I Don’t Want Normal Relationships

October 19, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

There is a striving that so many of us have to be normal, to fit in.  You see this mostly in teenagers, but many of us never grow out of it.  We don’t want anyone to think that we are weird.  We don’t want to stand out and have people judge us.  We want to be thought of as “regular”, and sometimes following God’s plan for our lives or having his standards for dating and marriage are just too weird.  We just want to be normal.

Why-Be-NormalI have had versions of this conversation with one or both of my daughters many times.

“You must/can’t do blah blah blah”

“But Dad everyone/no one  is doing blah blah blah. I’ll be weird. Well, even more weird than everyone already thinks I am.”

This is where a parent is supposed to consult the parenting cliche manual, page 34 and say, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?”  However, I am weird, so I say something completely different.  I ask them if there is someone that you know that you would rather trade with?  Not just on this issue, but in every way.  Is there someone who has a relationship with a boy that you envy? Is there someone’s whose lifestyle that you want?  How is being “normal” working for everyone else?

(Disclaimer, this sentiment is found in the outstanding book Weird by Craig Groeschel.  Most content that I have that is worth anything I borrowed/stole from him or Andy Stanley. Thanks guys!)

I have made the challenge to my daughters that when you find a teenage dating relationship that is better than the one that you have, then I will modify all my weird dating rules.  Until then, enjoy the fact that you have the best relationship of any of your friends.

What do you think? Are normal relationships working?  How would you characterize a typical/normal marriage?  Normal dating relationships? Normal parents?  Unless you live someplace radically different than the rest of us, you will likely acknowledge that normal families and dating relationships are not healthy or enviable.  Divorce rates have never been higher.  More people are rejecting even the thought of marriage.  They look around and see that marriage doesn’t work.  Kids are rejecting their parents and God.  The world is struggling to make relationships work and if we want to “fit in” then we should expect the same struggles.

If we want our relationships to be extraordinary, then we are going to have behave in extraordinary (read: weird) ways.

Date only people who are passionate about pursuing Christ.

Refuse to experiment with sexual intimacy until marriage.

You’ll have a weird dating life, but it will be an extraordinary one.

Choose to forgive your spouse and not keep a list or wrongs.

Serve your spouse unconditionally not based on how they are serving you.

Stop lusting after other people and looking at porn.

Make an unconditional commitment to your spouse and never, ever leave–don’t even talk like you might.

Proactively date your spouse and consistently share your heart.

Stop making jokes at your spouse’s expense.

You’ll have a weird marriage, but it will be an extraordinary one.

Be humble with your kids and apologize when you are at fault.

Be honest with your kids and completely and fully answer all their questions, especially the uncomfortable ones.

Be gracious with your kids AND hold them to high standards rather than just choosing one or the other.

Be patient with them as they are navigating new seasons of life and maturity.

Set boundaries for your kids and consistently enforce them.

You’ll have weird kids, but they will be extraordinary.

It is time for us to stop trying to fit in and be normal.  Everywhere we look, marriages and families are falling apart.  Dating relationships are unhealthy and produce even worse marriages.  Kids are rejecting their parents values and the cycle of struggling families intensifies.  If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different.  Try weird instead of normal.

Talk to someone and get some help.  Sit down with your family and ask them what they wish were different about your family.  Choose God’s plan for marriage, for singleness, for parenting.  God’s plan may, at times, be weird. However, if it is God’s plan, you can know for certain that it is better than whatever idea you have about how to be a husband, wife, friend, etc.  Different is good and God’s weird works!

Embrace Groeschel’s book title, Be Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working

So You Want to Date My Daughter, Do You?

September 2, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

Seriously, this isn't illegal?

Seriously, this isn't illegal?

I have what some would say are old-fashioned ideas about when and whom my daughter can date.  Others would say that they are not old-fashioned, they are just plain weird and they’ve never heard of anything like it before.

