When our four boys were little, Matt and I had some real good ideas about how we would handle the upcoming years of teenagers and dating. As it turns out, real good ideas and real life can sometimes be real different.
Before our sons were old enough to realize that girls were worth thinking about, Matt and I started telling them, “Don’t focus on dating relationships until you’re in college and old enough to consider marriage. Treat girls like the Christian sisters that they are. Be friends with everyone.”
This is fantastic advice, is it not?
Our boys thought this sounded great because at the time they believed that 1) girls were weird and 2) marriage was for old people. So our advice held strong while our boys were still shorter than we were.
Our sons are now 20, 18, 16, and 13. They are nice, good looking, talented, and respectful. Girls seem to like these qualities. Therefore, Matt and I learned about two days into parenting teenagers that our perfect, lovely, and simple “don’t worry about dating or relationships until you’re old enough to think about getting married” plan might only be a good idea on paper. About the time our boys hit sixth grade, girls’ heads started turning their way. It didn’t take long, then, for our boys to realize that it was actually quite fun to have a girl’s attention.
I guess we could say that the rest is history. But the rest is not history, as it is right smack in the middle of our present. We’ve been doing this teenage parenting thing for eight years now with not one son but four. Where there are teenage sons, there are teenage girls. Times four.
I’ll skip sharing all the naive stuff I said and did as I first navigated girl attraction and young relationships with our offspring because it’s bad enough that our oldest son had to live through it. Instead, I’ll jump to the biggest lesson I have learned after eight years of being a mom to teenage boys:
There is no one right way to be in a dating relationship.
Can you believe that?
There’s no one specific formula. There’s no perfect scenario. There’s not one exact thing that will work exactly exact for every single person or couple. (If you don’t believe me, look at the variety of relationships in the Bible and consider the various dating stories told by Christians who have healthy marriages.)
I’m so grateful that I understand better now that every person is different, every situation is different, and let me also say this:
I am very thankful that we didn’t stick with our original plan and insist that our sons stay away from girls until we kicked them out the door and they were suddenly navigating all of life on their own. “Happy Graduation, Son. Have fun at college, where for the first time you will be responsible for keeping your own schedule, managing your money, taking hard classes, making thousands of fairly difficult decisions every day, and dating girls for the first time.”
Because relationships. Those are easy to figure out without guidance.
Instead of formulating a “one size fits all” plan for teenagers and dating, this is what we have learned to do instead:
1. Let the Holy Spirit lead us.
Trying to parent without guidance and the peace that comes through knowing we have the Ultimate Source of Wisdom living within us leads only to heartache and worry. I’ve tried that route. It’s miserable, because I don’t care how great our kids are, Satan wants to win them. And he wants to distract me and deceive me into thinking I am powerless as a parent. I’ll double over in fear and be sickened with panic over my sons’ relationships and thoughts of their future unless I fully embrace the truth that God is at work in them and for them and He has already won victory over the enemy. All I have to do, and what I must do, is surrender to God and ask for His help, strength, and guidance.
2. Be open.
Do not freak out when your child begins to show an interest in someone. It’s normal and good, even if they are your babies and you can’t believe this is happening. I’ve learned (the hard way) to be very open about this with our sons so they don’t feel that they need to hide their attractions and interests from us. “She’s cute, huh? And sweet. It’s okay to feel that way. That’s how God made you.”
3. Ask your kids good questions.
My favorite question to ask my boys when they tell me they like a girl is this one: “What do you like about her?”
If they don’t have much to say, it lets me know right away that the attraction is more about appearance than character. But when he shares, “Our conversations are always meaningful” or “She is really nice to everyone” or “She is godly and servant-hearted” I know he’s given thought to what really matters. I also know he thinks she’s pretty, even if he hasn’t mentioned it, because of course.
4. Be safe.
We’ve found that if we are critical or harsh about any of our sons’ decisions or feelings, they quickly shut down and mute all communication with us. When my words, face, and body language show my sons that I’m open and safe, they are much more likely to come to me with “What do you think I should do about…” and “Is it okay if…” and “She and I were talking about…” and “What do you think would be a good gift for…” Our kids need to know we are on their team, especially while they are navigating relationships.
4. Smile often.
Sometimes this can’t be helped, because oh my goodness, the sweetness. I’ve found it’s important to be intentional about sharing in my sons’ delight over his special girl. If she means something to him, she means something to me too.
5. Offer gentle advice as the Spirit leads.
My sons don’t have any sisters, so they haven’t grown up experiencing life with any females except for me. I’m thankful for my sons’ openness so that I can offer advice like:
- “I know it doesn’t matter to you if she wears jeans or a dress to the award banquet you’ve invited her to. But she’s asked you three times what she’s supposed to wear to this because she needs some reassurance. Tell her that the other girls usually wear casual dresses to this.”
- “I’d get back to her sooner rather than later with an answer about that because you don’t want her to worry about why you aren’t responding.”
- “Does she know for sure that you are going to this event only as friends? It’s easy for a girl to get the wrong idea, so please be sweet but make sure she understands you are only interested in friendship with her.”
- “You might ask her if her dad wants you to talk to him first before you make plans to go to the Formal.”
So teenagers and dating…
Matt and I still feel strongly that relationships at young ages should be handled with extra care. They should stay in the “sweet” category and far from the “serious” until they are ready to consider marriage. We are so grateful that our kids started navigating some of these very important needs and issues with us, at home, under our guidance.
Some kids do wait until college to begin pursuing relationships. But I’m grateful to have learned that there’s not only one way to go about healthy Christian dating relationships. There is, however, one God, and His ways are perfect. Praise Him, He knows what each of our kids need. We rest fully on His promises to guide us and protect our kids.
Now about all the teenage and young adult girls who find themselves in our home, I’ve gotta say, I’m lovin’ it. Female people who actually speak my language using phrases like, “Aww, that’s so cute!” or “I like how you decorated your living room!” I could get used to this. :)