Homeschooling: The Materials of Education

In my last post, I outlined some general information about how I organize our homeschool. Now, I’ll get into some of the specifics–the materials of our home education and what each child will be assigned for this school year.

This year, I will have a 2nd, 4th, and 6th grader, as well as a preschooler.

A note about preschool: I have no formal work for the preschooler, but I do keep some simple letter recognition activities and number games on hand so I can give him “school work” when he wants it. (My experience says that most younger siblings like playing along with school, so it’s good to have a few tricks in your bag.) One good goal for preschool siblings is to include them in as much of the group lessons as possible, even just in proximity and within ears reach, so they will more easily transition into full participation at some point. My three year-old will even fake his way through narrations during tea time, which is kind of hilarious.

Now–what do I actually teach?

I’ve uploaded a very detailed materials list for reference if that would be helpful. You can find a good digital version (to view online) here and a good printable version here. This list will change throughout the year. I consider it a map, not a rule.

To make it easier to understanding how this all fits into our school day, you can refer to my last post.

MORNING BASKET-
In the mornings, after the kids have finished breakfast and prepared for the day (and I have had a moment to myself for Mother Culture), we sit together at the table for our Morning Basket. This is a great way to begin the day by praying together, reciting Scripture, and singing songs.

I usually trade off days between Bible/Hymns and Folks Songs/German lessons. I usually have one designated Bible passage for memorization/recitation, a hymn, and a folk song per school term with some holiday-appropriate things thrown in, as well. I try to do a weekly Bible study with the kids but keep it short and simple.

(Sidebar: I don’t really know German beyond very remedial things so we do a lot of basic greetings and vocabulary, plus songs and rhymes and German culture, picture books, and history lessons. When the kids move up into about 8th grade, they can choose their own foreign language study and we will buy a language program for them to use.)

Includes:

MORNING PRAYERS

BIBLE-
– Recitation and memorization of long portions of scripture. (The same passages will be used for copywork and spelling/dictation exercises throughout the term.)
– Weekly group Bible lesson

HYMNS-
– Three or more hymns per year, one per term, memorized for morning worship and used for copywork throughout the term.

FOLK SONGS-
– Three or more folk songs per year, one per term, memorized and used for copywork throughout the term.

GERMAN LESSON AND SONGS-
– Remedial German lessons with picture books, vocabulary flashcards, coloring sheets, songs, and nursery rhymes.

INDEPENDENT WORK-
We jump into our most difficult work first. In addition to being the hardest mind-work, this is the work that might require my full attention with only one child. So, this is the time of day when the big kids bounce back and forth between working independently, sitting with me for tutoring, and helping with the preschooler. If all goes well, they can be done with this in one or two hours.

Includes:

READING
– Daily assigned reading- kids choose from a few options. These are often “stretching books” for them. They are sometimes more difficult than the books they’d normally choose for themselves.

COPYWORK
– Daily copywork- kids alternate between workbooks, scripture, poetry, hymns, letter-writing, etc. We begin cursive in 3rd or 4th grade.

GRAMMAR
– Izzy and Elsa do one or two lessons a week in Grammar, usually alternating between dictation exercises, spelling quizes, basic language lessons and sentence diagramming. Content for these lessons is taken directly from their reading assignments. We literally open whichever book they’ve been reading and discuss the grammar or use an excerpt for dictation/spelling.

LATIN
– Izzy does two Latin lessons a week.

PLUTARCH
– This is a once weekly independent reading for Izzy, a good hard lesson in classical literature.

FREE READS
– Each of the kids has a list of mom-approved “free reads” that they can read anytime and anywhere (when not otherwise engaged). I will often use these books as a calming measure if things are tense or as a distraction from twaddle books I’m not as excited to see them reading.

MATH
– Daily math lessons. I have never used a textbook or work book for early elementary. We have transitioned into a formal curriculum around 2nd – 4th grade. It’s been different for every child.

GROUP LESSONS-
I usually alternate days, with two days a week for Science & Nature Study and two days for History and Geography. This year, we’ll be focusing our first two terms on a “hard science” and then we’ll try to spend as much of the Spring term as possible outdoors, studying birds and conservation.

