CHRISTIAN PARENTS: WHAT DO YOU TEACH YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT MARRIAGE?

Do you...
  • ...encourage your children to wait until they've obtained a certain level of education before they consider marriage?
  • ...deride or belittle young couples who marry at (what is now considered) a young age?
  • ...tell your children they shouldn't get married until they're "financially ready"? (whatever that means!)
  • ...praise people who wait until they are older to marry? (for reasons like achievements, career, or educational attainments)

If so, I'd ask you to reconsider what you are teaching your children.

I believe we do our children HARM when we give them contradictory messages about purity and our expectations for their young adult lives. For example, many parents expect their children to wait until they are married to have sex, but then ask (and encourage) them to walk through their young lives unmarried, beginning in puberty through high school (which is hard enough!), but then continuing straight on through college, and into grad school, with the goals of financial freedom and career success being placed above marriage.

Let me say, as I've had people suggest otherwise, that I too want to have confidence in my children (and in the things that we've poured into them) and will entrust them fully to the Lord. However, I do not want to put pressure on them or place unnecessary expectations that will ultimately lead to impurity, simply because they were made to feel that they were too young to marry, or that I expect them to "get through" certain hoops before marriage is prudent (in whatever terms I've decreed).

I believe we Christians have taken on the world's priorities in this area, and our children and their marriages will suffer if we do not look at God's perspective on marriage and family and adjust our views accordingly. These institutions (and not financial stability or educational achievement) were given to us by God as primary means of our sanctification and growth. We do wrong when we give our children priorities that line up more with those of the world than those of the Bible.

Here's an article I'd recommend for further consideration: A Peculiar People: Sex & the Young Christian


Let us not place unnecessary yokes on our children's necks that even we ourselves would not be able to live up to. So many men and women of recent generations (which married around 20-25 years old) did not make it to their wedding beds pure. In a generation that is DAILY surrounded by messages that scream out that sex is "no big deal", we are foolish to believe that we can encourage our children to postpone marriage until they reach their late 20's or early 30's or beyond and then also expect that they will (by and large) make it to their wedding beds unscathed by the lust of their flesh.


Just something I've had on my mind... hope it gives you food for thought as well! As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

25 comments:

Tracy said...

We did marry young. I was 18, hubby was 21. We want the same for our children, and talk about it alot. Actually, my oldest daughter is almost 15, and my husband thinks she should go to church camp(in our denomination) next summer when she will be alomst 16. We live in a small area, go to a small church(10 families), and she is homeschooled. He wants her to be able to meet someone to whom she could be equally yoked.

Not that she would be ready to marry at 16! BTW, we know that people that run the camp, and he would spend the week there as well, chaperoning!

TwoMuths said...

Hi, I just recently found your blog and this topic prodded me out of the shadows. As a new mom, I can't say that I've had much experience counseling my own child about when and what marriage will be about for him. But I do hope to teach him that marriage is so much more than sex and so much bigger than financial stability. I hope to teach him that obedience to God is the best thing - and purity IS something clearly discussed in Scripture. I hope I can be honest about the struggle for purity - and tell him that at times it is agonizing, but well worth the wait. (And which one of us has not drawn from lessons learned in waiting on God's timing?)

Each child is so different with unique strengths and weaknesses. God has a unique plan for each of these kids. We as parents must not forget that He is able to give the grace to sustain us in whatever He calls us to do - whether that be a 5 year courtship/engagement or a 6 month one, and whether He brings a future spouse at 18 or 37. God is Faithful!

Indeed, we are foolish to think that WE can encourage and expect patience and purity from our kids. None of us can live pure apart from God's grace.

Brenda said...

Whew! I've not thought about this with regard to me being the parent b/c my little ones are, well, little. But yes, we were made to wait until after college graduation to marry and let me tell you, we were ready long before that AND I have no doubt we would have been fine if we had married younger. You ARE right!!! This is another area where Christians (not all) have taken on the world's attittude. And yes, there is criticism for couples marrying "young". I'm going to have to think on this one...

Jess said...

twomuths,
I think you and I agree more than you your comment might imply.

The problem I am trying to address here, however, is one that I saw all too frequently among my peers at a Christian university: the situation where parents prod, encourage, or otherwise put pressure on their children NOT to marry until all of their educational goals are achieved.

