June Mailbag: Courtship? College? Confidence as a Mom?

JuneMailbag: Dating or Courtship? What About College? Mothering w/ Confidence? // jessconnell.com
Each month I get a number of e-mails and private comments asking interesting questions that may be applicable to more than just the person asking.

My plan is to select a few thought-provoking and practical questions, keep the asker & identifying details anonymous, and share my answers with all of you, at the end of each month.

Let’s go for it.



Q: So I’m curious, what is the end goal for your kids, both boys and girls? I guess I’m trying to parent with the end in mind (though that hurts my heart!  These days are so sweet and fun!) Do you see your boys going off to college?  Do you see Maranatha going away?  What about jobs for them as teenagers?  I can see some benefit to teens having jobs and learning responsibility from them.
I’ve been thinking and discussing what post- high school looks like for my kids. Recently I realized that I had some pride built up that influenced what I thought the kids would be doing post high school graduation. When I stopped to examine my heart I realized that’s not what I really want the goal for the kids to be. I don’t want them to default into what the culture typically does- the best college they can get into, ridiculous debt, dorm-living, ultra liberal professors.
What are your thoughts about after your kids graduate and how are you shaping them now for that?


A: Our current thoughts are this:

We are watching each child as they grow as individuals. (You know that “train up a child” verse?– I think the meaning is much more like “train up a child according to the way he/she is particularly built”). So then we watch carefully to see how God has made them— talents & gifts, personality-wise, sin-struggle-wise, academic-strength-wise, relationally, etc.– and we consider:

  1. Are they likely made for marriage (most kids will be) or possibly called to lifelong singleness with strategic focus on God’s Kingdom? (1 Cor 7 lists only these 2 options). Until they get closer to adulthood, our default assumption is that they will marry and need to be prepared for those roles (husband/father, wife/mother).
  2. What sort of life, then, does God seem to be building them to live out?

In line with that, academically, we consider:

  • What are their strengths?
  • What career possibilities exist within that or related to that strength?
  • What are the long-range commitments and debts associated with each career?
  • And how would that affect his/her likeliest path for family life? (i.e., would it limit her ability to choose to stay home with her kids because she’d need rack up so much debt in pursuit of that particular career path? Would it limit his ability to start a family and provide for his family because he would need 7-10 years of schooling before being able to be dedicated to family life?)
  • What are the ethical challenges for that career path? (i.e., would he be choosing between medical school with little to no time to invest in his marriage & children, OR risking a strong pull into sexual impurity by delaying marriage until nearly 30?)
  • What are the debt commitments for that career path? Etc. Etc. Etc.

So then, once we start to see that, we start watching them carefully and talking through potential career paths. And we start kicking around ideas early. For example, after she showed him a design she’d drawn recently, Doug told Maranatha that because she loves art, doodling, and is skilled at coming up with creative ideas so much, he could see her potentially doing something like graphic design. If she desires to be home as a wife and mother, that is one idea for how she could use her gifts, contribute income to her family, and yet be home with the children she says she wants. The goal is not to produce a template “perfect life” for each of our children, but to provide them with ideas and options that will enable freedom to fly as they enter adult life.

We look for the options and resources available to us where we are. For example, our town has a “skill center” through the public schools where — beginning at age 15– kids can learn particular skills like auto repair, construction site supervision, restaurant management, etc.; there are community colleges 10-20 minutes away; there are also universities roughly an hour away. When we lived overseas, we considered options there.

God knows where He has planted us and will lead us, like a Shepherd, to the right things He means for us to use to develop our children in the ways they should go.

We talk with our kids about these things and measure their interest.  For some of our children that may look like “going away to college.” Truthfully, in today’s college culture, I would not send a daughter far away and I would not lightly send a son away, without careful consideration of both his career path and his character development.

Though some homeschoolers seem to believe that girls do not need to go to college, that is not where my husband and I fall. My concern for both our sons and daughter is that much of what happens on many college campuses is perhaps a mild stroke away from serial predatory sexual behavior, and that is not something I take lightly. Thus, our hope would be that all of our children would take that campus culture into serious account and, if they attend college, be highly selective in terms of the college culture they enter and seeking a strong support system for the pursuit of godliness in those years. (By that I mean, in advance of going away, our goal would be to give them wisdom and training in what to look for in a good church– doctrine, church structure, and personal commitment. We’re already talking about how to choose godly friends.)I am extremely thankful for my college education and would be happy for our daughter (and any others God gives) to attend college.  

