In a recent post I wrote about using the tween years to prepare for the teen years, I explained that waiting to date until an age that is older than what most consider “normal”, was what we decided was best for our family. I explain in the original post how that line of thinking came about. After that post I was asked to give more detail about how that looked in our family.
I was asked:
1) What conclusions I drew from reading the resources I listed
2) What boundaries we had set that were firm
3) What we allowed with guidance
I listed some reasons we thought waiting to date until older in the first post. If you haven’t read that post you will want to as I won’t repeat it all here and all the resources that influenced our decisions are listed there.
After reading quite a few books, here are some of the conclusions we came to that influenced our dating guidelines.
In addition to the other reasons already stated, we felt like dating is best used strictly for the purpose of finding a spouse, not for having fun. Our teens had active social lives, but not one on one dates. They did attend prom at our homeschool group with dates, but dating one on one wasn’t the norm.
We encouraged outings in groups and mostly avoiding being alone with the opposite sex for an extended period of time. There wasn’t a strict rule of never being alone, but they mostly stayed in a group. It didn’t have to be a large group, this wasn’t a strict thing…the purpose was avoiding romantic relationships, avoiding awkward situations, avoiding unnecessary heartbreak. Not having to deal with those issues gave them more time and energy for focusing on what we felt more important for this time in their life, their relationship with God, family, good friends, and of course, school 🙂
We began planting seeds in the tween and early teen years for them to begin making a mental list of exactly what they were looking for in a marriage partner. Some things on the list are essential: being a Christian, wanting similar things in family life, some basic compatibility issues. Then listing other things that are nice to have but not absolutely essential.
At 16, you aren’t ready to get married, so if you develop feelings for someone you will likely have a loooong time to date before you are ready to be married. That just makes it harder to remain physically pure in your relationship until marriage. If our teens had developed serious feelings for someone, we would have tried to prolong group settings as long as possible until they were closer to an age to really consider getting married. Unlike many other parents though, I didn’t feel strongly that our kids had to complete college before marriage, but they needed to be able to support themselves financially.
We didn’t set an exact age, but we hoped we could avoid our teens dating until near the end of high school or beginning of college.
We advised our teens to never go on a date with someone who wasn’t the kind of person you wanted to marry. This doesn’t mean you know IF you want to marry them, just that from what you know about them, you haven’t ruled it out. At whatever point you know they aren’t a serious candidate, end the dating relationship. That might be one date, a few or 6 months, but at whatever point you know the two of you aren’t a good match for marriage, STOP dating them.
Even once they begin to date we thought it was best if they didn’t spend all or almost all of their time alone as a couple. This would be more likely to form emotional attachments more quickly and bring greater temptations. Once Jordan was dating (she was 18), she did go on “alone” dates and spent time getting to know her dates on her own, but they also spent a LOT of time with our family. She and Josh (her husband now) also spent time with his family. She, and we, felt there were advantages to both, making it easier to have serious conversations you’re less likely to have with others around and spending time with both families.
Boundaries We Set That Were Firm
This category will be small. There weren’t a lot of boundaries that were firm. We were so fortunate that our kids came to see the wisdom of the ways that we advised them.
We wouldn’t have let them date before 16 if they had wanted to. IF they had dated at that age everything I’m going to tell you about what dating looked like would have been different.
Jordan was 18 and an adult when she dated. She could have been living away from home at that age. We took all that into consideration.
We didn’t have a set curfew that was inflexible. We always knew where our teens were, dating or not. They kept in touch by texting. (Evan hasn’t dated while he has lived at home.) Sometimes they were out very late. I always knew who they were with and what they were doing.
Jay had to work and I was at home so I waited up or dozed on the couch. I was as exhausted when my kids were teens as I was when they were babies. If they had broken our trust…..this scenario all would have changed. They didn’t.
I will probably open myself up to some criticism here, but Jordan and Josh would fall asleep on the couch early watching a movie and sometimes we would go to bed and leave them there. When they woke up they would talk or watch tv until the wee hours. Our bedroom door opens to the living room. At any moment we could (and did) come out of our room directly into the living room. They were adults. They got up early for work during the week and couldn’t stay awake when the movie would start. If we had enforced that he had to go home they would have had little time together.
They didn’t ever stay at either of our homes alone (a few minutes here and there when everyone was coming and going) and that was by their choice as well as well as our recommendation.
The key ingredient here is that Jordan was a believer and she wanted her actions in all areas of life to be pleasing to God. That’s really what we’re always hoping for as parents isn’t it? Knowing this, and knowing her personal convictions for purity, in all areas not just physical, enabled us to be more flexible than we might have otherwise been.
It was always our prayer that our kids would one day transfer their respect for our authority over them to God, who is an authority over us as parents too. I told my kids many times throughout their life that although we had authority over them, that there was a higher authority than their parents. I always reminded them that I would answer to God for how I parented them and that I took that very seriously. Over time they came to really respect that. I feel sure they’ll use that one day with their kids when they have to say no 🙂
What We Allowed With Guidance
When any kid leaves for a date, they COULD tell you anything and in most cases you wouldn’t know if they weren’t truthful.
Because Jordan set standards for herself that we could respect, what we offered Jordan mostly was recommendations. If she had behaved in a way that went against our conscience as parents answering to God, we would have had to do things differently.
Although she knew we were right, I’m sure Jordan sometimes got tired of being reminded of certain things. Like being cautious about being alone in situations that were likely to be a great temptation that could cause regret. She continued to hear it anyway, cause that’s what parents do.
What dating looked like in our family didn’t look like it does for most of the world, neither did it look exactly like the excellent books I read and recommended in my first post. I read those books and we prayed for God to guide us.
I hope as you’re thinking and praying over what dating should look like in your home, you won’t be too quick to think it should look exactly like anyone else’s experience. You’re working with YOUR child’s temperament, with YOUR child’s spiritual maturity and each child truly does require something so different from us as parents. My 3 kids are night and day different in many respects.
I’m confident that God can and will guide you to the right decisions for YOUR family. I’m praying that will be so.
Wishing you the best as you navigate your way through dating. I hope you have less gray hair at the end of it than I do 🙂
Till next week,