Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Courtship? Dating? Defining boundaries for our family

 We have been working on defining rules of dating, company keeping and courtship over the last many years to help guide our kids through choices they make affecting all their adult lives, even until death. These areas of parenting are much harder without firm rules and guidelines, since the heart has a mind of its own, can be whimsical, persuasive, impulsive and not as cautious as it can be in other areas. We have found it helpful to discuss the guidelines with our children over many years, to help them understand of our position, discuss their perspectives and concerns, and have mutual understanding in place, especially faced with last minute plans.
Years back, when first developing a plan for our family, I spoke with a trusted priest about when to allow my children to start dating. "Dating! Dating? There is no such thing as dating! You get to know someone in friendship, and courtship only after they arrive at an age for marriage." That set me to serious thinking, reflecting and planning. 
My husband and I met in high school, different schools, when Austin was a small town, where it was common for different schools to met up at dance halls like the SPJST or VFW halls for a night of country dancing. We had the chance to dance and mingle with the same people at different venues, and Craig and I grew to know each other through these public activities and through common friendships. We were friends for years before we thought of ourselves as dating in my senior year. I had college plans, and knew marriage was four years off. He enrolled in the local university along with me which gave us more experiences in common and more time together, while preparing for our future together. A couple months after my graduation, we were married. 
We grew up in the dating culture of the 80's and we recognize the problems and temptations inherent in that "system" and wanted to help our children socialize in line with our Faith.
Twenty six years later and living a homeschooling family life, my kids' social lives are very different; lives filled with social activities with other families, not social activities generated from school situations. Spending time with their friends in these situations helps to provide lower relationship pressure friendships, and has made it easier for them to see the wisdom of courtship when they are ready. We define "in a position for marriage" for sons as: able to support a wife, family. We haven't defined it for the girls, as it is harder to say. We want our daughters to take steps toward being able to support themselves which means college studies, hoping to take on minimal to no college debt as possible, in case marriage and family do come soon after graduation. 
My older two have experienced relationships they initially thought had long term promise, then found them not be a match, through these group get togethers. No break ups, no hard feelings, well, at least not as intimate as it could have been in a dating situation. They had the opportunity to see and experience whether they matched up in friendship, before social pressures to pursue more. It isn't easy. Hormones rage in these situations as in any, but restraint and respect are practiced, and intimate, temptation filled situations are avoided.  For this to work, their friendship circles have to be on the same page. It is hard, and has been encountered, where some do couple up and change the dynamics of the group, changing the comfort level of the other friends present. Or times, others just see the need to be deliberate or restrained in this phase of life. We don't live in a vacuum, life will have temptations and they need to learn how to be aware and behave in of all kinds situations.

Our philosophy is to spend time in groups, no one-on-one boy/girl situations that look like a date.  Take younger siblings along, to keep the setting friendly, but not intimate. Try to avoid situations of being alone where pressure and temptation can win. This philosophy carries on into college, so the kids really need to take it on as their own style and philosophy to keep groups of friends involved in a busy social life. It's learning to live our Faith in all areas of our lives, and what area is more important than who we share our life with?
Read this only as notes of our on-the-job-training as none of my children are married, or even officially to that age for marriage, but are old enough to be have been approached about "dating," approached much younger ages concerning my daughter than my son.  Their hearts are their own, we are only counselors.
We are learning along with our kids.  My husband and I talked of how we would raise our teens before we had children, and now present a united front. I make time to talk to them about what is going on in their lives. I try to know their friends, but much of their lives happen outside our homes for work and college studies. We seek friendships with other families with the same goals and ideas for their children, but their social life is not limited to these circles. They are not under our watch, they understand our guidelines and take these with them out in their circles. Not all their friends agree, but have respected our attempts to raise godly youth. 

I would love to hear your courtship success (or even challenges) stories; it is so good to have real life encouragement for this life choice and also know the challenges they'll be up against.
Craig and I attended a Pre Cana marriage prep in the months preceding our wedding, led by a couple in their home, while their children were home with no outside sitter. I believe they wanted us to see a family in action, even with mom having to stop and attend to her children, and show how they functioned as a team. I didn't think about them much at the time, about what a sacrifice they made for us. I do appreciate and understand it now. We had booklets we went over and we'd discuss all the hot topics couples fight about and encounter in married life. They separated us, while we answered questions in the booklets, got back together and compared: questions about in-laws, how many children do you see in your family, how much money can you spend without approval from spouse... We talked of marriages we admired, and why. I kept the workbooks, and we occasionally pull them out and compare those questions to who we are today, and what we expected. A remarkable amount is the same considering how much life we have lived since those days.