One girl's father offered her a brand new car if she would graduate college without being married. Of course, she did. And now, at nearly 35, she's still unmarried. I am not saying that it is never God's will for someone to wait- I'm just saying that we as parents ought not be an obstacle to our kids' openness towards marriage.

Hope this helps to clarify my thoughts!
Jess

Anna S said...

While marrying young doesn't always work out for everyone, I think intentionally delaying marriage is, at best, imprudent.

And consider that today, young people are *encouraged* to spend years and years flipping from out dating 'relationship' to another. How foolish! From 16 to 26, it's about 10 years of switching dating partners. How can it gear a person towards marriage?!

Terry said...

Another great post! Lots of wisdom here, and in your response to one of the comments.

*~Tamara~* said...

It's interesting that you posted this now because it's been on my mind a lot recently. Someone whom I love dearly is in this situation and I hate to see the pain it causes. If she accomplishes all that her mother wants her to accomplish, she'll be at least 30 years old before she gets married. In the meantime, she is going home after spending time with the love of her life, lonely and in tears.

I think this is just another symptom of a pervasive problem in American Christianity. We want to be typical Americans who happen to be Christians. We want to do everything like the world does, and expect a different (Christian) result. The fact is we have got to be Christians first. We can't do things the world's way and try to squeeze Christian principles in as an afterthought. The world tells their children they must get the degree/payoff student loans/buy a house/build their credit/establish a career, etc, before they get married. We tell them the same thing, "Oh, and don't have sex during all this time too."

So what we have is more and more people waiting later and later to get married, and in the meantime, falling into sin because we are created to be sexual and our desire for intimate relationship is very strong.

This is such a mixed message to send young people. I sit by and watch as these two young people I know continually injure themselves on a daily basis when they have to say goodbye. Their love is real, their commitment is real. Why do they have to hurt everyday of their lives until some red-letter event?

Marriage needs to be encouraged by the Christian church, and strongly supported throughout the years. One argument I see regularly in the "marrying too young" discussion is that the younger you marry, the more likely you are to divorce. Again, we have to throw away the world's approach to relationships and fully embrace a culture of Christianity, not just wear the name. If someone wishes to embrace the Christian mindset of early marriage, they must also embrace the mindset that it is for a lifetime. Not just say it, mean it. Everyone gets up in front of the pastor and says "forever and ever" but in the back of their minds, in American culture at least, is "but I have an out if I ever want one." Christians need to rid themselves of this sinful notion and embrace ALL that God calls us to, not just the "fun stuff" like getting married and therefore it being permissible to have sex, and the church needs to rise up in support of them. The church today tends to be a place the Christians go once a week to be Christians, when in truth we're to be a people set apart and called out from among the world every moment of our lives.

I guess this long-winded diatribe, if it were parsed down to one sentence would be, This is yet one more symptom of an ever-growing illness.

We are either Christians, a group of banded-together believers who are called out to be separate, who's calling affects every aspect of our lives and relationships, and whose purpose is far greater than what the world can conceive, or we are just people trying to "act Christian" in an increasingly evil world, in hopes of benefiting both presently by immersing ourselves in secular culture, and eternally, by dabbling in the Christian one.

TwoMuths said...

Jess,
Thanks, it does! I guess I just haven't had the same experience - many of my friends were married while attending college, with full blessing from their parents. I appreciate you taking the time to clarify - it is so important to allow God to lead our children, and pray with them for His leading in this area especially. Thanks again!

Jenny

Anonymous said...

Tamara, I see where you are coming from, but divorce rates are actually higher in "Bible belt" states with higher church attendance and higher proportions of evangelicals in the population.

I don't think anyone has the whole answer about why this is, but statistics do show a strong correlation between very young age at marriage and later divorce.

Maybe the churches are not doing the work, but I think it's more likely that young people are getting married before they are mature enough to make that kind of decision for life.

Neurological development continues up to age 21 or 22, which is why many people consider the college years to be "late adolescence" rather than adulthood.

Artificial milestones of education and career have little to do with the emotional maturity needed to go the distance in a marriage.

Laurie B

Jennie Chancey said...

