It occurred to me that since my last entry was more or less from the perspective of “my” generation, that it might come across as critical of my parents‘ generation, which wasn’t what I meant at all. This cultural shift away from “responsible twentysomethings” and early marriage doesn’t seem to me like it’s going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s been in the works since the 1970s or so, based on what I’ve read. I’ve actually been thinking about it as a parent more than I have as a participant, and it might be more balanced if I talked about it from that direction, huh?
In short, as it’s becoming ever more clear that society is arrayed against young marriage, what can we do as parents to help our kids bridge the gap?
The biggest thing, I think, is to raise them to be married. Not, in other words, to raise our daughters to be career people, or to raise our sons to be single wandering types who can barely provide for themselves, much less a family.
The American “track” for kids and teenagers goes something like this: do well in high school, participate in sports and extracurriculars; get scholarships to college, do the whole college scene with at least a year on-campus to get the “experience”; graduate after four or five or six years (or maybe go to graduate school); get a job, settle down, maybe marry that boyfriend you’ve been toting around since senior year; after five years of marriage (and entering one’s thirties), have kids. And woe to those who get off the track–how many high school drop-outs end up at law firms?
But we want our kids to glorify God. Full stop. That’s what we want, and all we want, right? How much of this American “ideal” do we really need?
Not excepting the possibility that a child may be called to celibacy–and not underemphasizing that parents need to be aware and discerning of that possibility–the general expectation is that our girls will want to get married and be moms some day. So what is the very best preparation and support that we can give them to serve and glorify God in that role?
I find myself planning their academics and asking myself what will be most useful to them as a wife and mother rather than what will help them succeed in a career–or even in college, although I definitely think that a good homeschool education should be more than sufficient to prepare them for college in a coincidental sense. It is more important that they be able to run households well more than that they can discuss the leaders of the French Revolution. This is one type of preparation: basic life skills to live without Mommy and Daddy.
There’s also emotional preparation: to be the type of mature twenty-year-olds who have the discernment and knowledge to choose good mates, and be able to take the challenges and blessings of marriage in stride. A wedding changes your life, no mistake about it, and teenagers aren’t quite “done baking” yet on the maturity front–but when society expected them to get married and stay married, they managed–with minuscule divorce rates. I want our kids to have that kind of maturity and understanding of things larger than themselves (i.e. the sanctity of marriage!) so that they don’t want to “sow wild oats” before they feel ready for marriage. Somehow we’ve got to help kids have some confidence in their ability (by God’s grace) to make marriage work, even when the world is telling them they’re way too young to pull it off. We can help them have reasonable expectations (and aspirations) and to build relationship skills to help it all come together.
And then there’s financial. I don’t see a practical way, honestly, to have a large number of children and still support them with great scads of literal money after they’re grown up… but there are many young people whose parents are giving them the advice and friendly urging that they need in order to find a little business niche of their own, even in young teenagerdom, in the grand tradition of the Proverbs 31 woman. Parents can help their kids discover their marketable talents and give them the sound business advice to actually get a small work-at-home operation off the ground and running with some degree of reliability before the child ever marries and leaves for their own house. It’s also gigantic if parents can help their kids stay debt-free before marriage–I haven’t seen diligent, frugal couples very often who can’t make it work financially… unless they’re struggling under a mountain of debt, which sometimes is their fault through poor judgment and sometimes isn’t their fault at all. But I don’t think anything keeps you debt-free as much as good advice. Lastly, parents should teach and model frugality. It really is an acquired skill! Not only because we grow accustomed to certain spending habits and then have massive culture shock when we have those habits without our parents’ pocketbooks attached–but because living frugally is largely a matter of simply knowing how to do it! Knowing which corners to cut, how to stay entertained and have fun without expending large amounts of money in the process, which items to invest in and which not to buy at all, knowing how to cook on a budget without resorting to pre-processed foods (which are sadly cheaper than fresh ones) or an unbalanced diet: these are all valuable pieces of knowledge, skills, and discernment that we can teach our children! We can also teach them as many money-saving talents as we can, and encourage them to pursue them on their own–things like knowing how to fix things around the house yourself, or your car; how to sew, and so on.
This is by no means exhaustive. We’ve only had girls so far, and so I’ve thought about it almost entirely in the context of daughters. I’m only now really beginning to wonder how to help our soon-to-arrive (Lord willing) son learn to provide for his family, and I imagine that is going to look very different in significant ways from teaching daughters how to care for their families. And I’m still learning so much of this myself. I am sure, though, that I want our kids to achieve success in God’s eyes–and I’m unconcerned about how that looks compared to success in the world’s eyes.