By Kim Chaffin

Looking 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 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 faced 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 was to have open communication with her parents and let the kids 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 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 healthy relationship.  In those interactions with the opposite sex our kids were able to grow into adults and have an idea of what to look for in a spouse. 

I was talking with a 27 year old woman recently, who is engaged to be married, and she shared with me the struggles of keeping their relationship pure for her wedding night.  At age 27, if it is a 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 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 whose 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 in place 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; 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 an 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 about 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 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”.    

I am writing this to share with you the guidelines we set: the importance of prayer, how we found the need to talk to our son differently than our daughter, and how we had to change our approach as the years moved on and our children became young adults.  We now have a 19 and 21 year old, and when you throw in apartment life and promise rings, the dating tightrope takes 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 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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