Another excellent post! I had not seen this article and will have to link to it. I married at 24 and considered that "old" at the time; I can't imagine putting it off until age 30. My sister married at 18 (her husband was barely 20), and they have been happy as clams and have done very, very well (especially considering they started with "nothing," going against the advice of the financial stability crowd). All of us (brother, sister, and I) remained pure until marriage, and I think it's not just because our parents taught us the "don'ts." They showed us the full-orbed beauty of a godly marriage, and we didn't want anything less. We were all willing to wait, though our parents encouraged all of us to marry young if at all possible.

I agree so much with what Tamara posted about modern American Christianity. We are called to be peculiar people, set apart from the pagan practices of a God-hating culture. Early Christians did it and changed the world. Why can't we?

Jeannine said...

I definately agree. I just got married at 31 and can say that is is really not easy going through university etc. unmarried. Although, here in Europe it is even more commom than in the US, I think. Most of my friends from my church were married by 25-27, but most of my friends from university are still unmarried, even though they might have been dating for up to 10 years...

dcrmom said...

I've thought about this recently when a friend told me her 20 year old son is getting married. I was kind of shocked and made a comment to husband, and he remarked that that's exactly what a 20-year-old red-blooded male SHOULD be doing at age 20. As I thought more about it, I realized that we are really setting ourselves up for failure by waiting so late to marry nowadays. Anyway, good point.

Jess said...

Laurie,
One reason divorce rates are higher in conservative states are because people are actually getting married in those places. They don't feel as free to "shack up" and then move on a year or two later.

Another reason, I'm convinced, that divorce rates are rising is because couples are giving the *lousy* advice to wait 5-6 years (or sometimes more) and "establish themselves" before having kids. What hogwash! Having kids makes you less selfish, more responsible, and grows you more than virtually any other task in life. Selfishness and a focus on "MY" self and "MY needs" are why most marriages break up... a la comments like these:

"He didn't meet my needs."
"I'm just not in love with her anymore."
"We just drifted apart."


What is most likely is that people are not taking to heart the lifelong commitment that marriage really is. They look at sitcoms and movies and only see the fun, sexy parts of marriage and when they're saying their vows, they don't even think twice about the "for worse, for poorer, for sickness" parts of the vows. (If those parts are even included, in this age of writing your own vows...)

Additionally, the shifting rules of society have placed crazy pressure on both marriage partners. Men aren't encouraged and allowed to be men and women aren't encouraged and allowed to be women. Men don't see their role as comforting, supporting, providing for, and protecting their new bride. Women don't see their role as helping, supporting, encouraging, and meeting the needs of their new husband. Instead, the man looks at the woman when she mentions that she might like to have a baby soon, and thinks, "are you kidding me? We need your income. I'm not ready to do anything besides focus on myself." He finds himself thinking "who is this woman? Just last year when we got married she said she wanted to wait a few years." The truth is, there is a God-given desire for children that is not honored.

And then when the woman hears tones or words like these, she finds herself disrespecting her husband- "are you not MAN enough to provide for us? you don't WANT a child? WHO are you anyway? I thought you loved me and wanted to share your life with me!"

When the rules of the game change, and the roles of society change, no one knows how to play anymore. And that's what's happening here, by and large.

And because we live such disconnected, individualistic lives, when a couple finds their marriage disintegrating, the community around them finds themselves feeling that they "don't have the right" to speak into that couple's life and help them through their rough spot. It used to be that if a couple was really having a rough go of it, the brother and sister-in-law would come, pick up the kids, and give the couple some much-needed time alone. Or the pastor would come and remind them of their vows (as he was the one who performed their marriage). These days, too many couples live far away from their families, and the pastor who married them has either left the church where they were married, or they have left the community where they were married.

And no one feels the "right" to speak up for marriage. It's sad to me.

HOWEVER, while acknowledging all of those things, I would still advocate for my children to marry young and marry as soon as they find a suitable partner- to not go on a lifelong quest for some elusive perfect woman or man, but to settle down with someone they can respect, love, care for, and serve with delight.

Just because some people do it wrong doesn't mean it can't be done right. Just because some people fail doesn't mean others can't succeed.

General statistics and overarching themes don't have to apply to our family. Clearly, by living overseas and homeschooling, we've already put ourselves in such a different demographic that I'm just not altogether concerned with "statistics" that show any particular thing about how the world at large does things.

Jess

Rachel said...

Thanks for your encouraging post and for standing firm on your beliefs.

