Father and Mother : The Role of Parents in Courtship
The role of a parent changes in the life of a child over time, but a parent remains a parent. A young child is heavily dependent on the parent and very much under the authority of the parent. As a child grows into a youth and into their later teen years, the youth should be growing in character toward personal independence. All Christian parents want to see their children grow into godly thriving independent adults. One of the most difficult periods of transition can be the final stage of a youth transitioning into adulthood. They are not yet fully ready to make life-changing adult decisions, but they are close and moving everyday toward a God-ordained independence. It’s important during this late-teen early twenties period to remember that dad and mom are still parents. A significant part of God’s plan for supplying the wisdom necessary to make a good choice of marriage partner at an appropriate age is the guiding hand of parental authority and wisdom. If young adults are going to make wise choices concerning a spouse, they will need the guidance of godly parents.
Though both parents play an important role in guiding their young person into marriage. As the head of the home, the father must wisely and lovingly exert his authority for the benefit of his older children. Most late teens no longer consider themselves under the authority of their parents, but young adults (late teens into early twenties) who are still financially dependent on their parents are still under the general authority of their parents. Young adults that are preparing for marriage should receive their parents’ blessing to move forward with courtship. The granting of this blessing is the final act of authority by a parent to their child. After this blessing is given, the young adult goes out to form their own household with a new structure of authority and leadership.
What does this look like? Parents should be intentionally discipling their kids, leading them toward spiritual maturity. There should be an intentional connection in the mind of the youth how dad and mom follow Christ as adults. A father must, with increasing seriousness, press upon his son the need to settle upon a profession by which he can become financially independent. Parents should help their son(s) assess where their natural talents and interests lay, and work with them to explore possible career paths. Some boys find a career and set to work quite naturally, others will need more assistance and prodding, but all should be made aware they cannot remain dependent once they have reached adulthood. Just like little birds, some young men must be lovingly pushed out of the nest in order to learn how to fly on their own. Give your sons the push they need and watch them fly! Parents should strive to walk the fine line of helping aid their children forward in ways that are helpful, but not fostering long-term dependence.
Parents must intentionally focus on the six aspects of preparedness for marriage as their youths pass through the late teen transitional years. The goal should be for each son and daughter to meet the minimum requirements in each category by their early twenties so they can marry when the opportunity arises. The later teen years should be an intentional time of transition from dependence to independence, with the hope of marriage on the horizon. A young man initiating interest in a young woman should seek permission from her father before pursuing a relationship with her. This is necessary because a dependent young woman is still under the protecting authority of her father. God has given her father the role of raising and protecting his daughter until she reaches adulthood. She remains under the authority of her father until she goes out as an independent adult. No young man has the right to come and take away a father’s daughter without his permission, and the godly young women will not want to leave her father’s home without his blessing.
When I first met Maria I didn’t realize this! The first time I expressed to Maria my hopes that our relationship could become more than just a friendship, her immediate response was that I would have to take that up with her father. Maria had come to accept her father’s authority as a blessing and part of God’s good design for ushering her into the best possible marriage situation. So, I got directions and soon made the trip to Statesville, NC to meet Mike Eudy, Maria’s father.
Role of the Father in Courtship
Fathers, you must step forward and be the father that that your children need you to be. They need your leadership, your wisdom, and your protection—whether they realize it or not. More specifically, your sons need you to teach them what it means to become a godly man. Though your wife will do her best, only another man can round out a boy into full and godly manhood. You must exhibit to your sons how to lead a family, what it means to love your wife, what it means to bear the burden of provision, what it means to shield the home from evil, and what it looks like to live a life devoted to Jesus Christ. God has appointed you as the right and best spiritual leader and discipler of your sons. You should pray for them constantly, not expecting someone else to take up this sacred duty for you.
Practice what you preach. May the godly zeal and righteous actions of your life inspire your children to run with you in the ways of the Lord (Psalm 119:32)! It is your personal love for the Lord that will lead the way in transforming the duty driven habits of childhood into the inspired passions of young adult Christian devotion. Be determined to grow in godly wisdom, so you will have answers to your children’s questions. Children need to regard their father as a source of wisdom to maintain the respect of fatherly leadership. If you seek wisdom, God will give it to you from His word. James 1:5 contains this promise, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given him.”
Ask your Heavenly Father to give you all you need to love, discipline, and lead your children, because even though you are ahead of them in age and position, in reality you are both struggling together against the sins which so easily entangle. Take note of their individual strengths and weaknesses, nurturing their strengths and helping them guard against their weaknesses. Be in charge of making them ready in each category of marriage preparedness, beginning even in early childhood. Fathers, God has called you to be fully engaged in raising your children.
