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The dating tightrope, finding balance

Written originally for “The Whatevergirls”

Part 2: Today, I want to take a look at the guidelines my husband and I set in place as we tried to find the right balance on the dating tight rope.

We feel the guidelines we set are extremely important.  To have no guidelines, to not care how dating looks, or no set age when you think it is the right time to date, would be like saying to your kids: “I don’t care how fast you ride the motorcycle,” and: “it is your choice to wear the helmet or not.” That kind of attitude towards dating is setting your child up for hurt.  On the flip side of that, I have watched a few families that have said no to dating, no to attending a dance, no to even going to a movie with a group of boys and girls; the outcome of that was not good either.  The NO, NO, NO from the parents led to the SNEAK, SNEAK, SNEAK of the kids.  I have witnessed more than one family lay down some of the tightest rules–as far as the opposite sex goes–and allow no dialog about it with their kids.  Sadly, in some cases, it has led to everyone but the parents being aware that their child is being anything but pure.  The kids have chosen the proverbial “back seat of the car,” while the parents have assumed their guidance of one big “NO” about the opposite sex is good enough.

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Our son and his girlfriend

My husband and I knew we needed to find the right balance to walk the dating tight rope in our home.  Again, I want to stress that this is what worked for our family, it may not work for yours.  Also, I cannot say that we did not have any near falls while walking this out. We saw that our kids were more likely to want to hang out at our home if we allowed them to have a relationship with healthy guidelines. When they hung out at our house, with us there, we got to be like the parents in the other room while the baby enjoys freedom in the crib–like I talked about in my first post, “taking the first step”. I guess you could say we found taking the middle ground between “no rules on dating,“ and “no dating at all,” to be where we landed.

The guidelines we set for our children when it came to dating, were like the pole that a tightrope walker uses for balance. If we let the guidelines lean too far one way or the other, it would be sure to knock our kids off the rope. The guidelines applied in all situations. We also were very clear on explaining the rules (guidelines) to any of our kid’s friends who came into our home. What we found was that kids like to know what the guidelines are, and they were happy not having to sneak around.

The guidelines:

  • If you want to hang out at our house with the opposite sex there must be a parent home.  The same goes for you hanging out at their home.
  • The bedrooms are off-limits!
  • If you are watching a movie, there is no reason to be in a completely dark room; have at least one light on.
  • If you get cold, turn the fireplace on; if you want a blanket, we have plenty of them so you can each use your OWN.
  • If you want to have a group of kids over for a pool party or movies, that is fine but we will be calling the parents to tell them that we are going to be here and they are welcome to come and hang out if they want.  We had many nights enjoying a glass of wine and visiting with parents while the basement was full of kids watching a movie.  We laughed as each parent randomly took a turn walking into the basement to make sure that no one was getting too comfortable.  Not only our kids, but other kids asked us more than once to have more nights like that.
  • If you are going out on a date, the only time you need to be hanging out alone in the car is while driving some place.  If you have nothing to do but sit in the car alone, get to our house or call it a night!
  • We are going to check with the parents of whatever house you are going to, and if you don’t like it you can stay home.

Affection:

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Our daughter and her boyfriend

We know you like each other.  We know you want to hold hands, snuggle and kiss.  We would much rather have you show affection in front of us, because the alternative is that you go somewhere alone to show affection and that can lead to things going too far.  Please be comfortable in front of us.  We were young once too, and we show our affection holding hands with a peck on the lips or cheek in front of you, because it is okay to have those feelings.  But keep it at that.  Don’t be alone, and do not take it farther than that simple affection.  To let things go beyond that will leave you with the regret of having to tell your spouse some day.

To our son: If you are going to date, you better respect the girl because she is Jesus’ princess; you better treat her in the same way you would want your sister treated. Also, you will not date a girl without speaking to her father first and looking him in the eye like a man.  That goes for something as simple as asking a girl to a dance.  You go to her father, or if she only has a mother then her mother first, before asking.  We also like our son to be aware of just how much that father loves his daughter, and that he would not only answer to us, but he would answer to her father if he disrespected her.  (Knowing that the father owned guns always added to helping get our point across and gave us something to laugh about behind closed doors).

To our daughter: If you want to go to a dance with a boy, he will come and ask your father so that your father may have the joy of making him sweat and tremble in fear.  If some boy wants to date you, he will look your father in the eye like a man when he asks.  He will understand that you are to be treated with respect, period.  We are letting him date Jesus’ princess, and if he thinks answering to your father and older brother is scary, then just think about trying to explain his intentions to Jesus.  It also helped when the young man asking to date knew that we owned guns as well.

My husband and I felt it was our responsibility to help our children avoid the same mistakes we made.  By setting these clear guidelines, we were taking our first steps to help our children walk the dating tightrope with more success than we had.  All those guidelines set in place were good, but we also had to trust that we had given our children a firm foundation to stand on, and that they would have the strength to resist temptation.  We pray that they will not make the same mistakes we made when we were young. As I said, our guidelines were like the pole the tightrope walker uses to stay on the rope, but remember even the best tightrope walker falls at times.  We had to trust that when our kids were without us and out on a date, and if they did fall into temptation, God would catch them in His safety net.

