Q: I have a daughter (age 15) and son (age 13). I want to make sure I cover everything I can in helping them prepare for adulthood. So, I'm curious: Is there a particular topic you've noticed that parents neglect, avoid or just forget to talk about?
Jim: We all want our children to learn important life lessons -- responsibility, work ethic, financial management, etc. And those are great things to teach teens. But I think many moms and dads forget -- or just aren't comfortable talking about -- what is ultimately the most impactful human relationship: marriage.
I know, you're probably thinking: "I'm just hoping to get them through the dating years in one piece!" But we shouldn't ignore conversations about marriage while our teens are still at home.
Marriage is an enormous commitment, yet many parents do very little to actually prepare their kids for it. That's why I think it's best to interject healthy principles about marriage throughout a child's upbringing. A boy should be taught from a young age what it means to serve his wife, to honor her and to treat her with dignity. A girl should learn the value of motherhood and how marriage can enhance her identity as a woman, rather than detract from it.
Conversations about values like these can even have a positive impact on single young adults. They'll be better equipped to have a healthy dating life. And they'll be more likely to wait for the right relationship instead of jumping into the first thing that comes along. (We offer a great online resource for young adults at Boundless.org.)
So don't wait until your child is deeply into a romantic relationship before talking to them about marriage. Prepare them to make good decisions by proactively discussing -- and modeling -- the keys to healthy relationships.
Q: When my wife and I argue -- which isn't often, but still -- I sometimes find myself spiraling into negative thoughts about her. Can you give me some practical tips to keep myself from going there?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: Let me share a personal example that impacted me deeply. My father, the late Gary Smalley, was a well-known relationship expert whose insights have helped millions. But he and my mom, Norma, still had their occasional "moments" (as my wife, Erin, and I do).
One Thanksgiving, my parents had a significant argument. They were both so frustrated that they retreated to different parts of the house. After a few minutes, I followed Dad to his study. I was surprised to find him at his computer reading a document titled "Why Norma is so Valuable."
I asked him about it. He replied: "Years ago I started a list of why your mom is valuable. So, when I'm upset with her or when we've had a fight, I've learned that instead of sitting around thinking about how hurt or frustrated I am, I make myself read through this list." This amazing document contained hundreds of words and phrases describing my mom's value.
This is the best idea I've ever heard of for cherishing your mate. Think about why she is so valuable to you and write those things down. For example, you might list character traits, talents, personal values, parenting and life skills, personality characteristics, the roles she plays that you appreciate, honorable ways in which she treats you and others, and so on.
Keep this list handy so you can periodically add to it and revise it when you need to remember your spouse's value. When the tense moments come and you need to refocus, stop and read the list. And don't keep it to yourself -- share it with your wife.
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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