“Courtship stories are fun and I never tire of romance, but I’m a mom with little kids, so how does the subject of courtship apply to me?”
If that statement could have been written by you, please read on.
David and Carolyn, 46 and 48, parents of 7 children, aged 3 to 26, have walked the path of courtship twice with their children. They have 3 grandchildren through these two marriages and are expecting their fourth any day. But they can also easily identify with parents of small children, because they have 4 younger ones, also, and their three grandkiddos, all under 5 years old, spend much time at their house.
Sitting across from me at the long wooden table in the community center we call “church” on Sundays, David and Carolyn were ready and eager to talk. David began looking at the five questions I’d jotted down before church on a small lined yellow notebook page, which I’d handed to Carolyn earlier, to give her a little time to think about what I was going to ask. With paper plates of bagels and fruit before us, we began talking about dating and courtship.
Wendy: “So, I know people are asking, ‘Why not date?'”
David: “Well, it’s a 100 year experiment, getting people ready for divorce…giving your heart away again and again..then you give only part of it to the one you decide is the one to marry.”
Wendy: “What led you to decide to do this (courtship, instead of dating) in your family?”
David: “We didn’t want this for our children.”
Carolyn: “We wanted better for them.”
David and Carolyn’s married daughter, Michelle, walks over to where we are sitting, and, as she sits down next to her dad, I indicate to her that it’s fine for her to join our conversation. Michelle is David and Carolyn’s oldest child. She’s one of the two who are married; she’s the mom of David and Carolyn’s three grandchildren, who are all under 5 years old, and she is expecting their fourth child in August. She is 26.
Still pondering the question of how they got into this “thing called courtship” with their family, David and Carolyn look quizzically at one another, questioning, “What did lead us into this? We didn’t know anyone who was doing this. How did we hear about it?”
Michelle: “I was the one who told you about it! I had read Joshua Harris’ book, (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and I showed it to you, and you read part of it.”
Wendy: “How old were you then?”
Michelle: “15?” (After her parents became Christians, they saw their 13-year-old’s attitude of rebellion and alarming behavior, and pulled her out of public school and took action. In the next few years God did incredible things, but, well, that’s a great story, but for another post.)
David: “She was saved out of the world, too, like us, and she began looking for something different.”
Carolyn: “There’s no protection in dating, not that it’s always there in courtship either, but there’s so much more of the father being involved, protecting a daughter’s heart.”
David: “It’s a lot tougher road for the young man. He has to go to the father of the girl. (Also, sometimes dads make it hard on the young man by making him fulfill many requirements before he can marry a girl.)”
Michelle: “I think it’s unfair. They set this unrealistic expectation that’s way too high.”
David: “I think it’s a lot harder for the young man.”
Carolyn: “The father has to be protecting the young man’s heart, too.”
David, looking at the next question which I had written down for them to think about, laughs and says, “This is really funny!”
Wendy: “What do you mean?” Reading the next question to myself, which was, “How did you convince your children?” I didn’t see anything particularly funny about it.
David: “Well, you can’t! (He laughs.) If you have fearful parents, telling their children it’s something to be afraid of, then they’ll be fearful about courtship, too. It’s wonderful!” (He goes on about how wonderful this way of leading into marriage is.) “If the parents are confident, the children will be confident. We were always talking about ‘finding God’s best’.”
Michelle: “I wanted what they had! I saw their marriage. It was never, ‘We made terrible mistakes, and we don’t want you to do it that way.’ But, I knew that. But, I saw what they had and it gave me a desire for what they had.”
Carolyn: “The marriage example gives kids a desire to have that: to be married. And how do you get that? (As they talk on about the example of a loving marriage, she says, “You can’t patch courtship onto a bad marriage.”)
David: “Finding God’s Best” is going to speak through the father. I just encouraged and talked about seeking out His Best.
Michelle: “I wanted God’s Best!”
Carolyn: “I was jealous at times in the beginning. He (David) was winning her heart first. They were talking. She was telling him all her thoughts and emotions. But he felt it was his responsibility to have their hearts. It’s important that they be talking to Dad about emotions–heart-to-heart. Bringing their struggles to him, not talking to their friends.”
