Preparing Your Children for Marriage
Barbara H. Cross

An address given to the women at Cambridge Presbyterian Church 10 December 1998

Principles, Experiences and Observations

Marriage is the most important of human relationships.

Genesis 2:23 and 24, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."

The image is used of the married couple being "one flesh". This does not speak only of the sexual relationship, but teaches what is to be true of their whole relationship.

There is a danger, even in evangelical Christian circles, that we lose sight of this principle. Because of the wrong treatment of children in the world, it is easy to over-react and make the children in the family the primary focus of our lives. It is especially easy as a mother to do this. This can lead to the weakening, or even the breakdown, of the marriage relationship. The greatest gift we can give a child is to have a strong marriage relationship.

When the child knows that Daddy loves Mummy and Mummy loves Daddy with their whole hearts, it will give the child the stability and the security he/she so desperately needs.

"From hundreds of counselling sessions with students and parents. I have come to the firm conclusion that the most important thing in parenting is how parents treat each other. It's not primarily, how you treat your children. The most important thing men can do for their children is not to give them a new car, or a new expensive house or a college education. The most influential thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. One of the best things mothers can do for their children is to get close to their father." (Rev. Prof. James Hatch, Teacher of Bible and Family Life courses at Columbia International University, Columbia, South Carolina)

Your relationship to your mate is the primary teaching example of marriage to your children.

It is no wonder that many young people today do not want to get married and do not want to make a commitment. They have not seen a good example in the home and are "scared off" marriage by what they have observed.

Our daughter once dated a fellow whose mother had been married three times. Every time their relationship seemed to be getting close, he backed off. He was simply unable to make any real commitment to a girl. The child's relationship to the parent of the opposite sex greatly determines much of their relationship to their future mate.

Even if that relationship has been a bad one, young people will often seek out someone who has been like that parent of the opposite sex. That is why girls will often marry fellows who abuse them just as their father did. It is why fellows will often marry domineering women just as their mothers were. If we want our child of the opposite sex to seek the right kind of mate, we must set the right example for them as that opposite-sex parent.

Training your child for marriage begins from the time they are born.

Given the importance of example, a child's training for marriage begins at birth, but even their "formal" training should begin early. We do not wait to train our children for marriage when they are considering marriage with someone. We do not begin to train our children for marriage even when they are at the are of beginning to become interested in the opposite sex. We begin in their very earliest years.

I heard of a boy, whose mother would teach or correct him with the admonition, "I want you to do this for Betty." After some time the boy finally asked his mother, "Who is Betty?" He was told that "Betty" was the name his mother used for the girl he would marry one day, and she wanted him to learn this good behaviour so that he would be a better husband for "Betty".

How do we teach these things?

We begin by teaching them biblical precepts. We teach them common rules of courtesy and kindness. We teach them by expecting right behaviour in the home to the other members of the family. (Politeness, not bickering, is expected).

We teach them by pointing out life illustrations from things that are happening around us both positive and negative illustrations in other marriages that they can observe.

We teach through repeated sayings that stick in the child's mind. Example - David's father saying often, "Never date a girl you couldn't marry." The context of that statement was the biblical standard of marrying only a believer.

Primarily we teach them, as was stated before, by setting an example to them in our own actions in our marriage. When a child is young, God works in that child's life by working through the parent's authority over the child. In turn, this also means that the parent is directly responsible to God for that child.

It is important that the child understand that what you demand of them is not because you are bigger, or smarter, or older than he is but that you are answerable to God for what you require him to do. This is an awesome thought to a child and helps him to see that you are not some "bully" demanding your way with him.

Though I, as a parent, am initially fully responsible for that child and have full authority over him/her, I must realise that my aim is to gradually transfer that child to be fully under the direct authority of God and answerable to him.

It is very important to teach the child that, as they grow older, they are more and more answerable to God for what they do and what they believe. If they grow up thinking that they only have to answer to their parents they will not see the idea of rebellion as being the awful thing that it is. They must see that in choosing right or wrong, they are becoming more and more responsibility for their actions, and they are more and more answerable to God for their choices.

Boy-Girl Relationships

The principle that in growing up the children take on more responsibility for their actions and are more and more answerable to God applies in "dating and courtship." All ideas of "having a boyfriend" or "having a girlfriend" should be discouraged in the younger years when they are not ready or needful of such relationships.