The assumption people have is that since I have only daughters, and that I have weird rules for my daughters dating, that my goal is to intimidate boys–that I somehow am the guy who cleans his shotgun on the front porch when the boy comes to the front door and makes menacing statements about holes in the backyard as he is walking up.  Allow me to put that myth to rest.  First, I do not own a shotgun.  Second, what people describe seems highly unsafe and might could be characterized as terroristic threatening, which is, in fact, a felony.  Finally my goal is not to intimidate anyone.  Allow me to explain “the rules.”

First, you cannot date or say that you have a boyfriend until it makes sense.  What does that mean?  I’ll give you an example.  A second grader having a boyfriend doesn’t make sense.  A 6th grader saying they are “going out” with another 6th grader doesn’t make sense.  “You’re going out, huh.  Where do you go?”  “Nowhere.” “Do you sit next to each other during lunch?”  “No.”  “So what does it mean that you’re going out?”  “…” Doesn’t make sense.

Charlie it doesn’t have to make sense.  It’s cute.  Nope.  Not cute.  Confusing.  Kids imitating grown up behavior without the emotional and mental maturity to back it up is confusing and potentially dangerous.

You see, the river of relationships flows one direction. Every relationship you are in needs to get deeper and progress and every new relationship needs to be deeper and go further than the one before. That often gets defined as verbal, emotional and physical commitment–things that kids aren’t ready for.  Best remedy for that is to keep them out of the river as best you can for as long as you can.

“Wait, wait, wait.  You are supposed to tell me when they can start dating! Give me a number! 15? 16? 32?”  To me, this is not some rite of passage that is determined by your age.  You can’t date when you are 15, but suddenly you go to sleep one day 15 and wake up the next day 16 and you can date.  It depends on the girl’s maturity, the culture of where we live, the potential boy we are talking about.  It’s not a number. It’s when it makes sense…for that particular girl.

Second, when it starts to potentially make sense that my daughters could start dating, the boy has to come meet with me.  He has to ask for my permission to take her out, even if it is in a group context and even if it is just as friends.  “Whoa! That seems intense.  Not many boys would be willing to do that.”  Correct. Similarly, there are not many boys that I would trust to go on a date with one of my daughters.  This is, in part, a simple process to weed out ones that lack the maturity to be on a date with a girl.  If you lack the maturity to have one face to face conversation with an adult, you lack the maturity to be trusted to be with my daughters.

If you were asking to borrow anything else that was mine, you would ask.  This is one of the most precious things that is mine.  You most certainly will ask.

Ok, so you meet with them, and this is where you intimidate them, right? Nope.  The situation is intimidating enough without me trying to make it worse.  My goal is not to intimidate them.  My goal is to influence and lead someone who clearly has a measure of influence on my daughter.  His influence could theoretically grow.  I need to build a relationship of influence with this guy.

“Have you done this before? What do you say?”  Yes I have.  Twice now. Both times were when I didn’t think it was appropriate for the girls to be dating someone, i.e. have a boyfriend/relationship.  However, I was willing to let them go on a group date to a function of some kind.  I communicated 2 things primarily to them during these meetings.

First is that perhaps the greatest role that I play in my life, pastor included, is the protector and guardian of my daughters’ honor and purity.  It is my responsibility until what I call “the handoff” to guard and protect them.  On that day I will literally and figuratively give her hand to a man.  Until then, it is my job.  I need him to understand that what he is asking me to do is to entrust him for a brief window of time with guarding her the way that I would.  That may sound deep and more than a boy could grasp.  You are partially right.  A boy that would have the courage to ask out my daughter and meet with me, can handle it.  We are 2 for 2 so far.

Secondly, I make sure that he and I both understand what dating as friends mean.  We could use the same words and mean different things.  What I mean primarily is we are friends in how we talk and touch.  We don’t say that we are in love with her, that we need her, that she is the most important person in the world…those kinds of things.  We also don’t make out, kiss, play grabby grabby, etc.  This is definitely uncomfortable but it is our unwillingness to have uncomfortable conversations with kids that gets those kids in trouble later.

As serious as I can be, I am not trying to intimidate, I am trying to call them up.  Just like my teenagers are in an awkward position transitioning from girls to women, the boys are struggling as well.  I can help.  I was one of them once.  I really do want the boy to win.

