My wife and I had sexual relations before we were married. How can we look our teens in the eye and teach them about abstinence and about restraint from passionate kissing and hugging?
Dennis: This is a fear of every parent who has failed in an area and is attempting to lead the child to do what is right. This fear is all too normal in this culture; I've had many parents ask me this question.
The Bible is full of stories about people who sinned, yet went on to be instruments of God, upholding His standards. If you think about it, the apostle Paul was part of a group of people who stoned Stephen. He was an accomplice to murder. And yet Paul called people to holy living in his epistles; in Romans 6:12, for example, he urges us to "... not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts."
Just because you failed in the area of sexual purity doesn't mean you can't be committed to upholding God's standard for your kids. In fact, you should feel a greater urgency to stand up for the truth because you know the consequences of not waiting until marriage.
When you allow a past sin to disqualify you from calling your children to a holy lifestyle, you allow the enemy to gain the victory. The accuser of the brethren wants you to focus on your mistakes and your inadequacy, instead of your forgiveness through Christ. Satan wants to disarm you and keep you at arm's length from your child.
Do you have any suggestions for how to challenge kids in this area?
Barbara: I think the Proverbs provide a great pattern for how a father and mother should instruct their children. We should teach them the way that is right and the benefits of making good, moral choices. And we should show the consequences of foolish choices.
It's important to challenge your children to specific standards. When our kids were growing up, Dennis and I challenged them not to kiss anyone until they were married. Some people will laugh at this, but our response is, "Okay, where do you want your kids to draw the line?"
We wanted our kids to remain pure. It was ultimately their choice, but we challenged them with a high standard so that they would decide what they believed and why they believed it. In this permissive culture, we wanted to hold them to a higher standard—that of holiness—than just abstinence.
I also should warn against communicating an attitude that says "Sex is bad." That's how the world stereotypes the Christian attitude about sex. In reality, sex is designed by God and it is good. He's just placed fences around it by saying, "Wait until marriage."
Should you be totally honest with your children and tell them how you sinned?
Dennis: I do not believe your children need to know about every mistake you've made. I would never suggest that you lie to your children, but sharing the details of your moral failure might diminish the importance of the standard in your teen's mind. He or she could think, "Well, Dad had sex before marriage and he didn't turn out so bad. Why should I be concerned about it?"
There might be some appropriate ages to share certain failures—as long as you also tell them about the consequences of that sin. I do recommend not going into detail about any sexual failures prior to their graduation from high school, and perhaps even college. It's important to preserve the model of a parent who is leading and guiding them.
What if they ask you specifically whether you had sex before marriage?
Dennis: If you don't feel it's appropriate, you could say, "That's a great question, and there will be a time when we can talk about some of the lessons I learned. But for right now I think it's best if that answer be delayed for a period of time. I would like to be able to have that discussion with you when I think it's appropriate."
The point is, you don't want your failure to have an impact on your children's pattern of behavior. Their convictions need to be settled.
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