For all of them, we talk through goals, skills, areas of strength, the ratio of debt-to-job-likelihood, and more as we consider college.

In our home, college is an option, but not a “given.” By that I mean that the old “wisdom” of

high school diploma + college= good job

is no longer a guarantee of anything and we don’t want to opt our children into high debt and low job potential. So for all of our children (yes, daughters included), college is an option we will consider with them as one of many potential means for them to enter adult life. But for all of them, we plan to help them think in big-picture ways about their futures and enter in with eyes wide open as to what doors each choice may open or close for them.

As far as jobs go, we also hope to start local/close to home and then see what opportunities God gives. The big boys (nearly 13 & 11) are already kicking around ideas like setting up lemonade/baked goods stands at the local farmer’s markets here. Not sure if that’ll work now with all the food laws. But those are the sorts of ideas we’re talking and thinking through. They watch a neighbor’s cats and water/care for her yard on weekends while she’s away. They’ve talked about doing yard care together, but I want them to be more consistent in skill with our yard before they start trekking out to do others’.

Both my husband and I worked a variety of jobs beginning as teens (summer camps, pharmacies, grocery stores, video rentals, fast food, etc.), and found it valuable, but know that that landscape has also changed dramatically and whereas it was easy for me to get a job at 15, here, there seem to be many 18-20 year olds who struggle to find employment. All that to say, we aren’t settled yet on the job front, but we’re open to a variety of options.

2014-07-26 12.47.20We want to do everything in our power to prepare them for the rigors and responsibilities of real life. Each of our big boys– 11 & 13– cooks roughly one meal a week for our family. Chores are regular expectations (the picture is what our chore chart looked like last fall… I think it’s been updated since then but it gives an idea nonetheless). Jobs will be considered on a kid by kid, situation by situation basis. College MAY be a means for any of them to achieve their goals, but it is not a given. That’s how things stand for now.



Q (Part 1): I just can’t see how the typical way of dating is healthy.  My sisters and I had no parent involvement in helping protect us as we dated. I married an incredible, godly man but my sisters have serious issues in their marriage. I love my brothers-in-law but they are not the kind of man I desire for my girls to marry.

A (Part 1): In regard to dating/courtship, you might find it interesting to listen to the four Sunday school messages our pastor recently taught about courtship. It’ll give you a sense of the community we’re a part of, but also I would say that the things that are taught are very very similar to Doug & I’s personal views on this topic. I think they could be encouraging and instructive for what you’re wrestling through.

Scroll halfway down this page: http://woodlandchristian.net/messages.php?show=sunday_school and you’ll see the 4 different topics from 2014, Courtship, Parts I-IV.  (There are also 2 messages from 2012 further down.)


Q (part 2) I’ve listened to all 6 of the Sunday School sessions from your church on courtship.  It was really helpful to me and I’m so glad you pointed me to them.  I wish I could have heard all of the comments from the participants in the class, but it was still really good.
How are you talking to your boys about courtship now as many of their peers are about to start to have girlfriends?


A (part 2): As far as talking to our boys about courtship, they both sat in on the class, so they both have that as a beginning foundation… we talk a lot about how harmful and ridiculous it is that someone who can not even begin to think about providing for or starting a family with a girl says he is “dating” her… and that it is foolish to start those things before you are ready to actually make good on the relational “promises” you are making.

Passport2Purity was a GREAT way for us to talk through those specific expectations with Ethan when we got away together last fall. We plan to use this program with all of our children when they are 12/13, as it gave us a great springboard for discussion for all of these topics.

Part of the reason I mentioned our community earlier is that that provides the context for my answer. Our community here is not one where they are likely to have peers having “girlfriends” at young ages… I know that is unique and that colors my answer. If we lived elsewhere, we might not be using the word “courtship” but we would be discussing wise choices and not entering into dating relationships until you are ready to be thinking about marriage. It is not *courtship* we are committed to teaching to our children, but wisdom and biblical principles. Here, courtship makes sense because that is the community we are a part of, and for now, it provides enough clarity of language while talking with our children.

