by Phyllis M. Onest, M. Div.
We all hope that our children will find the "perfect" mate, the love of their lives, and live happily ever after. But we know that this does not always happen. During my years as a PTA Room Mother, I often chaperoned field trips. I remember on one such occasion that of the six girls in my car only two lived with their Mom and Dad. The other four, including my older daughter Michelle, had two sets of parents.
Knowing firsthand the difficulties that children have when their parents divorce and remarry, I worried about what my girls might experience if they marry someone whose parents are divorced. Will they have learned how to love their wives? Will they bring all kinds of "baggage" into the marriages that will be troublesome? Will they lovingly accept my daughters' shortcomings and "work out" the inevitable problems that young couples experience or will they give up as so many do today?
How does a parent deal with this worry? Some ten years ago, well before my daughters were teenagers and dating, I shared my concern with a friend from Church. Zoe, whose sons are close in age to my girls, had already begun praying for her future daughters-in-law. What a great idea!
One of the prayers of the Orthodox Marriage service refers specifically to this: "Remember them, O Lord our God, and the parents who have reared them, for the prayers of parents confirm the foundation of houses." I knew this to be true. The earnest prayers of my faithful in-laws Joseph and Mary most definitely shaped my husband Jim into the caring, loving and spiritual person that he has become. Now it was my turn. This is the one thing that I could do for my daughters, so I added "future sons-in-law" to the list that's in my prayer book.
I hope you find the article below thought-provoking and don't forget to start praying for your children's future spouses.
Copyright © Phyllis Meshel Onest, M.Div. This article section may not be further reproduced without permission from Phyllis Onest, Director of Religious Education, 2507 Nedra Ave., Akron, OH 44305, firstname.lastname@example.org
by Stephen A Bly
"Katie's sorry that we broke up." Mike, my seventeen year old, reported on his latest romance. "I guess they're all sort of sorry," he continued.
"Oh?" I gave him an interested, fatherly glance, then continued fixing the garage door.
"I mean, Michelle's still upset over our breakup last January And I know Mandy wishes we didn't stop dating last July. And now, Katie..."
I tried not to let my smile seem too obvious. "Sounds like you're doing some reconsidering..." I offered. "Well, which one interests you the most?"
"Lori Wileman," he reported.
"Lori Wileman!" I hadn't heard that name since his sixth grade year. She used to be the skinny little girl with red barrettes. Now she was head cheerleader and homecoming queen.
It's tough being the father of a high school senior. I'd like to personally inspect and consider each steady date in light of her candidacy as a future daughter-in-law. But Mike moves so fast I hardly learn their names. That's all right, because I'm in no hurry for him to be serious. But I'm constantly aware of the importance of choosing lifelong mates. I want the best situation for my kids at each stage of their relationships.
Christian parents walk a tenuous balance beam. We must instruct, guide, lead, suggest, nudge. Yet we can't force, insist, or dictate at the point of their seriously considering a husband or wife. The discerning process can't begin too early. I've carefully thought through my own set of guidelines.
I remember the day I began to pray for Aaron, our five year old. Janet returned home, sick, from a writer's conference. She moped around for several weeks, then announced she was going to purchase one of those home pregnancy tests. I assured her that was ridiculous. After all, our sons were sixteen and thirteen. We were pushing forty. Surely...
But there it was - a telltale ring in a test tube, later confirmed by the doctor. On December 30th, Aaron joined the Bly family. By then, I had prayed that he would find a vocation that would be pleasing to God. I prayed that his future spouse would love God [and the Orthodox Church], compliment my child's ministry and personality, and possess all the graces necessary to raise my grandchildren.
I still pray for him. After all, who is this Kristin he talks about in his preschool class?
During the earliest years we have tremendous control over most of our children's environment, including the people they come in contact with. We can choose their friends, the parties they attend, the neighbors who share their sandbox.
Billy Joe was the same age as our son Russell, but their backgrounds were worlds apart. The most violent scene Russell had witnessed was a stray cat scratching his cheek. Billy Joe had spent the few short years of his life watching his drunken father slug away at his mother. For him, every disagreement ended with earsplitting curses or eye-swelling punches.