Fathers, you must also shield your children from the evils of this world. God, as our Heavenly Father, often speaks of Himself as a shield to us. As Abraham sojourned in a foreign land, God used this very image of Himself to encourage Abraham to not be afraid (Genesis 15:1). Abraham need not fear because God was shielding him from those who sought his ruin. Fathers, you are dangerously naïve if you are unaware that there are evil people in this world seeking to destroy the minds and defile the bodies of your young children. It is your duty to use the strength and discernment that God has given you to shield your children from evil.
It is also the role of the father to shield his daughter(s) from any who would abuse them. The godly father will be observant and courageous enough to stand between his daughter and the sexual overtures of predatorial men. Sociologist David Popenoe, in his book Life Without Father, cites compelling evidence that the absence of a father in the home (either from divorce or abandonment) leads directly to an increase of sexual abuse. He writes:
In most single-parent family’s fathers are not around to provide the supervision and protection that children need to avoid sexually-molesting acquaintances and strangers. Protecting daughters from the sexual overtures of other men has long been a major role of fathers. Fathers are also very important in providing models for the kinds of nonsexual relationships with men that daughters need to develop if they are to avoid the ploys of sexual abusers.1
Dads, please take seriously your role to both nurture and protect. Guard the purity and virtue of your children.
Role of the Mother in Courtship
Both parents are shaping their children’s understanding of marriage long before the teen years. A mother at home with her young children is on the front lines of shaping the next generation. Though both parents play a vital role in the character formation of their children, in the early years the mother is far more hands-on. While dad is primarily in the workplace she is working through the daily issues of life and urging the character of her children toward godliness. The mother is teaching love, honesty, self-control, respect, and a thousand other things by her example, instruction, and correction. The godly mother will constantly bring Scripture to bear upon the lives of her children, pointing always to an Authority beyond herself.
The godly mother will recognize herself as the minister and evangelist that she is. It is by this wonderful home ministry that my wife had the privilege to lead all our boys to salvation. It is a great privilege to lead your child to faith in Christ. I am so glad that Maria was there, at home, ministering to our children as a faithful mother when the Lord chose to move in their hearts. As it so happens, my mother was also the one who led me to salvation! The mother who cares about the soul of her child will gladly take up the role of nurturer and pray for the Lord to bless her ministry by establishing her children in Christ from an early age. Never forget that salvation is the first step of walking in the ways of the Lord.
1David Popenoe, Life Without Father: Compelling New Evidence that Fatherhood and Marriage are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society (New York: Free Press, 1996), 66-67.
Though marriage may seem unthinkably far off when you are working on table manners and bedwetting, the foundational elements of godliness and gender differentiation develop very early on. Mothers, pray much for your children, shelter them from evil, and be patient with their formation. As you work with your small children think to the future. I’m not advocating that you press your children to grow up too quickly, but that your actions from early on have a forward looking perspective.
Mothers, you must model godly femininity for you daughters. This is something your husband cannot do. It is your responsibility, and it will be an uphill battle all the way. Almost every aspect of popular culture is against you. You must teach godliness and virtue in a secular world of moral chaos. You must instruct in modesty in a world that can’t even produce a tire commercial without feminine sex appeal. You must teach your daughter the aspects of true beauty. You must instill the value and skills of home industry in an age that all too often views such work as worthless because it does not have marketplace value. You must model for your daughter appropriate submission to a husband’s authority by living with godly respect for your husband—her dad. The mother who is successful in this will have accomplished a great task by God’s grace.
Similar to a father with his sons, a mother must intentionally focus on the six aspects of preparedness for marriage as her daughter(s) pass through the late teen transitional years. The goal should be for each daughter to meet the minimum requirements in each category by their early twenties so that they can marry when the opportunity arises. The later teen years should be an intentional time of transition where each daughter moves from being a part of your home to being able to manage and nurture her own home. The aspects of preparation must come into detailed focus. The general must become specific. A mother becomes a living example in soul and body. It is good here to remember Paul’s commendation (1 Corinthians 11:1), “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Your daughter(s) need your example. We live in an age where far too many mothers are trying to imitate the youthfulness (even adolescence!) of their daughters, rather than setting the example as they should. Lead by example, but also lead with joy. Maria often speaks of the good times that she shared, and still shares, being with her mom. As a girl these were fun times, but also times of instruction where discernment was formed.
