Q: I'm estranged from my adult daughter. I definitely wasn't the best father, although I've changed for the better in recent years. But I haven't spoken to her since she was 17; she's 35 now. I'd love for our relationship to be rekindled, but I don't know if I should reach out or wait for her to show interest in me.
Jim: My heart goes out to both of you; I expect that there have been many things over the years that have led to this difficult situation. It's good to know that you, at least, have been able to make some positive improvements.
Most children, no matter how young or old they are, naturally think of their mom and dad as the "grown-ups" in the relationship. So, unless there's some kind of extenuating circumstance, take the lead. Reach out to your daughter and initiate contact. Show your interest in her. A little humility will go a long way.
Just as important, be willing to persevere. You can't give up inviting your daughter into your life at the first sign of adversity. Respect the fact that your history together may not be entirely positive. Allow her some space for doubt or for old wounds that haven't been resolved yet.
And take heart. Son or daughter, 15 or 50 -- deep inside, every child longs to reconcile with his or her father or mother. Some children are always open and ready, while others may be angry or still distrust you in some way. Even if they're motivated to reconnect, it may take a bit of a journey for their hearts to soften. Just keep your heart open and keep taking the lead.
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Q: My girlfriend and I -- both college freshmen -- have been dating about five months. We want to marry within two years, but my parents (who have always been strict and controlling) think we should wait at least until we graduate. What's your take?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Research demonstrates that the first three to six months of a relationship make up the "infatuation" stage. Basically, couples are "in love with being in love," and are unlikely to view their dating partner or the relationship realistically. That's why we usually advise couples to date for at least a year before getting engaged.
Holding off on marriage for a couple of years sounds like a good call. But I'd suggest that for the first half of that period, you continue to date without becoming formally engaged. In other words, take some time to get to know each other on a much deeper level before locking yourselves into a commitment.
Meanwhile, you can greatly increase your chances for marital success if you commit to a structured, reputable premarital counseling program that includes personality testing. The relationship test developed by Prepare/Enrich (couplecheckup.com) has an incredible success rate at predicting which couples will have a happy marriage and which couples will be divorced within a few years.
Finally, consider the wisdom of your parents' advice. They know you better than you may think they do, and probably have good reasons for recommending that you finish school before plunging into marriage. You've apparently got their support, at least in the general sense, so they must agree that the two of you make a good match. That's a hopeful sign.
Your marriage might work out fine if you marry during college, but your chances for success increase if you give your relationship an extra year or two.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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