A Dating Manifesto--Part 3 of 3 (How)

9:15 AMHeather

Well, here we are.  The grand finale of my trilogy about dating.  On Monday, we discussed why we might need to create a dating manifesto for our family.  Yesterday, I offered some tips on what that might look like.  Today--the big question.  

Drum roll, please.

HOW do we make our kids drink the kool-aid?  HOW do we take our thoughts and ideas and plans to the streets--so to speak--of our household and get the kids to buy in?

I could make this blog post super short and say, "Too bad if they don't buy it.  It's the rules and I'm the parent.  Because I said so."

But, something tells me that may not be the most effective approach.   

At this point, I'm basically assuming you, my bloggy friends, generally fall into one of two camps.  First--you are the parent of a teen or pre-teen.  And you are thinking,"Hallelujah!  Some other parent wants their kid to be as weird as we want our kid to be in this culture!"  OR, you fall in the second category of parents who cannot yet go potty without a small child attached at your ankle or shoving their fingers under the door.  You may have sorta skimmed these blog posts with a chuckle about how you are SO not there and for all it's worth, at least you aren't raising teenagers.

This blog post is for you.  Yes, YOU.  All of you.  Because your precious newborn will grow at warp speed.  And because some of what I want to share with you is so stinking relevant no matter what age your children.  Or grandchildren.  Or children you dream of having someday.

Where to begin?   At the beginning, of course.

1.  BE the person you want your children to become.   Ouch.  Yes.  Do as we say but not as we do doesn't tend to work out too well.  And unless we make a very conscious choice with lots of work at it, we tend to repeat the patterns we saw in our own home.  SO.  Listen.  From day one, your child's perspective on this whole boy/girl dynamic is being formed and shaped by your marriage.  Or, if you are a single parent, the role model you present to them on relating to the opposite sex.  For the love of the children and their future love interests--be the spouse you'd want for them.  Serve and love and respect your spouse.  Date them with full abandon!  Show affection with them in front of the kids.  Feed and nurture that marriage.  Dance in the kitchen.  Laugh together.  Take time for one another.  Consider the example you are setting for your boys and your girls when it comes to how this whole romantic love thing should look.  Mamas--would you want your son to have a wife like you?  Dads--would you want your daughter to marry a guy like you?  

2.  Communicate EARLY.  From the time you bring that child home, talk to them about how you pray for their future and you know God has a plan for them.  Tell them you pray for their future spouse--or even pray with your children from time to time for their future.  Even before they know what this means.  Help paint a picture for them of the wonder and joy of waiting for God's glorious plans and the person he has for them.  Also, please--from time to time--remind them that sometimes God's plans don't look like we imagine.  And, sometimes His good plans for his children may not include marriage.  But, He is sufficient no matter what.  

Help to foster your child's spiritual identity.  Remind them who they are in Christ--with memorizing Scripture about how we are made in His image, we are redeemed, we are more than conquerors, we are a chosen people.  Point out to them that God's love is so great that he lavishes it on us to make us His very own children.  Fill their love tanks with the TRUTH of our fullness in Christ.  Not their beauty or talents--and not based on some other person in their life.  But we have worth because our Savior found us worth His all.  Point them toward how to fill their minds with truth and what is noble and right and pure.  To be grounded in prayer and the Word.  To seek Him first.  These are ways we can guard our heart.  By guarding our minds from outside influences.  By filling our days with media and music and relationships that help us to love Him more, not less.  Equipping them spiritually in their relationship to Christ will equip them to have healthy relationships with other.

And from a very young age, as it is age appropriate, begin to paint in broad strokes what dating might look like.  How when they are much bigger and ready, they may spend time with someone they like of the opposite sex.  But that is for when they are mature enough.  It's a big deal and so it should be handled carefully.  They may like someone before that time that dating is appropriate, and that's totally fine.  Begin to talk about how much fun it is to do things in groups and to avoid the drama that can come from dating just one person.  There's time enough for that when they are much older and it won't be as stressful if they wait until they are mature.  Build on these broad ideas and color in the details as they grow.