If, while at college, for example, one of our sons carefully and prayerfully enters a dating relationship with a young lady and gets to know her family and conducts himself wisely, we will not consider this a failure or compromise. The goal is wisdom, interaction with families and parents (rather than 1-on-1 flirtation and relationship-removed-from-reality style interactions), and Christ-honoring prudence in physical actions before marriage, not necessarily a particular title for the relationship.


(This Q is a follow-up from the article, A CHILD LEFT TO HIMSELF)

Q: As far as your older boys and keeping them close- does that mean they aren’t ever at a friend’s home without you? Are they allowed to play outside without you or Doug out there with them? How do you minister to people not likeminded with your family as you hold to these standards? I definitely get where you’re coming from, I’m just curious how you handle it.

A: As far as staying close to us, they stay close until they have proven that they can be farther, and then that release is slow and watchful and we pull them back closer when they show foolishness OR when we see negative effects from them going farther away. So… yes, our older boys go places without us. They (maybe once a month or once every two months) spend Sunday afternoon (between morning and evening services) with another family. They occasionally play ultimate frisbee with other teens/young adults in our church (without us present, but always with adults present, and always the two of them together). We try to have them go together as much as possible, as it provides accountability but also would allow them another person alongside them to “stand up” for the right thing.

Most of the time, I allow our children to play outside in our backyard without us. But if/when there is a child displaying foolishness/rudeness/constant fighting/constant picking at another child/etc., they lose that privilege and can only go out when I’m with them. If they all start doing those things, they all lose it, and they feel the deprivation from their own rudeness. So, it’s not that they’re never allowed to be alone, but in the house, they are kept close, and I don’t let them go places where there are easy places to hide sin (i.e., going places alone with other youth, or if our backyard didn’t have a fence, etc.).

It DID make it difficult to interact with other families, sometimes, until we got used to it. Now that we are both used to these norms, it is dramatically easier than it was at first. Now, it’s easier. We don’t just say “yes” to anyone who asks for our kids to come over…. we put it in the context of how often they’ve gone in recent weeks, how many events there are upcoming, how often they’ll be in the influence of other teens vs. our influence in nearby weeks, etc. (i.e., last Sunday, a family asked to have the big boys over, but that Monday-Thursday was our church beach camp and I knew that at beach camp, the boys would be going on hikes with other friends/parents, etc., and that I wouldn’t see them much, so we said no and spent that last afternoon together).

We both keep an eye on the 6 & under crowd all the time, but especially VERY carefully when other people’s families are nearby (we have home fellowship here at our house once/week with any number of other families attending, we have families over often, Sunday evenings after church while all the adults are visiting, etc.).


Q: I feel I know so little about motherhood and feel so inadequate for the task. I think this lack of confidence really affects my ability to command the authority I need to have in the home. I was wondering if there was a devotional or Bible study you knew of that could help to build me from the inside to have confidence as a mother as Christ gives me strength. I appreciate your time! God bless.

One Thing: Top Tip (From a Mom of 6) by Jess ConnellA: Well, have you gotten a copy of my book? It talks about this very thing.

Another excellent resource is the mothering portions of Carolyn Mahaney’s “To Teach What is Good.” Here’s a link to the free mp3 teachings. I highly recommend these great teachings. They are excellent for ladies’ study groups, one-on-one discipleship, as well as personal edification.

The thing that gives me the most “confidence” personally is an abiding confidence in God’s sovereignty. The God who made all the universe decided that out of all the moms in all the history of the world and all the children in all the history of the world, I should specifically be the mom to THESE children. So then, I can walk in confidence. He’s given me my strengths for a reason, allowed my weaknesses for a reason, and in the end, will use it all for His glory, for their good, and for mine. His sovereignty gives me great confidence and contentment as I walk, imperfectly, in the exact time and place He has put me.


Thanks to those who wrote, for the questions and dialogue!

Readers, I’d love to hear what you think of this “mailbag” feature.


Have a question? SUBMIT IT HERE.