These lessons are done together, usually around the table or outdoors, in a very conversational style. We narrate our lessons orally as we go and then each kid responds with age-appropriate work. (After a history lesson, for example, Izzy might do a three sentence written narration in response. Elsa might write a sentence about what we read and draw a picture to illustrate. Edith might draw a picture and dictate a short narration for me to write in her notebook.)

Includes:

SCIENCE & NATURE STUDY-
– We have two science lessons a week, alternating between one “hard science” curriculum and a more nature-based study. We also consider any nature study done while hiking and nature journaling as a part of our science work.

IMG_2626

HISTORY & GEOGRAPHY-
– We have two history and geography lessons a week, alternating between a story-based world history curriculum and history-relevant geography lessons, and things like map drills, US states and capitals, and understanding landforms and topography.
– Starting in 4th grade, the kids begin their own Book of Centuries, which is their own record of world history.

A note about the book Pagoo: This is the third book we’ve used by this author, Holling C. Holling. His books tell a long-form story and work as a history, geography, and science book all in one. They have lovely detailed illustrations and diagrams. We use these books in addition to a formal science study. We usually draw the book out for most of the year, reading a chapter every other week or so, and doing appropriate science observations and mapwork/geograpy lessons as we go. Pagoo is about a hermit crab and tidepools, so we’ll use it to study the ecosystem of tidepools, crustaceans, the history and geography of coastal regions, etc.

RICHES and OCCUPATIONS-

Includes:

RICHES-
These are the really beautiful parts of education–art, music, poetry, etc. Sometimes we sit down to study these outdoors. Sometimes we sit at the piano or the record player. Sometimes we do it over tea or while learning something else like how to crochet. A lot of this is fluid. In a normal year, we would add as many live performances and museum visits as possible.

I choose one artist and one composer per term to study, plus a poet per child. And I choose a list of family read-aloud books for the year, but the list is very fluid and we don’t always keep to the list.

This year’s selections:

ARTIST STUDY- Titian, Leonardo, Rembrandt

COMPOSER STUDY– Wagner, Handel (Messiah), Mozart

SHAKESPEARE– A Midsommer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing

POETRY-
– Izzy Poetry Study- Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes
– Elsa Poetry Study- Alfred Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth
– Edith Poetry Study- Walter De La Mare, Eugene Field, Christina Rossetti

FAMILY READ-ALOUDS-
(Our Family Read-Alouds are often done either over tea or at bedtime.)
– The Wingfeather Saga III and IV, Heidi, Understood Betsy, Five Little Peppers and    How They Grew, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I, At the Back of the North Wind, The Vanderbeeks of 141st Street

OCCUPATIONS-
Three days a week, the kids are basically on their own to occupy their afternoons. This is the time for their individual lessons or skill-building. They can engage in reading, games, build something, or learning something new on their own. The goal is to put their education to life. If they need to, they can take a nap. If they want to, they can help me prepare dinner or (sometimes) do an extra chore for pay. Sometimes I let them listen to an audiobook or play an iPad game.

Izzy- can choose from things like Typing 1, piano lessons, Karate, art & handicrafts (carpentry, carving, sketching/drafting, book-binding), nature journaling, creative writing

Elsa- can choose from things like Typing 1, piano lessons, American Heritage Girls badges, handicrafts (painting, sketching/drafting, claywork, gardening), nature journaling, creative writing

Edith- can choose from things like piano lessons, ballet, handicrafts (bracelet making, claywork, painting, baking), nature journaling, creative writing

 

I do not run our homeschool on a tight regimen.

In some ways, the flexible nature of our school day reflects my own struggles with personal discipline and we would benefit from tightening things up a bit. In another sense, my ability to pivot in a moment and reorient our days is necessary and has kept us relatively at peace in the home and happily learning together.

Let me know if you have any specific questions about how this all works its way out.

What would you like to hear more about?

Considering homeschooling?