My husband and I got married last December, I was 20 and he 21. I don't feel that we're "all grown up" and "fully established"...we will always need our family's and church's support, as we did our entire courtship and engagement.

I think sometimes when young adults are encouraged to graduate/be completely independent before marriage, they can fall into believing that they don't need other Covenantal relationships (parents, church family, accountability partners). Then the young adult feels like an island; self-sufficient and independent, and that is the very worst step he could take.

Kris said...

My husband and I were 16 and 18 when we got married; we were "forced" into maturity rather abruptly because we DIDN'T wait for marriage. What we were told over and over again was that we'd never make it; we didn't have the maturity it took to sustain a family and marriage.

We'll celebrate our 18th anniversary next month.

What we've taught our children (even though they have also succomed to the world's temptations) is that they are "ready" for marriage when they are blessed with God's best choice for a life-mate and they can physically provide the stability a family needs--whether that be (for our son) working a full-time job or (for our daughters) being willing to devote their time and energy to family life instead of selfish, childish pursuits. I'd never expect them to wait till they're 25 or 30 *just* to reach that typical age of accepted maturity--we've taught them to wait on GOD. Unfortunately, though, temptation was too much for them.

Excellent post and a wonderful, thought-provoking article I'll have to pore over more.

Kim said...

Amen, sister!

While I can't presume to say what God would or would not have done with my life, and obviously I am meant to be single, as I still am, I will say this:

I was in a serious relationship from ages 16-18. It was full of sexual tension, etc., etc., and it was a very difficult relationship. In part, this was because we were "in love!" (enter swoony voice here) and we knew we were BOTH expected to wait until we finished college to get married. That was six or so years!! I believe, on some level, that if we were encouraged to do what God led us to do and were not expected to wait so long, that we could have held out a LOT better and perhaps would be married today. It's okay - he's fallen away from the Lord, and it's obvious that we weren't meant to be, if you will. But in hypothetical, it might have been different.

That said - sometimes it hurts, as an "older" single, to hear of 20 year olds getting married. But it helps to read here and read His Word and know that they are setting themselves up for success!

Jennifer W said...

My husband and I were married at 18. We just celebrated our 12th anniversary. We have been blessed with four handsome boys. Neither of us came from conservative families. My husband was brought up Catholic and my family didn't attend church. We have grown in our Christian walk side by side. We still have far to go, but God has placed mentors in our throughout our marriage showing us something we had never seen before. So year by year we continue to grow. I'm so very thankful that God was watching out for us.

Allison said...

I am a 19-year-old newlywed. When my husband and I first met, the thought of considering marriage at a young age was a rather one daunting one, but I have come to see that it's God's grace that must sustain our marriage, and not my "qualifications."

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! And so very true. I think it's crazy to expect young people to wait for so long...no wonder they fail! The stress is exhausting, the pressure is depressing...and it stems from an adoption of the world's philosophies. Where in the Bible does it say that people should wait until both the man and woman have completed college and become entrenched in a career? Nowhere. It's a shame that the church has gotten so close to the world that we are virtually indistinguishable and that, when a few Christians DO decide to buck the trend, we have to take flak from our fellow believers!

Tomorrow my hubby and I will celebrate our 4th anniversary. We married young - I was 19 and he was 23. Today we have 2 beautiful little ones, and our love and committment is deeper by far than it was even on our wedding day. The reason? Our parents not only modeled excellent marriages for us, but they also made sure we were mature enough to handle it. I think that's why it seems like so many couples who marry young end up divorcing: they come from broken homes anyways, and their parents failed to make sure they were mature enough. If we as Christians are sure to do those 2 things for our kids, it will go a long way towards making sure their marriages will be strong and lasting.

Valerie from Ontario

Jennifer said...

Hello. My name is Jennifer and I found your site through LAF. My husband and I married when we were 21 and 20, respectfully, and we have been blessed with 7.5 beautiful years and 4 (almost 5!) equally beautiful children.

All of the reasons stated for why divorce is so common in our society, esp. w/in the church, are true. But I believe one things is missing: the church doesn't teach what the Bible teaches on divorce. I know, it is a touchy subject and most don't want to start a fight. But the truth is, God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16a). And Jesus says that anyone who marries a divorced woman/man, commits adultery with her/him (I must be honest, this is something I struggle with myself. My parents are divorced and both remarried, and I struggle with reconciling what I'm reading, and what I'm feeling). Now, I know things happen and in some situation, divorce is necessary. But in most cases, neither person was taught about the life-long commitment marriage is and that is not the counseling they will get.

