of God on your son or daughter—and over you.
Parent to Parent
One of my joys is to see fruit from our books inspire more fruit. That is what happened when Naomi Shedd read my book Got Teens? She highlighted, marked up, applied, and morphed many of the ideas into her own family, in her own way, in her own style. She is a creative mom married to a godly man, Tim, and together they have created a wonderful tradition that almost any family could adapt: Shedd Sunday Shenanigans. Every Sunday afternoon, their family plans a fun yet purposeful adventure. If any of their teen and college-age kids were dating someone, they were invited to the Sunday Shenanigans. Naomi and Tim believe (as do we) that people are their authentic selves when interacting with their family, so more can be discovered about the fit of a potential partner in the laboratory of family life.
Shenanigans can be simple, like cooking or barbeques to all-day adventures like hiking, biking, jet skiing, or ministry service projects. For example, on one shenanigan, the family (with their dates) all went to a pottery studio and each made a clay creation. Her son discovered he was in love with a very patient young lady who wanted to take her time and produce a quality product while he wanted to just get it done and get on with other activities he deemed more fun. These are the kind of tidbits that help people decide to make a relationship work or find someone better suited. One way to put it is, “They are both good people; just not good together.” This kind of natural setting helps our kids gain this type of vital information.
Like the Shedds, we found that our sons and the young women they wanted to get to know and pursue a relationship with actually liked spending time with us. We did enjoyable activities and we’d often invite our sons and their dates along—or they would plan outings and invite us. Nothing was forced or required. We just have a strong relationship with our sons and we really enjoy the young women they have invited into their lives, and they enjoy us. Our sons had no reason to rebel and no need to pull away because we gave them plenty of room to own and be responsible for their lives.
Answers for Your Heart
You might be wondering, “How can I tell my child to maintain the boundaries that I violated?” You are not a hypocrite if that’s what you are thinking. You are human and imperfect. Welcome to the human race—we all are imperfect. But if your life has been redeemed, you have moved your family from darkness to God’s loving light. God took ashes and turned it to beauty. Your relationship with God is its own love story, and God is loving you so you can love your son or daughter.
We each have a love story. Tell your love story truthfully, honestly, and in such a way that God gets the glory. When you tell your story, it prepares your son or daughter to live out God’s love story for his or her own life.
If you made mistakes and you wonder when to share the imperfections and lessons learned from doing it hard rather than smart, we suggest you share that part of your story by the time your children are the same age you were when you made the mistake. For example, I (Bill) lived near Hollywood as a junior higher and my friendship circle was a group of boys who wallpapered a “fort” with pornography. There are images, conversations, and moments in that fort I wish had never been put into my brain. So late in my own sons’ puberty I made sure they knew what to do if any of their friends tempted them to look at porn. And I (Pam) was the daughter of an alcoholic dad, so as a high schooler, I was desperate for love. I was one of those high-maintenance girls I have prayed out of my own sons’ lives. Before my boys headed to high school, I shared how to spot a brokenhearted woman and how to help her (but not date her).
We all want our children to have a better life than we have had. By telling your story, you give God an opportunity to build into theirs.
You have read about being a watchman to help guard your child’s well-being and train them to make wise choices. To solidify a decision to be a heroic parent, please read and sign a commitment before God. See the example below:
I commit, as a parent and hero to my children, to walk with God in integrity and teach my children to do the same so that the light of God’s love burns brighter in our world.
I know I cannot control all my children’s choices, but as much as I can I will seek to inform and pray for them, encouraging them to make wise and discerning decisions.
I choose to partner with God because I love my children.