Our son and daughter-in-law whom this post is based on are coming up to their first anniversary of marriage. And we were so thankful that we helped guide them through their dating and engagement years. Thought we would re-run this one as it is almost always pertinent to someone! 🙂
Yes, you read that title right! Our twenty-one year old engaged son (soon to be married–in four months!) NEEDS his parents.
(As a side note, ever since we have had sixteen, eighteen, and twenty year olds, we have believed that sixteen to twenty is actually the highest need time for our kids in terms of parental guidance and input….but that is another post for another day.)
There are key things that we can do to help Jonathan be a great boyfriend, awesome fiance–and soon, fantastic husband!
Jonathan and Maelynn have been engaged for six months, a couple for two and a half years, and best friends for two years prior to that. Jonathan is our third child to get married, so we have quite a bit of experience in the boyfriend/fiance department (as well as a mishap or two along the way–there is no perfect way to help our kids find their way in the romantic relationship/marriage department!).
We have been extremely active in Jonathan and Maelynn’s relationship from the beginning (as we have been for all three marrieds and another daughter in a serious relationship now). But not just Mom and Dad–the siblings kept their phones handy on the night that Jonathan was to propose–and texts, pictures, well-wishes, and love you’s were flying across cell phone lines throughout the night.
So here are five ways we can help our sons be good boyfriends/fiances–with this list making the assumption that said son is old enough to get married or consider getting married and the girl he is in a relationship with will likely become his wife in due time. (When to start relationships, lengths of relationships, serial dating, etc., are all topics for another post, again, on another day.)
1. Start with YOUR relationship with your son
In other words, don’t let him get himself into just any relationship. As Jonathan and Maelynn’s friendship grew, so did our time with Jonathan. There was a lot to do emotionally and spiritually, after all!
We were there from the beginning—helping him decide how to pursue the relationship, coaching him on how to talk with her dad, encouraging him to tell her his heart, and guiding him in the path that appeared to be unfolding before him.
By starting the relationship with our sons, we can help them during the initial stages–help them avoid heartache, see things that they cannot see, etc. Obviously, this “starting the relationship with him” takes a lot of pre-relationship heart work. We had to have such a strong relationship with Jonathan (and Joshua, age thirty-one, ten years ago) that he WANTED us to be a part of what was going on–that he sought out our counsel, encouragement, wise words, vision, etc. (See TEENS posts at Raising Kids With Character!)
2. Be available for both of them
When Jonathan and Maelynn became a couple (and had both parents’ blessings to pursue each other), one of the first things that we did was take them to dinner and tell them flat out that we were available. I believe my husband’s words were something like “We are super excited about your relationship and really pray that it works out wonderfully. We want you to know that we are always available for you. That we will be here to cheer you, to support you, to encourage you, to help you. That we are always here.”
Then we followed up–texts to both of them help us keep a pulse on the relationship. Time with just the four of us when they are home from college gives us further glimpses into the hearts of these amazing young people. Long phone calls about wedding plans (okay, and yes, spread sheets that I make in Excel to help them stay on track with wedding preps!) continue to let them know that these parents aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
3. Check on the girl’s heart through your son
Boys are not naturally sensitive, intuitive beings (okay, I’ll say it–men are not naturally this way either). Jonathan has unusual kindness, sensitivity, intuitiveness, and compassion–but even he overlooks things in their relationship at times.
We constantly check with Jonathan on Maelynn’s heart: “How do you think Maelynn feels about that?” “Did Maelynn say that is what she wants too?” “Is Maelynn still struggling with this or that? If so, how are you helping her?” “How have you deferred to Maelynn lately?” “Are you putting her first after the Lord–and does she know it?”
Without Jonathan even realizing it, we are helping him learn to be the type of husband that Maelynn will want in the future. We are actually “parenting”–but without curfews, punishments, or constant lessons. These “heart checks” continually give Jonathan the tools he needs to grow as a fiance’.
With these “Maelynn heart checks” also come encouragement and affirmation for Jonathan when he is being a great fiance. During a recent phone conversation I had with Jonathan, he said that he had asked Maelynn specifically what she wanted to do on the four year anniversary of her mother’s death–and then he told me that they had taken the afternoon off from school and walked on Lake Michigan (near their campus), talked about her mom and anything Maelynn wanted to talk about, then read together from “Five Love Languages” (not sure where he ever got such a notion!! ; 0 ). That evening they watched a movie and relaxed. He had discovered what his girl needed on this difficult day and set out to make it happen.