With the guidelines in place, the next step across the tightrope was having some deep talks with our kids about our expectations for them.  In my next post, I want to look at the importance of prayer and the different approaches we needed to take with our son, as opposed to our daughter.  Please remember I do not have all the answers and every step across the dating tight rope has been a cautious step for us.  I hope you are finding some answers to help cross the rope with your own kids.  Have a blessed day, and I hope you will join me in my next post.

If you missed my first post in this series, you can back up and read it at “Taking the first step”

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The dating tightrope, Part 1

Written originally for The Whatever Girls ministry.

999646_10201254890681782_1998332177_nLooking back at the dirty diapers and sleepless nights I remember thinking how hard it was at times to be a mom of little kids.  I actually thought, “Hang in there it well get easier as they get older”.  NOT!  All I did was trade the worries of them falling down the stairs while learning to walk into a whole new set of worries.  Handing them the keys to the car for their first drive alone, after I had almost worn a hole in the floor mat from pushing the imaginary brake from the passenger seat, made those sleepless nights something to give thanks for.

When they were little I could control the environment they were in, I could place covers over the outlets so they would not be shocked, a gate by the stairs to keep them from falling.  I could check the size of a toy to be sure they would not choke.  I could set up play dates and get to know the parents of their friends.  As the teen years hit and we were running from baseball and softball fields after our kids and as they began to get freedom to do more on their own; my ability to keep a safe environment slipped away.

I began praying for God to be my eyes and my ears when they were out with friends,  to keep them safe and to help them make wise choices.  Now don’t get me wrong I prayed for them when they were little, but I began to find that in order for me to let go and allow my kids a healthy teenage life I had to put all my trust in the Lord.  One of the big issues we have faced as parents was the whole dating issue.

We were faced with the dating dilemma with our son first because he is the oldest.  He liked a girl in the 9th grade but we were not ready for the whole dating thing and thankfully neither were her parents.  We found the best thing to do was to have open communication with her parents and let them hang out but not date officially.  We did not want them to sneak and we knew they had some feelings for each other.  We allowed them to hang out but we set guidelines much like the gate that kept him from falling down the stairs as a child.  They could hang out with each other’s family, they could go to dinner, have a game night or study after school at one of our homes with the parents there.   One day they went on a jog and they actually thought it was cool that they were allowed to be alone for that.  They went to a dance at school and so that they could hang out after the dance we let them invite a bunch of kids from their class over for an after dance party.

We took it one step further and invited the parents of the kids who were at our place to come over for games.  Our attitude was they are boys and girls; they like each other because God made them to eventually find a person of the opposite sex to spend their life with. We understood that they wanted to hang out and we wanted them to be in a safe place to do so. My husband and I were well aware that all of us are hard wired to want to have physical contact with a person of the opposite sex. God wants it to be with the person we are married to but with raging hormones comes temptation.  Many kids and many of us who are reading this have fallen into the temptation of sex outside of marriage.   It was our job as parents to set healthy boundaries or guidelines so that our kids could hang out with the opposite sex and begin to learn the roles of a having a healthy relationship.  In those interactions with the opposite sex our kids were able to grow into adults and have an idea of what they are looking for in a spouse.

I was talking to a 27 year old women recently, who is engaged to be married and she shared with me the struggles of keeping their relationship pure for her wedding night.  She is 27 and if it is struggle for her just think of what it is like for our teens.  She shared with me a great analogy her dad had given her.  She said when your children are babies you can set them in their playpen and put the toys in that are safe.  They have the ability to crawl around and to choose to play with the toys they want; however the crib sides are the healthy boundary they have to stay in.  With the baby in the crib the parent can step away to grab some laundry, make the dinner and so on without having to hover constantly over the child.  I loved that. We as parents have to give our children healthy boundaries and be able to step back a little without hovering.  As with any parent who’s baby is in the crib, we always have an eye on them from the other room so that if we see something that could really cause them harm we can step in.

We chose the age of 16 to be the “Yes, you can date” time line.  We thought our kids are able to drive a car and leave our sight so we better have some things set so that they don’t sneak and end up in the back seat of a car.  Please know that I am not saying that I have all the answers to this and the age of 16 may not be the age you choose for your family and that is okay.  I think the guidelines of dating are more important than the age because to just pick age you feel is right without guidelines can lead to a lot of things that can cause regret.  We choose to have an open dialog with our kids and to give them the opportunity to spend time with the opposite sex.

 

This whole dating thing is like walking on a tightrope.  It is finding the right balance so that your child can have some freedom to learn to make healthy choices and you have to trust that God is the safety net below that will catch your child if they fall.  The reality is that no matter what we set in place, they have their own feelings that we cannot control and they will make their own choices.  I want to share with you how we tried to find the balance that worked for our family as we walked the “dating tight rope”.

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Couple on the left, My daughter and her boyfriend. Couple on the right, My son and his girlfriend.

I am writing this to share with you the guidelines we set, the importance of prayer, how we have found the need to talk to our son differently than our daughter and how we have had to change our approach as the years have moved on and our children have become young adults.  We now have an 19 and 21 year old and when you throw in apartment life and promise rings dating tightrope has taken on a whole new level of difficulty.  The one thing that remains the same is that God is always the safety net ready to catch our kids in case they loose their balance.

With all that being said, I see that there is way too much information to put into one post and this is going to become a short series of posts.  In my next post I want to look at the guidelines we set for our kids when their dating years began.  I cannot say I have all the answers, but I hope I can help some of you with younger children figure out the best way for your family to make if safely across the dating tight rope. Until next time God’s blessings.

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