A Reader Asks:
As I watch family members and friends marry off children, I wonder if there’s anything I can do to prepare my children for this complex and often daunting stage of life. What values, ideas, and viewpoints can I instill in them now to better prepare them for the most important decision and relationship of their lives?
Dating Coach Rachel Burnham Answers:
What a wonderful parent you are! I wish more parents would be so forward-thinking and willing to do the work today that will powerfully affect their child’s relationship future.
Here are six points to consider:
The Family Unit Crisis
When children are raised in a toxic or stressed environment, they are often compelled to recreate the familiar yet unhealthy relationship they saw at home. They will likely have deficits in communication, conflict resolution, and social skills. They may be in so much pain that the very thought of marriage has awful connotations for them. Though they might be actively dating, they’re internally blocked to the possibility of sharing a life with someone.
The most important thing you can do for your children is invest daily in a stable, loving, and supportive marriage. In the event of the dissolution of that relationship, it becomes all the more imperative to model healthy communication and relationship habits and engage your child in developing them as well.
Children Do as We Do, Not as We Say
If we are not inherently honest, kind, slow to anger, and caring, our children won’t exhibit those character traits just because we tell them to. We must constantly focus on our own character development and personal growth. This will ensure positive patterning of the skills our children will rely on for all of their relationships, and especially their marriages.
You can help determine your child’s relationship mindset. What are you communicating? That marriage comes easy, or that it’s worth heavy investment? Is career primary, or is marriage/family most important? Do maturity and responsibility determine marriage readiness, or is it a function of societal pressure? Is rejection acceptable? Mindsets are never cast, but rather molded from early childhood on.
Children grow up fast. There is a slim window of about 20 years that will determine whether you have any influence over your precious cuties for the rest of their lives. Whenever you can be there for them, be there! Be present in the moment with a listening ear, non-judgmental words, and hugs. Create the supportive space your child needs to feel accepted and loved. Not only does this contribute to their growth and emotional development, it ensures you’ll continue to play a supportive role in their future.
Marriage is Not a Hospital
If your child has mental illness, social or emotional challenges, psychological stressors, or special educational needs, please get them the help they need. Marriage is most successful with two healthy, well-adjusted, and functioning adults. Marriage will solve only one thing: singlehood.
My mother’s father was selected for death along with roughly 100 other laborers in the Mauthausen concentration camp. With nothing to lose, he marched himself to the front of the line and, in flawless German, respectfully suggested to the commanding Nazi officer that there was a mistake. He and the other prisoners were not useless, merely weakened by starvation. With an extra slice of bread and a bowl of soup they could do whatever work was demanded of them.
Miraculously, that request saved his life and those of the entire work detail. (In a wild twist of Divine Providence, one of the men he saved was his future daughter’s future father-in-law!) The lesson he always taught us was, “If you don’t ask you don’t get!” Our society puts little stock in the power of prayer. If for you it’s a reality and a part of your daily living, so will it be for your children.
I pray that as parents we are all blessed with the wisdom, foresight, and strength to model, teach, and guide our children along the shortest route to their longest relationship.
By Rachel Burnham