Helping Your Parents Help You

Feb 15, 2013 |Candice Watters
Helping Your Parents Help You

If getting married is something you hope to do, your parents (or other parental surrogates) are likely among your best advocates.

Conventional wisdom says parents, relatives or friends who ask, "so are you seeing anyone special?" are doing more harm than good. They're certainly not doing anything to make you feel better about being single. And while it's certainly tedious to answer that question repeatedly, especially when the answer is no, what's worse is being asked if you want to go on yet another blind date. Or "meet my grandson, I know you'll love him." Or feel interrogated about your success with online dating. Such efforts, when they happen, do little more than remind you that you're not where you thought you'd be relationally at this point in your life.

Is the conventional wisdom true? Are you getting well-intentioned questions from your loved ones? And if so, is that the extent of their involvement? If you're like most singles, rather than getting a bunch of intrusions, you're getting silence. And it's no fun in our post-marriage culture to feel left alone in the search for a spouse.

The first time Steve came home with me for a visit, we had only been dating about a month. In addition to planning a day at the apple orchard, game time with my siblings and a drive through autumn colors, we made appointments with my dad, a dentist. Once my dad had Steve in his chair, he poised the drill over Steve's open mouth and with the drill bit whirring, asked, "So, what are your intentions for my daughter?"

He didn't let Steve squirm too long before cracking a smile. But even if he didn't close the deal by waiting for a serious answer, he wasn't above letting Steve know he was watching out for me. That's something that's become too rare.

Even if the prospect of help leaves you feeling queasy, maybe what's more important than trying to make you feel better about your status is taking actions to help you change it. If getting married is something you hope to do, your parents (or other parental surrogates) are likely among your best advocates. Trouble is, after being told so many times — whether by you or the culture we live in — to butt out, they're probably reluctant to get involved.

As I wrote in Get Married,

In another day, regardless of how you felt about it, your dad would have asked ... "What are your intentions for my daughter" ... in all seriousness. And he wouldn't have moved, nor let your planned date begin, until the young man came up with a satisfying answer. Parents used to be very active in their daughters' preparation for marriage, their opportunities for worthy suitors, their protection from rascals. The parents' blessing was essential to launching a new relationship; their ongoing support a vital part of their daughter's new marriage. That's rarely the case anymore. Parents have watched their role diminish to little more than paying for the wedding when it does finally happen. What was once a responsibility squarely on their shoulders has been taken away, abandoned and recast.

Thankfully, not all parents have given up their role. And many more, if asked, would gladly reassume it.

One Boundless reader wrote to ask for the name of a book or resource that she could give her parents to help them help her vet potential marriage candidates.

Is there a strong book or resource out there specifically for parents (my mom) to help ask the right questions of people they want to set their daughters (me) up with? Culture (and, okay, maybe their children too) has told them told to butt out for so long that when they are given permission, or even invited, to get involved, they are afraid to ask even basic questions and/or can be clueless.... I would love to be able to give her an article or a book that re-affirms the parent's role and not backing away from these important "pre-screening" questions, that way my heart and my time is protected ... I'm looking for something written specifically to parents who have never been involved in that way before, and where geographic distance from the adult children can make things difficult. (I'm here and she's there handing out my phone number and picture to people ... help.

The challenge then is to help your parents, married friends, mentors — whoever will be filling this role — help you. You may not want to take it as far as one new "arranged marriage" reality show plans to. According to one press report, Lifetime Television is planning to "introduce America to an ancient practice that may have a great deal to teach our modern relationships." They're "looking for four people who will ask their closest loved ones — whether family or friends — to team up and choose a spouse for them; they know you, they love you, they want what's best for you; they may even have better judgment about who would make a good lifetime partner for you."

And what, according to the report, will these matches be based on? "Your loved ones will match you with someone based on shared goals, values, experiences and the commitment to making it work."

The promotional Web site for the show describes their motivation this way:

Today's arranged marriages are not that far off from the practice of using a matchmaker — a practice that's becoming more and more popular. But instead of a matchmaker, people in arranged marriage have turned to the people who know them best: family ... or friends who are as close as family.

Aside from the insanity of committing to marriage within the constraints of a voyeuristic made-for-TV format, their criteria don't sound too far off. Shared values, commitment, input from the people who know you best. Those are sound principles for good matches. And your parents are in a great position to ask some tough questions to find out if the guy waiting to take you out to dinner is a good match.

On his blog, author and pastor Doug Wilson wrote a list of "21 Questions for a Prospective Suitor," saying,

It is one thing to affirm that fathers should be active in protecting their daughters, but it is quite another to figure out what sort of specific questions are appropriate to ask. I compile this list as a father of two young women, now safely married, and as a pastor who frequently gives counsel to young men before they announce their interests and intentions. A list of questions like this ought not to be use in a wooden checklist fashion, but rather as a list of ideas to get started.

The questions range from the spiritual (when your faith became real, when you last read through the Bible, church attendance habits); to the familial (what his parents' marriage is like, the condition of his relationship with his dad and mom, number of siblings); to the practical (work habits, financial status, vocational plans); to issues of personal character (porn use, pre-marital sexual history, any legal problems); and finally his intentions and perceptions of the father's daughter. (You can read the full list here.)

In response to some of the comments the blog post generated, Wilson went on to post a similar "21 Questions for a Prospective Wife," that parents can use when talking to their son's girlfriend.

I'm thankful for the reassertion that a father, parents or other mentors should ask questions of a romantic interest. It's impossible for you to fully investigate the man or woman you're interested in, especially when the rush of emotion kicks in. Better at that point to invite an objective observer to help you find out if Mr./Miss Wonderful really is. Whether you agree with Wilson's specific questions, or would prefer to write your own, the point is that having someone ask questions on your behalf ahead of time can go a long way to saving you embarrassment, guarding your heart and protecting your time.

It's a concept similar to the pre-screening efforts used in business settings — especially employment placement. It's simply a matter of helping someone who wants to help you have a better sense of what's really helpful. Rather than mumbling "ah, great," when someone says, "I have the perfect person in mind for you!" — especially if that person doesn't know you that well, or you them — you can feel confident letting them know more about what your hopes are.

If they really want to help you, ask if you can give them more detail — a better sense of what God is revealing to you to look for in a mate. If they're on board, be willing to let them know what your "must-haves" are (e.g., must be a believer), down to your "nice to haves" (likes to play board games, etc.). Friends and family members who have this kind of information will be empowered to "pre-screen" any potential candidates for you. You'll be helping them move from good intentions to being an informed advocate.

It's also a way to remove any sense of obligation you're tempted to feel when friends and family share leads. What you need are opportunities, not more dead ends. Once they have an objective standard to go by, they can help discern if "good leads" really are.

With some well-informed help from your advisers, and a lot of bold prayer, you'll be a lot closer to marrying well, than, well, those contestants on the reality show.

Copyright 2008 Candice Watters. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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