3.  Use teaching moments.  Here's what this might look like.  Let me give you an example to try to best explain it.  When watching television, a rather YOUNG character had a boyfriend.  There was drama and jealousy and all sorts of nonsense in the plot of this show.  So, I said to my 8-year-old, "Wow.  That seems kind of silly, doesn't it?  Dating can be hard, and I think those kids on the show might have more fun if they do something all together in a big group."  She agrees.  Of course, the show is highlighting the drama, so my point is well made.  I add, "I mean, I get why she likes him, but I think if they waited till they were older to be all serious and boyfriend/girlfriend like that, then it wouldn't be so hard on them."  She nods in agreement.  Score one for Mom.

With my boys, it now looks like pointing out inappropriate language or affection or sexual innuendos.  These are called "windows" in our family.  That term goes back to when a child misheard what we said.  But hey--windows works.  Because YES--they are trying to make you look into something.  So, we use that code word with the boys and fast forward through the commercial or turn off the show if necessary.  We use these moments to remind them that sex is powerful and alluring, and often misused.  Yes, awk.  As my son says.  But, I'm not going to steer clear of the teaching moment to tell them that television and movies do not portray what real life is really like.  We try to remind the boys about how someday, their wives will so appreciate the way they are thinking of them and their future together by being mindful with the choices they make now.  I even pointed out at one really AWK moment on a show, "Oh.  Would you want YOUR wife to be doing THAT with her boyfriend before you?"  

And, a part of these teaching moments is training and equipping my children to think on their own.  They know how to use www.pluggedinonline to check a game or show or movie's content for appropriateness.  They know that filling their minds with inappropriate and sexually charged lyrics is a dangerous slippery slope.  We ask their opinion on gray matters to ask if they think it would be appropriate for them.  We use Philippians 4:8.  Is it pure?  Noble?  Just?  Right?  Excellent?  Praiseworthy?  These are the things to think on.  Or how about this--would they sit face-to-face with Jesus in the flesh and watch that movie with Him?

4.  Make it abundantly clear.  As your children get to the end of elementary school, be quite aware that the coupling is beginning--or right around the corner.  Be watchful for telltale signs.  Chaperoning school events is helpful here.  So is listening to conversations in the back of your mini-van because kids tend to forget there isn't a sound proof barrier there.  When you see those first signs, remind them for the millionth time that your family has certain standards when it comes to coupling.  Remind them that you love them and want them to have a great childhood.  So, there are rules for their protection.  And lay it on them.  Even put it in writing if need be.  You know--like a dating manifesto, all written out.

I should back up here to say that in order to be abundantly clear, the family dating plan conversation should, of course, be proceeded by "THE TALK."  You know.  S-E-X.  So far, I've been off the hook as my husband handled the nitty gritty details with each boy by taking them for a dad/son campout.  A Christian book with drawn illustrations was involved.  And some camp fires.  And male bonding.  And my amazing man laid it out for them.  Every. Single.  Detail.  About how fun and awesome it is--and how it was designed to be the most fun and most satisfying and enjoyable when we save it for marriage because that is how God meant it.  I've taunted and tortured my boys upon their return home from these trips by letting them know I knew they'd had a talk and I was the real expert, so come to me with questions.  Eye rolling and groans followed.  Ha ha.  I love messing with my guys.  But, my day is coming.  Because we generally handle this sex talk at about age 9.  If no specific question has been asked prior to that.  Yep.  I got about 3 weeks here to make a plan with my girl.  

AND, I should follow that whole paragraph up with part two of parental bonding and serious talk outings--at least in our household.  At age 13, my man takes each boy for a weekend away.  More specific details on dating and girls and our dating plan are discussed.  There may or may not have been a driving lesson involved in this coming-of-age-outing--I don't need to know details.  So in our family, the next such weekend is coming in March for our other son.  And, yes, he will be oh-so-happy to talk about this subject of girls and sex and dating ad nauseum.  But when you wrap up these talks in some one-on-one fun and affirmation and go on a trip, well, then, it makes it all more palatable.