One day we discovered Billy Joe in Russell's bedroom, in a rage over the loss of a game. Billy Joe tried to bash our son over the head with a baseball bat.
Billy Joe needed help. But our son wasn't a professional counselor. From then on we severely limited their playtime, and then only with close supervision.
You're the only husband, or wife, that your child knows very well. Your little one knows you even better than you'd like. He hears everything you say, all the things you imply, and how you react in various daily circumstances. For him, a husband's just like Dad; a wife's just like Mom.
Bryce was incensed when his teenage daughter's boyfriend pulled into the driveway and honked his horn rather than coming to the door. "Cindy, why do you go out with someone so rude?" he questioned.
It's no big thing," she huffed. "You get impatient when Mom takes a long time, then go out and sit in the car waiting for her - what's the difference?"
They're not too young to grasp principles about love, marriage, and mates. We only put off such instructions because we're embarrassed or lazy.
Kelly is eight years old and playing the part of princess in the school play. When Derrick was selected as the prince, she asked him if he was a Christian.
"What difference does that make?" he asked, puzzled.
"Oh, I don't want to marry anyone who doesn't know Jesus," she answered. Kelly had already been taught.
Establish the rules before they're needed. If we wait until a confrontation, it will seem like we're picking on a particular friend.
Amy's just 11, but she can hardly wait until she's 16. That's when her parents agreed she could date. She knows, even now, she can't leave the house without telling where she's going, or who with, and when she'll be home. Mom or Dad have to meet her friends, too. Amy realizes these rules will continue through high school. She's establishing the habit early.
By this time, our power to choose our children's friends has faded. But we can encourage them when they make good choices. And we don't need to hesitate to speak up when we sense danger signals.
Be honest. Give a reasoned account of your misgivings. Kids see right through trumped-up accusations to cover up prejudices. The quality of a car, the location of a house, and social standing, may not be of prime importance to your children (good for them!). A more plausible explanation had better be forthcoming.
It was tough, but I knew I had to talk to one of my sons about his girl friend. "You're too young for such a possessive relationship," I pointed out. "You're both still trying to discover who you are, how you relate, and what you want in life. You're not giving each other a chance to develop in other areas."
He didn't say a word. But three weeks later he marched into the living room and said, "Well, we broke up today. You know, I just need a little more freedom."
Our direct involvement in our teens' decisions should be limited. It's time to sit back, pray, and give them the reins.
For two summers, Russell, our oldest, served on staff of a large Christian campground hundreds of miles from home. His mother and I prayed a lot. Midway through the second summer we got "the call."
"I've met this perfect girl. We get along great. Say, what do you think if I get married, and not go to college after all?"
We traveled 350 miles to meet the object of his affections, all the while wondering what kind of situation we'd encounter. We loved her from the first sight. We still do. Lois has made a delightful daughter-in-law.
From the point of conception, we as parents can't help but dream about our children's lives. We plot their occupations. We save for their college education. We visualize their weddings and spouses.
However, God has His own game plan. So do our kids. It doesn't always agree with ours. When we see our plans crumble, but His ultimately carried out, let's rejoice and cooperate with Him the best we can.
I figured Russell would go to Westmont College, major in computer science, and work in the Silicon Valley. At 20 he married and became a heavy equipment operator. He's very satisfied. Dear old Dad couldn't be happier, or prouder.
The seasons come and go. Our roles change. I no longer tell my oldest to clean his room, keep his elbows off the table, or stand to seat the ladies. But I'll crawl under his house to help him fix the plumbing. Or I'll listen to his struggles to get along with a difficult foreman. Or offer my opinion on where to invest bonus money.
Meanwhile, he has the freedom to make mistakes, and he knows I'll be there. He knows I feel that way about his wife, too.
My attention to them both has not diminished, even though the intensity of my concern is now directed toward Mike.
Who is this Lori Wileman, anyway?
Reprinted from Sunday Digest, Vol. 100, No. 1, February 1986.
© 1996 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
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