With the COVID pandemic threatening to make traditional classroom education untenable this fall, a handful of my friends have recently asked for help navigating the world of homeschooling, just in case.

Instead of addressing them all individually, I thought it might helpful to publish a few things publicly here on my blog so they’ll be easier to share.

I anticipate publishing this content in 3-4 parts over the next few days.

For this first post, let me address some of my friends’ most pressing questions (And please forgive me if I didn’t do a great job proofreading this. I’ve been staying up super late the past few nights and I’m seeing double) —

“Where do I start?!”

When you start homeschooling, it’s really normal to obsess about “the stuff” of school. The material. “What will I teach!!?” you ask yourself. But, honestly, why you’re teaching and your goals for education are far more important than the materials you use. If you can pin down your “why,” it will be easier to choose your “what.”

If you have your “why” in line, you’ll be able to adapt any materials to your use. (Though some materials are obviously better than others!) Your materials and methods may very well change over time anyway, even with every child. These should change in response to the refining of your goals and your guiding philosophy. So don’t get too hung up on the materials of school first or you’ll miss the whole point of education—“missing the forest for the trees,” as they say.

Speaking personally, my methods of schooling have changed over the past few years as I’ve developed a more refined philosophy of education. I usually tell people I prescribe to a loose Charlotte Mason (CM) philosophy. (I say “loose” because I’m certainly not a purist.) If you’re interested in learning about Mason and her pedagogy, you can read some of her books here but there are some great books about her philosophy that are a little easier to digest, like this one. (And there’s a good primer here, too, if you just want to read something quick online.)

“But how will I know what to teach for science or math, for example? What curriculum should I buy?”

Many of the resources I use here at our home are what you’d consider “the Classics” together with what Mason called “living books.” I do use some modern Classical Christian homeschool materials, as well. But I apply these with a CM method.

I am a bit of a minimalist in regards to schoolwork and materials. Our school days are very book-heavy, with a lot of reading together and we do very little paperwork and very few worksheets, especially in early grades. The kids’ school “work” is mostly accomplished through conversation, in oral or drawn/written narration, which is a hallmark of the Charlotte Mason method. (I’d be happy to explain this concept further.)

And I try to give my kids ample time to work out their education and develop their own unique skills and interests in their unscheduled time. To that end, lessons are short and we don’t clutter our days with unnecessary busy-work.

For now, all of the lesson are done here at home with me (with John teaching most fine art technique and handling the bedtime reading). But now that Izzy is in 6th grade, his independent work is becoming increasingly more demanding and I may eventually have to outsource more of his lessons (like Latin, for example) with tutors, outside classes, or online classes.

I gravitate toward using older “Classics” but I’m not afraid of new materials. And I definitely avoid dry text books and picture encyclopedia types of books, opting instead for beautiful living books that are more humane and memorable. For early grades—prek through about 4th—you can truly teach an entire school year with little more than a collection of picture books and ample time spent outdoors. (Honestly, there are entire websites dedicated to it!)

Some of my favorite homeschool materials/resources.

Many of the books I use—as well as the subject matter I choose for art, poetry, and music, for example–are recommendations found on Ambleside Online, which is an online Charlotte Mason curriculum. I also love to steal recommendations from the book lists published by Read-Aloud Revival for my kids’ independent reading.

We use Singapore Math for our math curriculum. The Primary Mathematics series works best for us, but they do have a Common Core series that might work best for you if your kids will transition back into traditional school. (I don’t bother buying the textbooks until about 5th grade level but if you’re weak in math, go ahead and buy them.) In early years, I find it helpful to teach math conversationally, without workbooks or paperwork. I have never used a curriculum for k or 1st grade math. Edith has asked to “move faster,” so she will be starting a 2nd grade workbook this year so she can work independently.

If you’re looking for a packaged curriculum, I highly recommend The Good and The Beautiful. This will be our second year using one of their Science curricula, as well as a typing curriculum, and they have many more subjects. (We used their Anatomy curriculum last year.)

We use Learning Without Tears for copywork and penmanship/cursive.