Michelle: “I didn’t talk to my friends about it.” (Her eyes widen as if the very thought is unimaginable.)
I had asked them specifically to communicate to young moms/parents why in the world this subject of courtship should matter to them. Both of them immediately lit up, eyes wide, and exclaimed, “Oh, it’s very important!”
(Their younger children include a son, Daniel–all boy–who is 8, and three beautiful, sweet girls adopted from Liberia two years ago: Janae, who they think is 10 or 11–they thought she was the same age as Daniel when they got her; Addy, 5 or 6 years old; and Hannah, 3.)
David: “We talk about it all the time!”
Carolyn: (finishing his thought) “…how glorious marriage is. They need to be shown a loving relationship. Not that we’re kissing and hugging in front of them all the time. But we’re preparing them to be married someday.”
David: “I heard it again this week. (About preparing a child for the possibility that God will call their child to a life of singleness, and talking about that.) God made people to be married! God will give them a very clear call, calling them out, and give them contentment if He gives them that calling (to be single). We’re preparing them to be married someday.”
Carolyn: “Addie calls him her ‘future honey’!” (Addie’s 5) “She’s already got a little name for him. Not that she knows his name, but that’s what she calls whoever he is (that she’ll marry).”
David: “We don’t use terms of ‘dating’, ‘boyfriend’, ‘girlfriend’.”
Carolyn: “Marriage and family are a precious gift from God, and a picture of Christ and the Church.”
Michelle: “Gavin”, (Michelle’s middle child, who’s 3), “says, ‘I’m going to be a big, strong Daddy!'”
David: “His hero’s his daddy! Not an action figure.”
Michelle: “We’re always saying, ‘When you’re a daddy…'”
Carolyn: “We need to be teaching Love and Respect* (the principles taken from Love and Respect, by Emerson Eggerich) to children at a young age: ‘Was that loving?'” (When speaking to her son about how he treats his sister.) “When Janae (their 10 year-old daughter) came in upset about something and kind of pouting, I told her, You need to learn how to handle this. You need to say to him, ‘Those words were very unloving.’ She did and then he asked forgiveness.’ I had to ask forgiveness from their dad in front of them the other day. They need to see that modeled and know that Mommy and Daddy love each other.”
Wendy: “It gives a child security.”
Michelle: “Couch Time is very important. They need to see that!” (Mommy and Daddy talking to each other, paying attention to each other, and not being centered on them). “Mommy and Daddy’s relationship comes first. Everything comes out of that. This new trend, I’m just becoming aware of it, where it’s child-centered in the family, and they tack ‘Christian’ onto it, it’s not good. It has to be God first, then your spouse, and then your kids. It’s good for them to see you paying attention to your husband!”
By now, they’re all talking at once, emphasizing the importance, and specialness of marriage…David’s telling me about resources and links I should include in my post, and Carolyn’s telling me about how David was winning the heart of his daughter before they ever got to the time when she began courting, and how Michelle could and would talk about her feelings and emotions with her dad: He felt that was his responsibility.
Turning to David and Michelle, I make an appointment with them, “I want to interview the two of you on that.” Looking back to Carolyn, I affirm her statements about reading books that depict good examples of marriage, “Yes, I know you read to the kids all the time, so I want to know what books you’re reading to them on this subject.” (David has already mentioned a favorite of mine, The Princess and The Kiss.)
At this point, I can’t write fast enough, and I stop them all, saying, “I can see this is going to be at least a three-part series!” All laugh. Looking directly at David, who is telling me about an audio of a “Courtship Presentation” he gave a few years back, and other resources, I assure him, “We’ll definitely have one post just for resources and books”; then turning to include Michelle, I say again, “I want to interview you, David and Michelle, on how you did that (winning her heart). It would be scary for a girl, if she didn’t trust her dad, to trust him to lead in a courtship.”
I barely got them to stop talking–actually I didn’t.
I’m going to have to figure out how to videotape an interview…or learn shorthand!