4.  Talk, talk, talk.  The whole thing to death.  Speaking of talking ad nauseum on this subject, that is my next bit of advice.  Maintain a running dialog on the subject of the opposite sex and dating and marriage and God's wonderful plans for their future and the value of waiting for it.  Never quit telling them that who they are in Christ means more than who anyone says they are.  Remind them that we live to serve--as Jesus did.  Not to be served.  Relationships require that we yield to another person.  Dating relationships do, too.  Because they are a picture and preparation for marriage.  SO, hey--another point for just having fun in groups!  

Continually equip them for these mine fields by discussing whatever you see on their texts or Instagram feed.  Point out when they need to approach something differently.  Point out when you see a bad situation--either with someone they know or in the media.  Talk about how the problem could be avoided.  Ask their opinions.  What do they think about Justin and Selena getting back together?  Does it all seem a bit grown up for a couple of kids?  How would they handle it?  Ask their opinions.  Affirm their wise thinking and good choices.  

Pray over them and continually speak truth over them.  As a child of the King of the Universe who adores them and loves them to pieces and has big plans for their life to use them to bring Him fame.  And, pray with them for their spouse.  Help spark an admiration and love and respect for this faceless, nameless spouse that you believe God has for them.  Point out that waiting on God's plans--including marriage or not--brings great rewards in the end.  Because obedience brings blessing.  And disobedience brings discipline.  All sorts of Biblical narratives show how this plays out.  Try to coach them to build their own relationship with Christ by giving him their time through prayer, the Word, and worship.  Let them know when you see fruit in their spiritual lives.  Tell them how only God can fulfill them--a person NEVER could and never will.  They will do well to go to God first with their concerns, thus guarding themselves from poor counsel or seeking others before God.   And thus building intimacy with God.  Tell them that our job is to love Him and know Him more every single day.  If we work to keep that in mind, all else follows.  He said so, too, in Matthew 6:33.

And, of course, talk, talk, talk with the parents of your teen's friends.  See my blog post from last week called Parents Unite!  Build your own little band of community with the parents of your child's friends--of both genders.  If you don't know them, reach out and introduce yourself.  Let them know that you are so glad your children are friends and you are glad you can work together to keep an eye out for each other's children.  If you already know them, share intel.  That you glean from your children.  And let them do the same.  Pray together for your children.  And talk together about plans the children have to be sure you are all on the same page.

Just yesterday, in fact, my boys had hatched a plan for some hang time with their buddies.   So, I got in touch with the other parents involved and made sure we were on the same page.  We, as parents, set the parameters on timing and location, and allowed this wonderful group activity under our supervision.   
Word of warning.  It can feel exhausting.  To continually be working at communication with your kids and their friends and their friend's parents.  Not going to lie.  It requires great effort to continually be monitoring together.  Like you are a secret agent with a huge responsibility.  But, it is so worth it.   

I just keep thinking about one of the main ideas that I read in Dannah Gresh's 6 Ways books for both boys and girls.  She discussed how connectedness to parents is one of the top preventatives for teens using drugs or alcohol and having sex.  Connectedness between child and parent.  She cited research to prove it.  You see?  When we talk it to death with our kids and their parents, we are being proactive.  We are connecting.  So keep having those family dinner times and dragging that teen to family activities while you talk about their friends and plans and future to the point they want to go crazy.  

It's for their own good.  ALL of it.  It's for their own good.  It may not make us popular.  But, it will make a difference.  

I pray that this series has sparked some thought and conversation in your own home.  Things ain't what they used to be, that's for sure.  But, we can be sure that every effort we make to keep our children on God's paths will be blessed by Him.  So, press on!  Keep at it.  Be all in their business, dating and otherwise.  And when the going gets tough, stop and close your eyes and imagine this.  Your adult child, happily married, cradling their first child, and saying, "Oh, Mom.  You were so right!" 

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