Marriage is a union sanctified by God, not man. God says that when a man and woman marry, they no longer are two flesh, but one. Obviously, not literally. My hand did not magically grow onto my husband. But in Gods' sight, we are one flesh. Just like you can't put your hand back on without scaring, you can not separate a husband and wife (one flesh) without scaring. And some silly bit of paper from some court doesn't change anything in Gods' sight.

Yes, divorce has always been around. But it has not always been "popular". And to say that marrying young is the culprit in the divorce rate is foolish. My parents were very disappointed with me when I told them I was getting married. They wanted me to wait and get through college. But I knew that was not the right decision for me (nor a healthy one to my beliefs!).

I apologize if I stepped on anyone's toes about the divorce thing. It's just that I think we have hushed the problem long enough and the truth needs to be spoken.

Jennifer D

Jennifer said...

Great post! I agree and was blessed when I married at the age of 17 and my hubby was 23. I am now 27 and we are celebrating our 10th anniversary this October. I was also blessed to have a mother who supported my decision and agreed with being married young. I am so thankful to God that my mom supported us versus doing what everyone else said. They all thought she was horriable for letting her daughter marry at 17. But that truely has been the best day of my life.

Brenna Prosser said...

What a wonderful post! When I married, I was 21 and my husband was 22. So many people in our lives criticized us. Last year, I filed for divorce, saying "I just don't love him anymore."
The week before it was to be final (Valentines Day this year) God really grabbed my attention and helped me realize divorce was not the solution. Dh and I called off the divorce. Our families were furious with us, and thought by stopping the divorce we were making a tremendous mistake.
This Thursday we celebrate 5 years of marriage. Our relationship has never been better! Our kids were so traumatized by the near-divorce. They are only now recovering and realizing that Mommy and Daddy are in this for life. Dh and I both come from broken homes, but we will be not only teaching but modeling a great marriage to our children.
Marriage doesn't mean giving up on the other person when times get tough. Its standing side to side throughout life's trials. Without my hubby, I don't know how I would've gotten through some of the things we have. God truly blessed us with each other!
Just wanted to add that I wasn't saved when dh and I met or married. I only came to Christ last year. God has been working on dh's heart and I can see he's close to salvation. This never would've happened had we split.
Thank the Lord for unanswered prayers! :-)

Liz said...

My husband and I are approaching our third anniversary. I will be 20 and my husband is 21. I can't imagine having waited any longer. We started courting when I was 15. Even people that don't really know us tell us that we look happier than any older couple they know. We also are doing much "better" financially than my two married brother-in-laws. Not because we are smarter or better educated, we aren't. But we "grew up". We aren't trying to "stay young" and "have fun" like others our age. We have fun with our two children and our nephews that we take care of while their mothers try to find their fulfillment in the workforce.

Marsena said...

I was 24 and my husband was 28 when we got married. We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary this year (June 15) and are the parents of a soon-to-be-5-month-old son. I can't imagine waiting until age 30 unless the Lord gave me the strength to do so.

I think that more young adults would be ready for marriage if they were raised with that mindset in the first place. The reason our grandparents' generation succeeded in starting married life early was because they were raised to take on responsibility at early ages. They were supporting families (working and giving their parents money) at ages 13 and over! Today I hear parents worrying when their 18-and-over sons want to move out and go find a job out of state, wondering if they are "ready". Are you kidding me? When will they ever be ready, at 40? My husband and I will rejoice when our son fully takes up his mantle of manhood! That's how it should be!

There's a reason the Bible says that it's better to marry than to burn! Jess' post has given me a lot to think about...

Cindy said...

this post certainly hits home for me...my daughter was with her bf for 6 years before they married. They met at 15. They were going to wait until he was out of college (many years as he is studying to become a lawyer) BUT after attending several weddings of friends, it just didn't seem such a good idea anymore. they married last year, his 3rd year in college. It has not been easy as my daughter has had to work while he finishes school. He really is still living the college life as she has definitely had to life the 'adult' life. But I know this was the best for them.