As the mother of four, ideas of dating, commitment and marriage are often on my mind and the topic of discussion between Jim and me. True, our kids are a little young (okay, really young, since most of them still require some assistance in the bathroom). Nevertheless, my motto, sadly, seems to be “It’s never too early to worry about future events that are just as unlikely as likely to occur.”
Perhaps my worries stem from witnessing friends and family with older kids struggling with an aversion to dating when the subject relates to their teenage children. Of course, our oldest boys are developmentally at the stage where they are still quite certain that girls have cooties and would rather die than do anything other than pull their hair and run the other way. And our five-year-old daughter is at that glorious stage where she is torn between marrying her daddy and one of our college student friends. But I feel I can see just around the bend of the road ahead and anticipate the day when girls will suddenly be cured of their cooties and daddy won’t seem quite so appealing. So in the spirit of an ounce of prevention, I must confess to having fostered, especially in my boys, the idea that dating is for the birds and marriage is something to be put off like going to the dentist—you have to do it sometime, but there’s no need to be in a hurry about it.
An article in the latest issue of Christianity Today has me rethinking my assumptions, however. The article by Mark Regnerus, entitled “The Case for Early Marriage,” challenges conventional wisdom with regard to marrying at an early age. I am not sure what I think of the article’s argument but it has me wondering if there are some contradictions between my strong views on the importance of family and my discouragement of dating. When I think of any of my kids dating seriously in high school or early college, I am filled with trepidation. I have often told them that every commitment you make narrows your possibilities, so you have to think very carefully before committing to a relationship. Once you are in, you have certain obligations to that person that shouldn’t be neglected, a none-of-the-guys-go-steady-‘cause-it-wouldn’t-be-right-to-leave-your-best-girl-home-on-a-Saturday-night sort of approach. I want them to experience “life” before settling down, but what am I teaching them about the meaning of that life if I am saying “life” means freedom, lack of commitment and pleasure while family, responsibility and obligation are the anti-climax.
Jim and I recently had an enlightening discussion over dinner with a student friend—the one Maggie is determined to marry—and talked about the generational differences and how they contribute to widely differing approaches to vocation. Our young friend talked a lot about finding meaning in the journey rather than it all being about the destination. While I resonated with much of what he expressed, I couldn’t help but ask myself, if it is all about the journey, how does that reflect on my current location? As a stay-at-home mom, my journey is far from picturesque. Without a meaningful destination, most of the mundane things I spend my time accomplishing are without purpose. I should be really depressed, but I’m not. Far from it, I take pride in the fact that my hard work is a service to those I love most. I may not be “free” to see the world but my responsibilities bring a deeper meaning to my life that I wouldn’t trade for all the frequent flyer miles in North America. Of course, getting married isn’t the only type of commitment you can make. (One only has to join a church, commit to a deep friendship or volunteer for ministry to discover that.)
Now this doesn’t mean I am ready to start double dating with any of my kids this weekend, but it has informed my perspective on what I used to see as the impending doom of watching my kids discover love of the romantic variety. And hopefully, some day—many, many years from now—they will find true freedom in tying the knot.