I was thrilled to come across a little booklet Clean Love in Courtship by Father Lovasik, available through TAN, I have selected some of his points I want to keep handy for discussion, more can be read here. Having these conversations with my kids, I had a few more that have come up in our observations,  I added in red.
"Company-keeping and courtship have no other reason for existence except to assist you in becoming better acquainted and in making a wise choice. Acquaintance and friendship between the sexes should be fairly extensive. Dances, dramatics, and social affairs are designed to promote such acquaintance. Meet many young people of good reputation and character. Mingle and talk with them in a friendly way. Learn their interests, disposition and character.
Out of many friendships you are likely to form one based upon disposition, character, training, outlook and convictions—one which will ripen into conjugal love.In courtship you must first of all be true to yourself. Because a choice is made while the emotions tend to disturb the even functioning of the mind, you stand at that time in particular need of guidance.You want your potential mate to know the true you, and you of him/her. Be authentic.
The advice of parents, the priest, and of other sensible people of experience should be sought. Do not make the mistake of confiding in no one about your choice of a helpmate in life. This would close the door to many helpful suggestions and perhaps open it to an unfortunate marriage. Don't ignore those warnings of trusted friends and family regarding character, there is most likely something to be concerned about.
Love is blind. Commonsense can give it eyes.
So keep at least one ear attuned to the voice of reason. Do not be content to gaze upon the beauty of the face of your sweetheart, but learn to penetrate to the disposition and character with which you must live when the bloom of youth has gone.
Beauty vanishes, but character remains.
Do not rely on superficial factors. Character, piety, disposition, intelligence, understanding, sympathy and unselfishness are the things which count in creating a happy home and a permanent union.
Be on your guard against elements which make for separation and divorce. One of the chief causes of these disorders is that the couple discovers after marriage that they are mismatched; they have little in common. They are uncongenial in temperament and disposition; they differ in moral character and in religious outlook, in culture and tastes.
It is better to part as friends in good time than to be compelled either to live together very unhappily for life, or to separate as enemies later on. After all, it is the purpose of courtship to learn this very thing. Courtship should be entered upon with a deep sense of responsibility and mutual respect. Consider your heart and state of your soul, if your friendships are truly bad companions who want to led you into sin, disguised in the name of fun: stop, change directions and cut off those connections. If  you hang around sin, it will negatively affect you, or  at least diminish your abhorrence of it.
Intelligent choice of a mate must not look only to mutual physical attraction, but more so to harmony of tastes, feelings, desires, aspirations, and of temperament. It must weigh spiritual more than physical values.
What has begun as a mere sex intimacy is not likely to end in a happy marriage. In courtship you must also be honest and honorable.
Before she admits candidates to the priesthood, she requires them to spend long years in training and discipline, meditating all the while on the seriousness of the step they contemplate. Yet Holy Orders imposes no obligation of greater duration than that imposed by matrimony. Refrain from beginning to keep regular company too soon. If you begin to do so at sixteen or seventeen years, you expose yourself either to the danger of a premature marriage with its frequent mistake of poor choice or you court the hardly lesser evil of an immoderately long courtship with the attendant disadvantages.
You tie yourself down to one person and thus lose the social advantages and contacts that will have a great influence upon your later life. You expose yourself in a special way to temptations against chastity, because this love affair may be a very prolonged one, and the danger of violating chastity increases as the affection is prolonged.
Marrying in haste nearly always means repenting bitterly at leisure. Do not prefer to be sorry to being certain. While the Church warns against courtships of undue brevity, she likewise counsels against those of excessive length.
 How to Choose a Marriage Partner:
 (questions apply for both male or female)
Friendship
Is your friendship morally beneficial? Are you morally better or worse for having been with him, and what can you expect in the future? Would marriage with him help you to observe God’s commandments and practice your religious duties faithfully?
Imagine a crisis in your life (poverty, sickness) that might demand a high quality of virtue to remain faithful to God. Would he be a help to the practice of such virtue?
Does he drink too much? Gamble?
Does he want to indulge in petting, passionate kissing, even at the expense of chastity? 
Does he control his temper? Has he a sense of humor? Can he keep a secret?
Does he practice his religion?
What are  his views on divorce, on having children, on Catholic education, on frequenting the sacraments?
Can you actually point out any definite virtuous qualities, or are they put on for your  benefit now?
How does he treat the women in his life, is it how you want to be treated?
Does his behavior change around friends?
How does he choose to spend his free time? 
Agreement
Is there at least a reasonable degree of similarity between you in regard to the recreations you like?
Could you both enjoy staying at home in the evening, especially when children come?
Are there any habits now that not only get on your nerves but which you find extraordinarily difficult  to overlook?
Do you both fit into about the same kind of social life?
Does he get along with your family and you with his?
Have you both sufficient health for marriage?
What are his habits of life: cleanliness, orderliness, good manners, good grammar? 

Are you able to harmonize judgments on things that pertain to family life: food, kind of house, furnishings, etc.?
Have you the same religion and the same standards concerning its practice?
Have you the same attitude towards children antheieducation?
Do you feel at ease together, regardless of what you talk about? If you do not meet for some time, are you able to take up where you left off, with something of the naturalness of a family reunion, or do you have to try to work up an acquaintance allover again?
Has he a nagging or reforming disposition?
Do you see his failings, and are you willing to tolerate them? Does he admit them and is she willing to get over them?
With children in mind, would you say that this person would be just the right other parent for them?
Self – Sacrifice
Is your prospective companion thoughtful of others and has he the power of self-discipline?
In his home does he show thoughtfulness of parents and brothers and sisters, and do you get the impression that this is his regular attitude?
What little kindnesses, not only to you but to others, have you noticed in him?
When he is wrong, does he admit it and try to make up for it?
Does he easily and graciously pass over others’ mistakes?
Does he look for sympathy too much?
Can he give sympathy willingly, or does some one else’s trouble always bring out a greater trouble of his?
Does he show that he knows his temper, and that jealousy and other unpleasant traits ought to be controlled?

If you cannot get along agreeably before marriage, it is almost certain that you will not get along after marriage. "

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