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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6 Responses

  1. Erin says:

    I’m glad you mentioned Passport to Purity again. I am having a difficult time deciding when to do it with my oldest son. He will turn 11 in July, and is entering 6th grade. He is homeschooled, but he will be entering the youth department in our church. We love our church family and it is a strong mix of homeschool families, private school families and public school families and he has friends in all realms. It is also very “tech” focused and kids are allowed to use their phones as Bibles (which leads to random internet usage during Sunday school and worship services). Our son does not have a phone or ipod or anything, but most of his friends do.

    He is a sensitive and very intelligent boy but he is not a leader and we are concerned about him seeing or hearing sexual material (from peers) before he is ready. We want to discuss the facts with him first but as the oldest child and a homeschooled child he truly has no concept or interest in such things. I think he is too young/immature, but I don’t want his peers showing him something on YouTube that he should not be seeing/is not prepared for.

    Any suggestions?

    • Jess Connell says:

      In the environment you describe, I would start the conversation now and be extremely explicit about the types of situations he might encounter. “Someone might try to show you something on his phone/device…” “Someone might be looking while you walk by or are sitting near…” etc. And what he is to do … but NOT ONLY what he is to do. Give him the why.

      THAT’S where I feel like P2P does such an excellent job. It really is geared toward kids like your son. It does such a great job being (appropriately) silly & laughing about stuff like body odor, etc, which boys at 11 are either already facing, or about to, but then it does a great job introducing the subjects of sexual behavior, porn, “dating” etc… all in the proper long-term context. So even for the child who has no interest, no concept, etc., it gives the biblical framework for understanding these things so that whenever his body and mind DO catch up, he’ll have the appropriate context for it all.

      The other thing is this: the average exposure age for porn is now well before children “should” be showing an interest in sexual things (some studies are saying 8/9)… so an interest in these things is not necessarily an indicator of when we should talk to them. Once we’re in a situation, like you’re about to be, where our kids are regularly outside of our protective eye, I think it’s something we must talk about, no matter the maturity or seeming interests of our kiddos.

      God has built your son to want to see these things… P2P helps put it all in the right framework for when he should see it and why. I’d encourage doing it before youth group. It may make for a few gulpy moments, but on the whole, I am anticipating that you will be pleased to have done it.

  2. Erin says:

    Thanks so much Jess. That makes a lot of sense and is exactly what I needed to hear/read. :-)

  3. Laura says:

    I like this mailbag thing! Great idea!

  4. Kondwani says:

    In terms of career options (a long long way in the future for us):

    1) I like the way you do not see university as a definite. I know too many people who limit their family size to two on the basis of university fees – and this makes so so many assumptions about their children, about the future, about priorities and so many other things

    2) I love that your priority is godly adults who have a meaningful role and witness in society. What could be greater? I think even though this is our priority too, it is easy to ‘look to the left or to the right’ because even Christian families are often swayed by achievement, accolades and finances

    3) I notice an example of medical school – I think even among certain professions, it is still possible to live godly and make godly choices. Organisations such as http://icmda.net/ and national branches of this seek to strengthen and encourage Christian medical and dental students and those who are qualified (my husband and I are both doctors, both work part-time whilst homeschooling the children, and spend a lot of time working amongst the students). My point is, there are certain vulnerable areas, but if it is a God given vocation, then there are organisations and resources which can help (other examples are Christian Lawyers Fellowship and there will be many others I am sure)

    4) As you are 10 years ‘ahead’ of me, I look forward to watching and learning from you as you navigate these decisions and the challenges that emerge. We will pray for you!


  5. Amy M says:

    I loved reading this!

    I especially appreciated what you had to say about college and job training. I grew up in a household where college was very much a “given” and I think in my case, it was the right decision. For siblings, not always.

    However, now I seem to be in circles where I see a lot of the opposite extreme and instead of “college always”, I keep being told “college never” – especially not for girls. My husband and I have done a lot of praying and soul searching on this area, and I think we tend to come down in a similar place to where you do. When done well, college can provide a fantastic education and open a lot of doors, as well as help one’s Christian walk. I do have lots of concern about some aspects of campus culture, though, but since we just have littles at the moment, I know there may well be cultural changes between now and then.

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