Q: Our daughter is finishing high school and will soon "leave the nest." We're concerned that she doesn't seem to be enthusiastic about the values we've tried to teach her. It's discouraging to us as parents -- but is it too late?
Jim: I think all of us, as parents, struggle at some point with this kind of concern. Here's my advice: Be patient. You've planted the seed and watered it. Now comes the tough part -- waiting for it to take root and grow.
Let me share a story. A few years back, my family and I were driving through open farmland. My son, Trent, asked, "Hey, Dad, why aren't the farmers out working?" He was expecting to see tractors and combines rumbling through the dirt, and rows of crops sprouting up along the endless miles of fields. But since the planting season had just ended, the landscape of empty fields didn't tell the whole story. I explained to my son that before the farmers could harvest a crop, they had to be patient and wait for the seeds they had planted to take root and grow.
Parents face much the same challenge, and it's easy for discouragement to settle in when we don't immediately see the results we're hoping for. But, like a farmer, you can't force a seed to grow. It must be nurtured and given the right nutrients for it to have its best chance of taking root on its own. For a child, that includes patience, firm and healthy boundaries, solid examples from Mom and Dad, and buckets of praise and love.
As a parent, you do what you can while your child is under your roof. I'll presume that you've communicated and hopefully modeled the values you want your daughter to emulate. Now it's up to her. Her decisions as a budding adult might not always be the ones you'd prefer. But even if that seed seems dormant for now, under the right conditions it can still sprout and grow.
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Q: I'm getting married soon. My fiancee and I thought it would be good to ask various people -- family, friends and experts -- for their best marriage tips. What's your advice?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: There are many things I could say, but let me go with this: Your chances for a successful marriage increase substantially when you both agree to temper the ways you speak to each other.
Have you ever noticed the power of the words we speak? They can build up and heal our relationships, or they can tear them down and destroy them. Careless words are like runaway horses. Once they're out in the open, they'll lead you down trails you never intended to go. That's why it's important to put up strong fences early on in your relationship to guide you in what you should and shouldn't say to one another.
One of the most effective boundaries for protecting a relationship is removing talk of divorce from your conversations at all costs. It's not wise for couples to threaten an end to their marriage as a tactic for getting their way. Every marriage encounters disagreement at times. But if you allow yourself in the heat of an argument to raise the possibility of divorce, it suddenly becomes a "real option." Instead, make up your minds in advance that, come what may, divorce is absolutely off-limits. It'll motivate you to find other ways to settle your differences.
Trouble will come to your relationship -- that's just part of being human. But take "divorce" out of your vocabulary and work on finding other opportunities for resolving the issues you face.
We have resources to help lifelong marriages launch successfully at ReadyToWed.com.