A fortnightly column in which Graeme Schnell CEO of Focus on the Family Africa answers questions from the public
Q: Our first child (a daughter) is just six months old, and my wife and I are already dreading the inevitable “birds and bees” discussions. Do you have any advice for how to handle this – eventually?
Graeme: Marriage and sex – in that order – are among the most beautiful gifts humanity has been given. Unfortunately, kids don’t naturally understand that, thanks to rampant confusion in our society about sexuality and marriage. That’s why it’s up to moms and dads to teach them.
If you want your children to develop healthy attitudes toward sex, there are two things you need to do. Number one, start talking. And number two, demonstrate for your kids how to honour marriage.
Let’s start with talking. I’m referring to age-appropriate discussions about sex that begin in toddlerhood and continue through adolescence. Create moments of open dialogue where you can offer candid answers to your child’s questions. Of course, honest conversations like this require parents secure enough in their sexuality to say: “I had those same feelings when I was your age. We all do. It’s normal.”
And when I speak of “honouring marriage,” I mean much more than telling kids to save sex for marriage. I’m talking about preparing them for a great marriage, just as we prepare them for college or a career – intentionally and proactively. How do you do that? By modeling a loving relationship yourself.
Kids can learn what healthy sexuality in the context of a thriving marriage looks like. But it all starts with parents who understand it themselves and model how to live together with love, loyalty, and trust. We have a number of resources to help you with that at safamily.co.za.
Q: Everyone in our house keeps a hectic schedule, and sometimes I find myself wondering: how do you create “family time” when you’re simply trying to make ends meet and get through the demands of the day?
Graeme: Today’s marriages and families lack time – quality and quantity – for a number of reasons. An endless pursuit of material things requires increasing amounts of money. This translates into more hours at work. Busyness creates fatigue and deflects attention from pressing relational issues. Couples “grow apart” as their lives travel down separate but parallel tracks. Moms and dads model a task-oriented mentality that communicates an unmistakable message to their kids: take care of your duties and obligations first, then feel free to retreat into your own (electronic) stimulation, recreation, or leisure-time activity (read: “isolation in your own room”).
If you want to escape this numbing pattern, you may need to revamp your schedule. Go back to square one. Revisit your basic values and priorities. Resolve to make some countercultural choices and decisions if necessary. Take steps to reduce your outside commitments and block out weekly family time on the calendar.
In particular, don’t worry about how it looks to “other people” if you limit yourselves to one or two selections from a long list of worthwhile activities. Resist the temptation to sign your kids up for numerous sports teams, music and dance lessons, social clubs, and all kinds of community organisations. One activity per season per child may be more than enough.
Carve out spaces and create margins, and don’t be afraid of “voids.” Agree to turn off all communication devices at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week. Instead of watching TV, read together, play board games, take a walk to a local park, or sit and talk. Get into your kids’ space. Hang out with them and find out what excites them. This is all part of the process of turning quantity into quality time.
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