But more than anything, I want you to know and my girls definitely know that this is birthed completely out of a love and care for them.  They know that I am their guardian and protector and they want that and are comforted by it.  A loving protector is what they need and it is my great privilege to be called by God to do it.

(Bonus tease: As some of you know, one boy passed that gauntlet, dated my oldest as “friends” for a year and now they are “boyfriend/girlfriend.”  In the process, he and I have a great relationship and so do they.  It can work.  That’s a blog post for another day.)

Dating Rules and a New Kind of Feminist

October 3, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

If you’re going to ignore your blog for a couple of weeks, the least you can do is come up with a catchy title when you come back.

Heidi had an interesting conversation with someone last week.  She’s a sociology major and has been taking a lot of classes in women’s studies.  She’s a feminist (such a broad term now that lots of people want to adopt and others want to destroy to the point that it is almost meaningless. Like evangelical or even Christian.  However, let’s pretend that we still know what that word means.) and was asking Heidi questions about how we are raising our daughters.

The inevitable questions about dating came up.  “Do we let Maylee date?” “Why not?”  (For some background on our thinking on this, click here.  The short answer is that we don’t let our girls date or even tell boys they “like” them.  You know, “like, like.”)  She was very intrigued by what we were doing.  She really connected with some of what Heidi was saying and was confused by other parts.  It was a very pleasant conversation.

As Heidi and I were talking about parts of it later, we discovered that we actually have a lot in common with parts of the modern feminist movement.  Two major things specifically.

1) The system (society, TV shows, movies, music, etc.) is set up in such a way that we are teaching young girls that there identity and fulfillment is found in a boy.  Changing your relationship status on Facebook to “in a relationship” gets a bunch of “likes.”  Changing it back to single gets frowny face emoticons.  Girls NEED a boyfriend.  They are out of place without one, devastated when someone “breaks-up” with them.  This is not healthy.  This produces girls with unhealthy views of themselves and relationships.

2) The “end product” of raising a healthy girl is a strong, confident young lady.  She should have a healthy body image, be confident and secure in a relationship or out of a relationship.  She doesn’t NEED a man.  She is pursuing relationships that make sense and are healthy.

Where we (might) disagree is on the how.  We have technically restricted her freedom as a pre-teen and teenager to get to where we are going.  She cannot go out on dates.  She cannot declare to a boy that she likes him.  We don’t have boys over.  However, what I said in that post referenced above is that we believe that she has more freedom in the end.  She is free from boy-crazy drama, the issues that boys have (I struggled with that phrase there.  I had much more descriptive ways of saying that.  But we all know what “issues” teenage boys have, right?) and the unnatural heartbreak that comes from breaking up with a boy you were “going” with for 2 weeks, though you never went anywhere.

I am incredibly proud of both of our girls.  They are very confident young ladies.  They have a healthy view of themselves, dating and that God is the most important person in their lives.  I am hopefully confident or confidently hopeful that in the end we will be launching out confident, mature young women–a new kind of feminist.  They will be ladies who will gladly introduce healthy dating relationship when it makes sense and they are ready and when boys are worth dating.  They will confidently face life in or out of relationships.  They will depend on God, their family and their friends.  They will become whatever it is that God calls them to be.

That may not be a new kind of feminist, it may simply be what we all have wanted from the beginning, but we just weren’t sure how to get there.

When You Gonna Let That Girl Date?

May 10, 2011 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

This is a post where the scope of audience is limited.  Not a lot of Cloften readers out there with pre-teen or teenage daughters.  However, I know that there are some out there with a curiosity about our dating philosophy as parents.  I know this, because you have asked me.  Regardless, it doesn’t matter if you are interested.  I am compiling all my thoughts on parenting into a future book called “The Daddy Your Daughter Needs.”  This will go in the teenage section.  Anywho…

Do you let Maylee (13 yrs old) date?


When will you let her start dating?

Short answer: TBD

Not quite as short answer: When it makes sense for her to start dating.

