What Do You Do When Your Kid Is Putting Off Marriage but Not Sex?
by Haydn Shaw
Connie wrung her hands as she confessed that her twenty-four-year-old daughter had started having sex with her boyfriend.
“My husband and I raised her in the church. Until recently she believed that sex outside of marriage is wrong,” Connie told me. “But she informed me that as soon as she can get a better job, she’s moving in with her boyfriend. She says they love each other and plan to get married in a few years. If they’re already committed to each other, I don’t understand what she’s waiting for.”
“Why are my kids putting off marriage but not sex?” is a question I hear all the time from parents, especially committed Christians. I’m not surprised. Talking about sex has never been easy, but parents and churches today are overwhelmed by the new morality and confused by the changes emerging adulthood is creating for marriage.
Connie’s daughter is waiting to get married because she doesn’t believe she’s ready yet. Like many emerging adults, she may also have lost confidence in marriage, but it’s obvious she has not lost confidence in love. She believes, along with most in the Western world, that sex is vital, and it’s not really possible or even good to go without it. We can’t forget the new moral code of the false Christianity I call “Be Good, Feel Good, Live Your Life (God Is Watching)” and that the greatest sin today is to judge someone else’s choices. This Millennial spiritual temptation makes even children who were raised in the church, like Connie’s daughter, susceptible. If a young adult has these ideas about sex and images of marriage, then sleeping with her boyfriend and moving in with him when she gets enough money isn’t surprising; it’s logical. It goes without saying. It may catch parents or family members by surprise, but that’s because they didn’t know these ideas and images have been quietly shaping emerging adults’ thinking.
We’ve not had to face later marriage since the forties, when our grandparents last married later. But they didn’t spend as much time alone and weren’t immersed in a culture that worships sex.
So what do we do?
1. Start the Conversation by Listening First
It’s essential to listen so we know what our children think and what they need to know. Connie hadn’t talked to her daughter about the ideas and images in our culture that were undercutting her daughter’s beliefs in God’s plan. We can’t help our kids unless we learn what they really think.
We can’t do that when we are talking. We need to ask more questions as we transition from being the parent of a child to being the parent of an adult.
2. Talk Why and How
Your kids likely know what the Bible says about sex, so talk why and how. Talk about why God gives the commands and how your kids can find their sexuality in God’s design.
Connie thought her daughter believed sex outside of marriage is wrong. Her daughter may have known the commandments and some of the consequences like pregnancy or disease, but she didn’t understand or agree with the why. She didn’t believe God would give her what she needed to be happy, because she believed she needed sex.
We don’t want kids who only know the rules; we want them to agree with God. Our kids become transformed spiritually when they grasp the beauty of righteousness because they see the good that comes from obeying God. Then they no longer obey only because it’s God’s command, but because they see how God’s command creates beauty and a beautiful life. That won’t make their sexual desires go away, but it will make it worthwhile to learn how to deal with them when they really believe God knows what he’s talking about.
Talking about the why more than the commandments helps us talk with emerging adults who no longer believe sex is only for marriage. (Not to mention people who think Christian views about sex are a little crazy.) If your kids or your colleagues think sex is vital, telling them God commands us not to do it doesn’t help.
Don’t start with the commandments about sex; start with why God gave them to us. We don’t sugarcoat or soften what God says. We just reverse the order.
Try the exercise I give groups when I speak in churches: give three reasons sex before marriage isn’t best for us, without mentioning the Bible. If God is great and God is good, then there are good reasons for his rules. Talk about those reasons more than the commandments.
3. Ask Them How They Are Doing
My wife, Laurie, and I ask our emerging adult children awkwardly direct questions about how they are preparing for the sexual temptations in their romantic relationships. I ask my boys, “How’s your car running? What’s your plan to stretch your money until you start your summer job? And how are you doing keeping your hands to yourself?” They don’t even flinch at the question anymore.
Not all of our kids want to talk to us about sex. So we have someone they trust ask them how they’re doing. Sometimes those relationships happen on their own—like with my daughter, who has two women she trusts and talks to—but more often we parents need to ask other adults to invest in them. Don’t try to do this alone.
If we, or other adults, ask them, we must be ready with grace when 70 percent of them tell us they’ve failed. There are no sins God can’t forgive, although sexual sins may be harder to forgive ourselves for. Our emerging adults can’t build an identity in God if they are dragging their sexual sins around.
I’ve asked us to start talking about sex and marriage in a way that helps people discover the God who gave us our sexuality and knows what to do with it. That’s the only thing that will help us get to twenty-eight, or eighty-eight if we never marry.
Haydn Shaw, who has researched and helped clients regarding generational differences for over twenty years, is the author of Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart, and FranklinCovey’s bestselling workshops Leading Across Generations and Working Across Generations. He has just written a new book, releasing this month, titled Generational IQ: Christianity Isn’t Dying, Millennials Aren’t the Problem, and The Future is Bright.
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