Concerning the ability to manage a home, you are not doing your daughter any favors by doing everything for her while she is off enjoying friends, finishing schoolwork, or playing sports. In the same way that young men must learn marketable job skills in their late teens, so must teen girls bring into focus their skills of home management. Turn over aspects of meal planning and home management to your daughter. Let her run the show more often while you assist.
This will take time, communication, and intentional instruction on your part. Your goal should be for your daughter to not feel afraid or overwhelmed when she is faced with managing her own home. She should already know the ropes when that day comes, and she should know that she can call on you any time if she gets in a bind. Cultivate homemaking skills in your own life, so that you have something of value to teach the next generation. Become a student of your weaknesses and God will grant you speedy progress.
Concerning a positive view on motherhood, you carry much weight in shaping your daughter’s attitude toward future children. Mothers that constantly bemoan all their struggles and difficulties are like fathers that never stop complaining about their jobs. The problem with both is not so much their setting, but their attitude toward their life situation. The Bible instructs us to rejoice and give thanks in all occasions, which includes work at home and in the marketplace. Teach your daughter to embrace motherhood with hope in God for the future. Work to instill in your daughter the love, confidence, and skills that she will need to care for children when they come. Psalm 127:3 declares that children are a gift from the Lord, so teach your daughter to value what God values and to rejoice over what God rejoices!
Speaking with your Children about Sex
God’s design of marriage includes healthy sexuality. Sexuality is a basic and wonderful aspect of marriage and should not be overlooked or intentionally skirted by parents as they prepare their youths for marriage. This issue is extremely important in our day because of the sexually perverted and confused culture that we live in. Our youths must not have their understanding of sexuality shaped by pornography, sexually explicit movies, or humanistic sex education classes. Prudish silence on this issue will not help anyone and is a highly destructive sort of false piety. Parents must guard their children from corrupting influences while at the same time imparting a truthful and God-honoring understanding of sexuality.
Parents must courageously take the reins with their children and train them in bold fidelity. Parents should teach and model that their children not only abstain from the corrupted sexuality of the world but also desire to love their spouse deeply for a lifetime. From this perspective marriage is not understood as negatively binding, but positively freeing! Parents should begin to point out to their older youths how sexual sins bring about long-term pain and hardship. As divorce or illegitimate pregnancy may touch the family by association, the wise parent will not attempt to cover the issues, but explain to their teen what has happened, why, and the reality of long-term consequences. Help your sons and daughters learn from others, so they will not have to learn from their own consequences. On the other hand, also point out the actions of those who have been blessed because of their faithfulness and purity. Make sure to draw the connection between purity and future joyful blessing.
In summary, Christian parents should neither hide, nor overly dwell on, sexuality with their teenage children. The issue must be appropriately talked about in normal conversation. If approached rightly, the sexuality of marriage will be presented to the teenager as something to be desired, yet something sacred and to be protected. It will be established that sexuality must be strictly reserved for marriage and that children naturally result from the sexual relationship.
When I council with young couples before marriage I always ask them if they are prepared to be parents nine months from the wedding date. I usually get an immediate, “No!” I understand that no one is fully “ready” for their first child, but the response is usually related to a gap in thinking. Far too many young couples, almost by default, plan to use some form of birth-control for an undetermined number of years and have not seriously considered what they would do if that birth-control failed, and they were parents before the first year was out. No couple is ready to marry that is not also prepared in a basic way to be parents within the first year. God made sex to produce children. If a couple is not prepared to care for the designed result of sexuality, then they are not prepared to enter marriage. However, if they are prepared, then the fruit of marital love will be cause for great rejoicing.
The Role of a Father with his Daughter
Every father has a special place in the life of his daughter as a loving protector. Every young daughter should feel a deep sense of security from the loving protection of her father. A father’s protection of his daughter does have a real physical aspect as well as a spiritual / mental aspect. A godly father should serve as a guardian of his young daughter. He has responsibility before God for her spiritual growth, wellbeing, safety, and for helping find just the right husband to carry on his ministry of leadership and protection in her life. When a young woman enters marriage, she is moving from the loving authority of her father to the loving authority of her husband. This change of relationship is very different, but the elements of protection and leadership are similar. Any young man seeking more than friendship with a young woman must honor the young woman’s position under the authority of her father. The suitor should receive permission from the young girl’s father to pursue a deeper relationship. To pursue a relationship against the wishes of the girl’s father is to move forward in rebellion. God will not bless such a relationship, and no godly young woman will run after a young man that her father openly disapproves of.