This means that we positively encourage them to think of all other children as their "friends" without regard to their sex. We should avoid teasing them at a young age about having boyfriends and girl friends and should discourage others doing it as well. At the age when they begin to think of those of the opposite sex there should be well thought out progressive stages for them to interact with each other.

This means that there should be well-planned and well-chaperoned suitable situations provided by the church, the home and the school. It will mean that parents work to provide these opportunities or, if others provide them, they are certain that they are in harmony with Christian principles.

With our own girls, we established a stage by stage development of the context in which they could be with boys. At one age, they could invite a boy to do something with our family. At a later stage, they could be with a boy in a group setting at school or church. Another year later they could go with an approved fellow to an appropriate activity. These stages were explained before there was any particular boy in the picture. There should be an emphasis on group activity rather than "pairing off" until the young people are of an age to seriously be considering a mate.

Parents will need to set definite limits concerning the places their children may go, with whom they go and the hours they are with them. The guidelines that you are going to require for your children as they interact with the opposite sex must be taught to them before they reach the age of being with those of the opposite sex.

If parents spring restrictions on children after they have met someone with whom they want to spend time together, it is easy for the child to feel that the parents are "picking on" the one they have met. Principles should be set in place before they apply to a particular person or situation.

Home must be a place where they not only receive the discipline that they need, but they must receive the affection and affirmation and the attention that they need.

Affection - All human beings are born with a need for physical affection. The primary place that provides this during the growing up years is in the home. Girls especially, if they do not have the right kind of physical affection from the parents at home, will seek it elsewhere.

Affirmation - While we shy away from the wrong emphasis on "self-esteem" above all else, there is a lesson to be learned from this popular teaching. Each person needs to feel that he has value as a person. It is important that we let our children know that, not only are they "loved", but also they are "liked" as people. While we must point out their wrong doings, we must be just as careful to point out their worthy accomplishments or efforts. Again, if this need is not met at home they will seek to find it elsewhere, often through wrong means.

Attention - Sometimes the only way a child gets their parent's full attention is when they are naughty, and so they will be naughty just to get that attention. Connected to a child's need to feel worthwhile, is the need to have that worth reinforced by his parents giving him the proper amount and right kind of attention. We need to truly listen to them, or they will turn to those who do.

Sex Education

We go back to our first statement: It is important that the children see that the parents loved each other.

This means that we display before them "appropriate physical affection" so that they see that physical closeness is one of the joys of married life and will see marriage as the place where that need is properly met.

We should provide the amount of information that is needed at their particular age and maturity level.

When asked questions dealing with sexual matters, do not explain more than the child may need, or even want, to know. (Gently ask the child why he asked a particular question so that you can judge how much he needs to know). In not giving too much information, we need to be careful that we give enough. In some situations children need to know more than others because of the environment, they are in. Girls need to be told ahead of time about menstruation and boys about "wet dreams" so that they are not terrified when it occurs.

Make it clear from the time they begin learning about sexual matters that it is not a "dirty subject" and that they are free to come to you without fear of being rejected with their questions and concerns. Teach them that sex, in its proper place, is a gift from God for the good of His children.

One of the best ways to give your child a biblical sex education is to use some of the excellent graded material that has been produced by Christian publishers and organisations.

Reading well thought out information together from a book is a more comfortable situation for both the child and the parent. From this material questions can be raised, discussed and answered.

Final Thoughts

In dealing with children of all ages, keep rules to a minimum, but consistently enforce the rules that you have given them. Do not quarrel with small things that are of no real moral consequence and are just part of growing up.

One of our daughters wanted to let her hair grow down into her eyes for a time. Another time she wanted to wear a little knitted collar she had made all the time. They were not the hairstyle or accessory we would have chosen, but since they were not immoral, we allowed her to continue with her preference.

Some years ago I was with my Mother-in-law in a group of ladies who were discussing rearing children. Hearing that she had eleven children, all of them active Christians, they asked her for her secret. Her comment makes an important point. She said, "I just did the best I could." In dealing with children, our dependence should not be on some system or set of rules, but on the grace of God. Nevertheless, we should do the best we can.