I gushed, “Oh Jonathan. You are such an amazing fiance. You seek out Maelynn’s needs and then try to meet them. That was so special. I am so proud of you for your sensitivity and care for her.” See—teaching, training, encouraging, and affirming–all because of availability and asking the right questions.
4. Check on the couple’s physical relationship often
My husband is the type of father who loves to ask questions. He feels that the kids can learn more through their answers to our questions than they would if we just gave them the answer or told them how we wanted things.
The same is true in the area of romance. When our kids begin a relationship, he asks them what their physical plans are, point blank. “Do you see yourselves holding hands or hugging?” “How about arms around each other or leaning on each other while watching a movie?” “Do you plan to kiss during the courtship period, engagement period, or not at all (before marriage) on the lips?”
Then he listens. Then he gives them input. (“You guys have a long three years ahead of you in this relationship. I agree that kissing should be reserved for the engagement period.”) He can confirm, add to, give advice, etc., because he asked them first. And then, guess what? They ask him what he thinks! (Sneaky, huh???)
Ray asks them how they are going to stay true to their commitments in this area first (again). We help them design safeguards for their physical relationship–no kissing in the car, no being alone at one of your homes, etc.
Once the parameters have been set in the physical relationship (by the couple, with our input), we can help them stay true to their physical commitments. Ray has asked our sons who have been in relationships exactly how things are going on a regular basis.
We are helping our son be a good boyfriend (then fiance–and eventually husband) when we walk through appropriate physical contact with them from the beginning–and check on them often. Our future daughter-in-law deserves a husband who keeps his word and loves her enough to honor their pre-marital intimacy decisions.
5. Encourage your son to have fun and make things special
Ray and I are hopeless romantics! We ballroom dance nearly every weekend because with each song “there is a three minute period in which nobody needs anything and the only people in the world are the two of us.” (Told you we were hopeless!)
And we encourage our kids in relationships to be romantic, spontaneous, fun, and surprise-filled. When Jonathan and Maelynn first started dating two and a half years ago, Ray told them to make a list of all the fun things they wanted to do together during their summer school break (after work, of course!). He told them to check it every week and be sure to do something fun each week.
Before they got engaged six months ago, the entire family called Jonathan one-by-one to offer advice on the perfect engagement night. It was loads of fun–and encouraged Jonathan to not just get engaged but to really GET ENGAGED! 😉
A couple of days before the big night, when Jonathan was heading out to go back to college, my husband slid him a fifty dollar bill and told him to “go ahead and take her to The Melting Pot. You want this night to be as special as it can be.” Yes, I had to go two weeks without a dinner date with my husband–but it was worth it to us to help Jonathan afford a super special engagement night. Encourage romance in your son–this really makes a girlfriend/fiance happy!
We even tell the boys that it is Scriptural to have fun and “cheer” your wife: “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business; but he shall be free at home one years, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken” (Deuteronomy 24:5). I know, I know…taking a verse out of context, but doesn’t that verse say something about how God views a marriage relationship and the husband’s role to make the wife happy????
Occasionally, we just ask Jonathan, “Other than studying together for twelve hours on Saturday, what special thing did you do with Maelynn this weekend?” It can be as simple as walking downtown Chicago, playing in the game room at the college, or renting a movie for the two of them–but we don’t want him to skip special things even in the midst of busy-ness (and two very serious, studious college kids!).
Additionally, we like to have fun with the sweet couple. It isn’t uncommon at all for Jonathan to get a text from me giving him a potential schedule for when he is coming home to see if he and Maelynn can join us for pizza night, game night, park day, or a movie out. Being in these settings with the two of them helps us see how their relationship is going and what we can recommend to Jonathan to be a better boyfriend/fiance.
Fun family times with the couple also give us chances to listen to Maelynn when she talks and point out little things that Jonathan might miss. (It isn’t uncommon at all to hear my husband talking to one of the marrieds or dating kids on the phone and say, “I heard ____ say this the other night. What do you think he/she is feeling?” OR “When ____ said this, I didn’t feel like you were really listening.”) In addition to potentially helping a current situation, we are also helping to train our son or daughter’s ears for really listening to the other person.
Trust me, you WANT your son to be a good boyfriend/fiance to the woman he is going to marry because it lays the groundwork for his marriage relationship. This is the perfect opportunity for us to help our son hone the relationship skills (empathy, kindness, generosity, compassion, selflessness, love, deference, etc.) that he has been learning at home for the past eighteen or twenty years. Our training years are not over just because our son is in a serious relationship. He still needs us–and his girlfriend/fiance will be overjoyed that we helped him become a better boyfriend/fiance!
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