Why Our Kids Date (and don’t court)

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Recently, my friend Thomas Umstattd of Author Media (who built this website) posted about Courting. It’s definitely worth a read. “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.”

I’ve long pondered this idea, particularly after I Kissed Dating Goodbye hit the bookshelves so many years ago. Something about it made me uncomfortable. Not that I didn’t want to have a say in my kids’ dating habits. As a parent, I truly understand how important this issue of meeting people of the opposite sex is. As a sexual abuse survivor, I also tend toward the protective side.

Thomas articulated what I felt in my gut, but hadn’t quite put in those terms. After I read his post, I remembered (surprise, surprise!) that I’ve written about this before in my book, You Can Raise Courageous and Confident Kids.

I didn’t specifically write about the hot-button issue of courtship because when I wrote the book, none of my kids were of dating age. But I did write about the philosophy of parenting my husband Patrick and I have held to as our kids have grown older–moving from a directive to a coaching role.

What is coaching?

Coaching your teens looks a lot like letting go. And that is hard. It means you place high value on the person your teen is becoming, that you value their grown-up decisions.

In our parenting journey, we’ve moved from highly controlling (toddler years) to a coaching model (teen years). Coaching means letting life teach children lessons rather than you taking on that role. It is similar to the Love and Logic™ parenting program where parents allow real-life consequences to teach children, while empathizing when they fail, and being available to children through the entire process of decision making.

Is our responsibility to prevent pain? Or to help our children navigate it?

Letting our children make decisions, particularly ones that may have long-term consequences, feels counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? We may know it isn’t our job to prevent pain, though deep down, that’s what we’d prefer.

As adults, we’ve already experienced our share of pain and heartache in the realm of dating. Because we love our children so much, we want them to be spared that heartache. So we grab back the reins and control that particular aspect of our nearly-adult children’s lives.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. We don’t help our children when we eradicate or actively prevent their painful decisions. (Click to tweet). If that is our goal in parenting, we are setting our parenting goals far too low.

Pain can actually be a good thing, when viewed in terms of eternity and God’s redemptive hand.

Coaching your teen through dating is like teaching how to ride a bike. At first you hold the bike (akin to having great conversations about dating and marriage before the teen years), vowing to hold on as they learn balance. Eventually, if the child is ever going to ride alone, you have to let go and let them pedal.

It doesn’t mean you run away.

It means you run alongside, shouting encouragement.

You can’t prevent every fall. Nor would you want to because every fall teaches them something valuable. But you can be near enough to pick him when he does fall. You can believe in him You can provide a protective helmet and teach the rules of the road. Running alongside gives quiet confidence. He will believe that he can actually pedal a bike down a path without falling. Even if he does fall, he has a loving parent to console him.

Someday, he’ll pedal off to college and start his own life, possibly seeking a spouse. In the meantime, it’s better that we let go of the bike but stay close.

It’s been said that we shouldn’t prepare the road for the child, but prepare our children to ride the road. (Click to tweet).

How has this played out in our lives where the rubber hit the dating road?

We err on the side of communication, even over-communication. We ask great questions. We get to know the people our kids date. We include them in our family’s life. We foster an open relationship with our kids so they can talk to us about anything. We let them date. And then we coach from the sidelines.

Eventually our teens will shift into adulthood, and our coaching role will remain important, though less so. Our goal has always been to do life alongside our kids in such a way that we invite relationship (that they actually WANT to hang out with us). This means, too, that we share our own sin, talk about the ways we wish we could’ve done dating better, and share stories of our foibles.

Ultimately, though, we must relinquish our penchant for control at the feet of Jesus, asking Him to please speak to our kids, give them awesome counsel, and woo them to Himself. Our job in this phase is to love our kids, no matter what choices they make, willing to speak the truth in love, but always falling back on love as the undergirding of their lives, remembering that God’s kindness ushers in repentance, not harsh control.

God had to let go too

Eventually we have to let go of our children–even to the scary world of relationships. We have to stop micromanaging every decision.

God created Adam and Eve and let them go. He instructed them about all the good trees and the one naughty-making tree and gave them the grace of free will. And He was the Perfect Parent.

They didn’t choose correctly, but God still loved them, still encouraged them. And eventually, by an act of amazing love, He sent his Son to walk the dingy streets of earth so he could understand our lives.

Because Jesus lived through our own heartache, he can come alongside us. (See Hebrews 4:14-16). He understands us. He sees us. His model is our model. To endear ourselves to our children, we must walk a similar path of empathy with our teens. We must seek to understand our children’s worlds by wearing their shoes. (Do you remember how bewildering your teen years were–particularly in your guy-girl relationships?)

At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, young Scout said this, “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”Jesus walked around in our shoes as we walk around in our teen’s shoes—so that we could understand them and be better encouragers as they navigate the important and sometimes scary waters of opposite sex relationships.

I’m not sure there’s a perfect dating model.

Or a perfect courtship model.

Or a perfect parenting model.

But there is a Perfect Parent out there who has served as an amazing coach, who guides us, picks us up when we make mistakes, and cheers for us. This God who is for us helps Patrick and I remember that ultimately we want to be FOR our kids. Our job is to train them, then celebrate as they make their way in this crazy world.

If this post resonated with you (or made you hoppin’ mad), here’s a tweet to share:

Why @MaryDeMuth’s kids date and don’t court. http://marydemuth2.wpengine.com/kids-date-dont-court/ (Click to tweet)

P.S. I talked to my son Aidan about this tonight. He’s 18 and off to college in less than a week. His dry humor came out. He said, “I like dating because it’s fun.” 🙂

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