Parents as Courtship Coaches

by Steve Wood

Except for paying college costs, many parents consider their job practically finished after they drop off their college-bound student at the freshman dorm. This is a huge mistake. Parents need to be on-duty throughout the college, early career, and courtship years. Like many championship games, it is during the final moments of the fourth quarter that games are won or lost. Parents, like coaches, must pay attention to the final quarter, that is, the courtship years.

I feel so strongly about the need during the courtship years that I’ve written two books on the subject: The ABCs of Choosing a Good Wife and The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband to assist young adults in the mate selection process. I strongly recommend that parents read and digest this material long before your children enter the courting years. It is regrettable that the majority of young adults are left practically on their own to make their choice of a spouse, the most important decision of their lives.

The most frequently-repeated mistake I have seen in thirty years of working with parents is the failure to anticipate the needs of teens and twenty-year-olds. Moms and Dads should have a pro-active parenting plan, not a reactive one. Parents need a game plan from early childhood to courtship and marriage. You can develop a complete game plan by being aware of what you need to know and the challenges you will face during the various phases of parenting, especially the often neglected final phase. Learning the necessary courtship coaching skills isn’t so hard, especially if you start long before you need them.

Out of a desire to learn how to help others and myself live guided by a meaningful life mission, I took a course on Christian life coaching. What I discovered in my life coach training is that all of us have longed-for goals, wished-for achievements, and hoped-for priorities. Unfortunately, we so often fail to achieve and accomplish the very things that matter most. Life coaching helps fill the gap between intention and accomplishment. My two ABCs books incorporate a couple of important insights gleaned from my life coach training.

I’ve observed how incredibly easy it is for self-deception during the high adrenaline, emotional roller-coaster phase of a budding relationship. I discovered that young people could enthusiastically read my book, attend conference talks on courtship, and listen to audio messages on the topic, and then proceed to act as though not a single word ever entered their minds.

A real-life example is the subject of dating, courting, or marrying a non-Catholic.

Chapter nine in both of my ABCs books deals with the question of inter-faith vs. same-faith marriage. My most recent editions of my ABCs books have a startling statistic showing that couples with children in inter-faith marriages have a divorce rate three times higher than couples in same-faith households. (I acknowledge in my books that there are many successful inter-faith marriages. Yet the existence of strong inter-faith marriages does not change the striking statistical evidence of the danger inherent in an inter-faith marriage.)

I have observed highly-committed Catholic young people who have read my caution about inter-faith marriage and then proceeded to get completely entangled in relationships with people of a different faith, or of very little faith. The probability of an enduring legacy of faith in your family is greatly reduced by your grown children entering an inter-faith marriage.

Therefore, the question is, “How do I help my child stick to his or her commitment to marry someone who shares their faith?” Three simple steps can vastly improve the probability of a good intention becoming a reality. (These steps, including a personal courtship commitment plan, are included in the appendix of both ABCs books.)

The first step is your son or daughter writing out their intentions. You might be tempted to say, “Yeah, yeah I know that.” I know that you know it, but the question is, “Will your grown child do it?” Those who write down their intentions (whatever they are) dramatically increase the probability of realizing them. That is why every corporation will require a written business plan before allocating capital to a project.

The second step is to have an accountability partner to witness the signing of the “Personal Courtship Commitments” and to hold the signer to his or her commitments. The accountability partner provides desperately needed third-party objectivity.

The third step is to develop the “Personal Courtship Commitments” over a three to four week period. The probability of following-through with an intention is at least doubled if it is preceded by a period of reflection and preparation.

You can prepare younger children for the courtship years by teaching them to write down major commitments, have an accountability system, and precede commitments with prayerful reflection.

In upcoming articles, I’ll be talking about some other important things parents can do to prepare their children for successful marriage and how to assist them in the mate selection process. Your child’s choice of a marriage partner will affect your family’s legacy of faith for generations. The courtship years are a time when good parents, like good coaches, have a game plan for the courting phase of parenthood.