Every wise father will share with his daughter his hopes that God will bring, in His time, a godly husband. When she is of age, let your daughter know you are praying for her future husband. Let her hear you pray about it. Fathers should not use their authority to oppress or overly shelter. Every good father should want to see his daughter meet a godly young man who will love, serve, cherish, and provide for her. Fathers must take this role seriously. The father must work to establish the nature of his loving authority, and his daughter’s duty to gain approval of all suitors early in her teen years. The father must have the resolve to turn away all suitors and flirts when his daughter is too young. When his daughter reaches an age appropriate to consider marriage, the father can begin to consider young men as they come.
As a daughter is faithful to point eager admirers to her father, the father should pray for wisdom and courage. Young men should be asked directly about their relationship with the Lord and should be able to give a clear confession of faith. Young men should be questioned as to their preparation for marriage, along the lines of the six elements of preparedness. A scrutinizing father must ask tough questions and expect careful answers. This is the only way to get behind the façade of pleasantries. I realize that early on the two young people have not made a choice to marry, but they are seeking to form a relationship to explore that end. If one or the other are not anywhere near prepared to marry, they should not be allowed to cultivate emotions that cannot be fulfilled.
If a young man is nearly prepared, he should be welcomed by the father, if his interest is also welcomed by his daughter. If the young man is partially prepared, then this presents an excellent opportunity for discipleship by the father. If the young man is willing, the father should work to disciple the young man in his area(s) of weakness. If a young man is simply not compatible, not of good character, or far from prepared to marry he should be turned away. This is an intimidating task! Many men are very uncomfortable asking other men personal questions, and sadly many Christian men have never discipled another man. However, let me say plainly, the future happiness and well-being of your daughter is at stake. God has placed you in the seat of authority and if you will exert a guiding hand it will bless your daughter’s future. Ask the tough questions, and deal with the answers as they come. Pray with your daughter. Pray with the young man. Ask your pastor for help in finding material appropriate for discipling the weaknesses of potential suitors. God will use you in this way to shape the next generation of your family.
It should also be said that no young man is perfect. Every young man will have faults and weaknesses of one kind or another. If you can’t find any faults you need to look more closely. You must discern which areas most need strengthening and what kind of red flags simply make the young man a bad match for your daughter. Let me mention some basic disqualifiers. A disqualifier means that until the young man resolves the problem you should not allow a courtship to form or progress. I believe that there are at least four basic disqualifiers:
First, if a young man has any form of addiction he is disqualified. This could be an addiction to tobacco, alcohol, drugs, pornography, or video games. Addiction is a basic indicator that a young man seriously lacks self-control. If a young man lacks self-control to this extent, he is not ready to marry.
Second, a young man with a rebellious spirit should be shown the door. Unfortunately, such rebellion will most likely be displayed in that such a young man will attempt to draw away your daughter regardless of your wishes, or behind your back. You may never see this young man. If your daughter starts sneaking out or going out at unexplainable and atypical times, you had better start doing your homework. You may need to find the guy yourself and tell him to back off.
Third, a young man with heavy consumer debt should be disqualified. Any young man who is undisciplined enough to run up consumer debt before marriage will be a disaster after marriage. As stated before, this young man should have to get to work and pay off his debts before entering marriage. One exception to this rule is certain types of student loan debt. Many parents are unaware of how many young people are saddled with serious student loan debt before entering marriage. If two young people enter marriage both with heavy student loan debt, they have the equivalent of a mortgage before they have even started life together. Wisdom and hard decisions need to be considered here.
The fourth basic disqualifier is a young man with no serious or realistic plans for the future. No matter how nice he may be, if a young man is working a dead-end job that could never support a family and is not soon to graduate with a marketable degree, you should force him to consider his future more seriously by telling him, “No.”
Fathers, if a young man comes knocking that has any of these issues you need to send him packing. All of these issues must be resolved before a young man is allowed to enter a courtship relationship with your daughter.
Parents must work together to move their children into maturity and a place of adequate preparation for marriage. Evaluate their progress truthfully, but with grace. Press your children onto maturity, but don’t expect too much too quickly—and never expect perfection. Consider always God’s grace toward your many failings, sins, and short-comings—even those that persist to this day. Understand that these standards and principles are necessary, but inexact. Each aspect of preparation will appear somewhat differently in each of your children because each of your children have different strengths and weaknesses. You must be the judge of whether the progress they have made is sufficient to carry them on into a healthy and God-honoring marriage. Ask God for wisdom, patience, and love. He will grant them by His Spirit.