Pointers For Parents - Knowing When Your Child Is Ready To Date
Your Child Is Eager To Start Dating - But Is He Or She Ready To Be Married?
Ricki was 19 and had just returned from seminary in Israel when she made up her mind that it was time for her to get married. She couldn't imagine going out with any of the boys she knew - most were her own age, and had a lot of growing up to do. So, Ricki approached her parents for help, thinking they'd be happy to see their oldest daughter acting so responsibly. They reacted much differently than she had expected.
Ricki's parents asked her about her long range goals and plans for herself, what type of boy she was looking for, and how she expected to manage financially after marriage. RIcki hadn't thought about any of these topics, and couldn't give her parents coherent answers. They encouraged her to give herself time to "land" from her year in Israel and use her first semester or two of college to enjoy new experiences and start figuring out who she was and what she wanted to do with her life, and to see where she was holding once the year was up.
It was hard for Ricki to accept her parents' wisdom, and she asked her aunt, whose two daughters had married at 19, to convince her parents to let her date. "I won't," her aunt answered. "Your parents are right. You're a very responsible girl, but you haven't thought much about who you are and what you're going to do with your life. You need to know the answers to your parents' questions so that when you date, you choose someone who shares your goals and values and compliments who you are." Months later, as Ricki tried to decide between two different college majors, she realized how much she was maturing and learning about herself and was grateful for her parents' advice.
Parents often ask us how they can know if their own eager "Ricki" is really ready for dating. A young woman or man is ready for serious dating when he or she expresses a desire to get married and understands that it's possible that one of his/ her first few dating partners could be "The One" (and he/she will be willing to move a relationship forward if that's the case) . In addition, a new dater should:
Have a good idea of his/her values, have formulated general short and long term life goals, and have given serious thought to how to achieve those goals.
Effectively think through and resolve problems, can make most decisions on his/her own, and can handle the consequences of those decisions. Knowing when to ask for information or advice before making difficult decisions is a sign of maturity.
Take care of his or her own needs - waking up and getting started in the morning; attending shiur, class, or work regularly; making appointments; running necessary errands; keeping wardrobe and personal space clean and orderly.
Display a sense of responsibility and courtesy for others by following through on commitments, sharing chores with family members or roommates, and being considerate of the people he/she lives and works with.
Know how to budget and manage own expenses.
See self as independent person, with his/her own ideas, goals, and priorities, and not as an extension of parents or family.
A number of older teens and young adults need more time and life experience to reach these developmental milestones. Until they do, they can have great difficulty being an emotionally mature partner in a healthy marriage. Give a child who needs it the gift of more time, along with the guidance he/she may need to become ready for marriage.
There's one more aspect of readiness for marriage that parents sometimes overlook. Daters should have a healthy sense of self esteem and sufficient social skills to communicate with dating partners and build emotional connections. Young men and women with poor self esteem are generally unappealing dating partners and sometimes become vulnerable to abusive relationships, and people with poor social skills often can't get past a first or second date. Before your child starts dating, invest in a life coach to help your socially struggling son or daughter communicate and connect better, or a therapist to help an insecure young adult develop better self esteem.
All of our children are "works in progress", and marriage is the most important transition that they will make in their life. If we can help them be ready for their new roles as husbands and wives, we will all be happier for a lifetime.