“Come on Cloften, give us a break.  What we need from you is some arbitrary selected date that is not based at all on the individual girl or her circumstances.  We need you to make dating a carrot that dangles in front of her until you finally relent and let her do it.” (I deleted a sentence in that rant. It was tasty.)

Before I go too far, there a couple of things we have done that way–earrings (10) and make-up (13).  However, those are relatively small things compared to dating.  Those are, in part, tasks that need a level of maturity to manage.  Dating is another level.

Dating is exposing my daughter to the opportunity to have her heart broken by a kid without the maturity or hormone balance to have any clue as to what he is doing.  This is entrusting the heart of my fragile teenage girl to a boy.  (I just deleted an adjective in front of boy. You could probably guess it, if you tried.)

Dating doesn’t make sense for a 13 yr old girl.  “Jim and Tina are going out.” “Going where?”  “Nowhere.  It means they’re dating.”  “Do they go on dates?” “No.” “Do they sit together at lunch?” “No” “Then what does it mean?” “It means they like each other.”  “If they don’t sit together, or really even talk to each other or go places together then why call it dating or going out?” “…” (Based on a real conversation.  Only the names have been changed to protect the ridiculous.)

“Ted broke up with me, and I cried for, like, forever,” said the 12 yr old girl, in my car.  “Really? Forever, that’s a long time,” said the snarky dad of another girl in my car.  “Well, just a few hours, but the next day I started going with Fred so I’m OK now.”

Do you see now what I mean by “it doesn’t make sense?”  I would only be exposing my daughter to unhealthy thinking and perspectives on “love” and “dating” by doing it when it doesn’t have the capacity to be love or dating.

She is completely free to like boys, even particular boys.  She doesn’t tell them. Why should she?  She would tell you there is freedom in that.  That’s right. She would tell you that.  When that boy acts like a boy, it disappoints her. It doesn’t crush her.  She moves on and learns what she likes and doesn’t like in a boy.

Her heart is God’s first and mine next, and I will not let someone I cannot trust have access to it.  Seriously, she is more happy and content than any of the boy-crazy girls I have ever met–by far.

Surely Cloften, you have a date in mind.  I really don’t.  I can imagine that in the next couple of years girls and boys in a group going to the movies together, not paired off.  You can call that group dating, I guess.

But if you are asking when I would let a boy take my daughter somewhere alone for an extended period of time at night without supervision?  The answer is some time after I would let that same boy take my car out under the same circumstances.  You see, the worst thing you can do to my car can be fixed with money.  The worst thing you can do to my daughter’s heart and innocence cannot be.

Date Your Daughter

I just got back from a date with my younger daughter Lauren.  We went to go see Alvin and the Chipmunks the Squeakuel (more on this later) and then had lunch at TGIFridays.  However, what we did doesn’t matter near as much as that we did it.  I love spending time with her.  I love spending time with each of the three ladies in my life.  It is amazing how lucky I am that I am the most important person in the world to three different ladies.  Last night when I told her that we would have a date today, her face lit up.  I would do anything to see that look on her face.  How special it is that spending time with me would be enough to make her light up like that.

How do I want her to remember her dad growing up?  My dad was so cool, he had a blog.  My dad was great, no one could watch sports on TV like him.  He was great at playing video games.  I think not.  I want her to know and remember that I would often take time out of my week to spend one on one time with her, talking to her, doing the things that she loves to do.  I want her to remember how much I loved her and how valuable she was.

What I have to remember and all dads need to know is that how I treat her greatly affects three views she has.  How does she view herself?  Is she beautiful? Is she valuable?  How does she view what to expect in a boyfriend/husband?  How will he treat me? What does love mean?  How does she view God?  She will continue to read in the Bible and hear at Church that God is Father.  What image will she have when she hears that?  What is a father like?

I want Lauren to know that she is of immeasurable value, and that a date should treat her with utmost respect.  Most importantly, I want her to think that a father, like her heavenly Father, loves her unconditionally and would sacrifice himself for her the way God did/does through His son, Jesus.  I want her to know that her dad loves her deeply.