Boy can I relate to your question! I, too, have a family of children ages 12 and down. I offer this advice to you rather humbly. Although I have read a great deal on courtship and “researched” it at great length, I have not yet had the opportunity – or privilege – of actually guiding our own children along this path. I hope what I have to offer you is helpful and, above all, hopeful!
Our society is totally antagonistic toward “old-fashioned” values. “If it’s old, it must be no good!” A word like courtship, in and of itself, stirs up some pretty strong feelings for some people when they hear it. Some people get turned right off when the topic of courtship comes up. So, where do families turn to for support?
While courtship was once the standard of society, the very idea of it has become completely counter-cultural in today’s world. As Christian parents, we want something better for our children than the trial-and-error dating games that we went through in our generation, but how do we communicate this effectively to our children and help guide them along a very challenging road?
I think it is important, from the very start, to establish good communication with our children. Trust is an essential ingredient. Take steps to build it with your children.
Also, children need to see parents as the God-given authority in their life that parents truly are. Society has tried to strip parents of any authority they have over their children. We need to fight to maintain our rights as parents and, above all, our God-given responsibility to lead our children to truth . . . and ultimately to heaven. (This is easier said than done in such a hostile climate. All parents can expect to spend a lot of time down on their knees!)
There is a lot going on out there in the world. Children are exposed to too many things at too young an age and it is very confusing for them. As parents we need to be willing to step in and shield our children from what is inappropriate. This is no easy task! But an excellent starting point is turning off the TV!
Just because television shows and movies are produced does not mean that we must waste our times and risk our souls watching the trash! If it is trash, it has no place in a Christian home – period! I’m not saying to throw out your TV’s and VCRs and DVDs (although some people choose this for good reasons!) I am just trying to strongly urge parents to establish good control over the TV, audio (including music) and video influences on their children.
In eliminating a lot of that negative media influence, our role in parenting becomes much, much easier. Our children won’t be seeing the sassy-attitudes and the “we-know-more-than-the-adults-around-us” type of characters which have become the role models for so many youth! They also won’t be exposed to the sexual exploitation that is rampant in the media. They won’t grow up with the confusing messages of sexual permissiveness that is so promoted by our culture and yet is killing our society one soul at a time!
What they watch will be what you, as parents, have approved. It requires tough love to say no to our children when they want to go out to a show with friends that is inappropriate. But our children will thank us for it – sometimes, to our surprise, sooner than later. Many children are relieved to have the guidelines and to be able to “blame” their parents for not being able to do what the “in-crowd” is doing! Our shoulders are big . . . we can carry the blame.
Our children will come around with questions, because they are being exposed to so much out there. We need to be able to talk to them about anything! They need to know they can come to us with their questions and get honest, truthful answers. So, taking time to form ourselves in the Church’s teachings is essential! We cannot give to our children that which we do not have!
My favourite way of formation is listening to audio tape (and now some on CD) series. It’s so easy to have a tape playing will I’m doing dishes or driving in the car. Apologetics has become available to the lay person through excellent sources. Check out my website for “Great Links” to get some resource ideas.
Finally, what I think is the key to supporting our children through the difficult years of “not dating”, is that we, as parents, must make the effort to find and become involved in a strong Christian community. I happen to belong to a Catholic parish that is filled with families who sincerely strive to live out their faith. They are devout and dedicated Catholic men and women who are raising their children to be devout and dedicated Catholic men and women. It is inspiring for us as a married couple and the greatest source of support for us and a family. Our children are blessed with awesome Catholic friends. For them, the Catholic culture is the norm!
I know this is not the experience for most families. But if you cannot find this kind of community life through your parish, perhaps you can find a handful of other families who are striving for the same goals with their children and create your own small Christian community for supporting each other in the faith. I believe God will provide it for those who seek it!
God sent amazingly wonderful people into our life several years back when my husband and I journeyed from being liberal-minded Catholics to on-fire-for-the-faith-and-in-union-with-Rome Catholics. God hooked us up, at that time, with a few other couples our age who were making similar journeys themselves home to the heart of Catholicism. We greatly supported each other along the way: through prayer, through discussions, through sharing resources (books and tapes), but most especially through friendship and socializing. Our children found some of their closest friends through these connections. And most of us eventually ended up in the same parish!
So, I strongly encourage you to find a community of support to make it easier on yourself and on your children to live out this counter-cultural challenge of courtship! It is amazing how much easier it will be for them just to know one other family that has the same “crazy” idea as theirs!
Young people don’t want to feel like they are alone or weird. There is strength in numbers. They need to know that there is a very real and strong movement of people in our society saying no to dating and waiting until courtship. The best way for them to feel the momentum of this movement is for them to be exposed to it. There may only be one other family in your town talking about it – but at a youth rally promoting purity there will be five hundred youth, all on fire for Jesus! One experience like that is enough to carry a kid for a long time!
If you are interested in such a movement, Mark Mallett (Catholic recording artist who wrote the accompanying song for my book, also entitled Arms of Love) and I have teamed up forces to put together a Purity Matters Rally. You can check this out as well on the web. But any kind of conference or rally promoting purity and chastity would be something well worth the investment of time for parents to organize in their community for their children!
We set up our Purity Matters Rally as a family event – because parents need to hear this message as much as their children. Too many parents have given into despair and have bought into the lie that there’s no hope for their children to survive the teen-age years without becoming sexually active. We need to boost parents and young people alike back into believing in their own dignity and worth and integrity as children of God! The first rally we held here in Saskatoon last spring was a huge success and we will continue to put on more!
People are hungry for truth. While the idea of purity might not be popular, it speaks to the integrity of each person who longs to know truth and live it.
Your children are no exception to this. They are hungry for the truth and trusting that you will deliver it to them, uncompromisingly. It is hard and there are times we fail as parents. What is important is our perseverance. We must never give up hope for our children or our belief in their ability to make the right choices. And we must communicate this confidence to them often. They want to please us. They want to make us proud.
We need to set realistic expectations and then support them with the confidence that says, “We know you can do it, even though it’s not easy. And if you have difficulties along the way, we’ll be here for you. And if you fail, get back up on your feet and keep trying, because we’ll still be here for you!”
I also want to recommend to you that when your children are old enough, let them read Arms of Love. I cannot tell you how many emails, phone calls and letters I have received so far from parents and youth who have told me that this book has changed their lives. The Holy Spirit is working through that simple novel.
Young people have told me that they were never really committed to chastity or to not dating until they read Arms of Love. Some parents have said that they had fought over the dating thing with their children for the longest time, then after reading Arms of Love their children came and told them th
ey were ready to give up dating until they were older.
This is God’s work alone. I am just the humble instrument, with typos and grammar errors and all, who has been blessed to be a part of this apostolate work of promoting purity.
I also strongly recommend Josh Harris’ books: I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl, Say Hello to Courtship. Read them yourself first and then pass them on to your children. What a great way to boost your confidence in the courtship movement in our society.
I hope, Kathleen, that you find this very long answer helpful. I know the struggle. I know your concerns. When all is said and done, we, as parents, have to get down on our knees and commend our children to the mercy and love of Our Lord. Never fail to ask for the intercession of Our Blessed Mother on their behalf. If we entrust our children to Her Immaculate Heart, she will lead them straight to the heart of her Son every time!
We remember all of our readers in our prayers daily. We ask that you would also remember me, my family and this apostolate work of promoting “a very counter-cultural message” in your prayers as well. In and through Jesus, let us continue to work together to build a “Civilization of Love”.
In His Most Holy Name,