Simply Charlotte Mason publishes some really lovely packaged curriculum, especially for artist and composer studies. They have a great elementary arithmetic program.

I like The Well-Trained Mind Classical curriculum offerings but have never used them as scripted. We use their history curriculum–Story of the World–and Grammar–First Language Lessons. (I use these books more a guide for what to teach, not how to teach it. I don’t follow the rules.)

Brave Writer is awesome, too, for developing writing and reading comprehension skills.

Khan Academy is probably the best free secular resource available online. It’s great for educational videos. And I love the math tutorials for times when I need extra help teaching something. (IXL is great for this, too.)

There are as many homeschool curricula available as there are stars in the sky. It can get overwhelming really quickly. Just focus on your goals and philosophy and choose something that you can imagine wanting to take off the shelf every morning.


What about testing and assessments?

We do not do formal testing. Instead, we do oral exams at the end of each term. These exams just walk each child through a few of the things we’ve learned throughout the term to gauge comprehension. I record the conversations and make detailed notes. And it helps me know what’s working and what’s not so I know how to move forward.

I will likely have the kids suffer through two or three standardized tests prior to HS graduation, just to familiarize themselves with the process, but we have not done it yet.

In the state of Ohio you can choose, instead of standardized testing, to submit an assessment of your year’s work. You just need a liscenced Ohio educator to assess the work–sometimes called a portfolio–and verify that your child has done “an adequate amount of work for their ability.” Every assessor is different, but we hire a woman who is a former homeschool mom. We create our portfolio of samples of the year’s work and she talks through it with us and asks a few questions and then signs off on it. She also offers any advice or suggestions we might need for the next year, if we want it. The school system itself will never even see your child’s actual work.

(We would usually submit this assessment to the Superintendent when we submit our official “Intent to Homeschool” paperwork to withdraw for the following year. But, for 2020, due to COVID, assessments are being waived.)

So how do we organize our days so we get everything done?

I’ll run through the basics of our day now and then my next post will have more info about the elements of our school day and what we study, specifically. (So if something doesn’t make sense yet or a concept is completely foreign, stay tuned.)

Click here to see a basic outline of our daily schedule.

Our days begin with rising and preparing for the day. After feeding the kids, I “excuse myself” from responsibilities for about 30-45 minutes so I can focus on what Charlotte Mason called Mother Culture. This is my time for feeding my own body, mind, and soul.

Our school time starts with a Morning Basket.

Then we move into Independent Work.

Then, there is hopefully a nice break before lunch for tidying/chores and resting or outdoor play.

After lunch, we do our Group Lessons, which we can all do together (and is best done when the 3 yr-old is sleeping).

Then we alternate days between Riches–which are often done during a shared tea time or outdoors–and Occupations, which the kids work on independently.

One day a week, we try to hike and do a nature study outdoors. (This is usually our co-op day.) To make this possible, we leave most Fridays pretty wide open but can adjust the day as necessary.

Also–we organize our school year in 3 12-week terms, roughly Labor Day until Memorial Day, with about two weeks’ wiggle room for holidays.

Tongues of Fire and the City is Burning

I can hear the crackling outside my window.
Between the police sirens and helicopters’ beating and distant voices yelling, I hear it spreading through the cracks in the pavement.

Fire.

It’s the fire that grows from pain and frustration bubbling over into anger and chaos and it demands to be heard.

Well, I hear it.
And I understand where it comes from. I always have.

(I’m serious. Please believe me.)

The racism. The injustice.
Yes, I see it.

It’s one of the reasons I’m here.

I loved you and I wanted to do something to help.
I prayed to be a blessing.
I asked for the Spirit of God.

Maybe not enough.

For what it’s worth, you should know that I almost joined you yesterday, early, before the sun went down. Before things got crazy. Before the cops pulled out the body armor and shields.

But I was too tired. And too concerned with right and wrong and “the appropriate way to solve the problem.”

So I stayed home.

Now it’s 2am and there are sirens nearby.
I am not afraid because I am not the victim here.

But now I know that I am also no help.
And I have no answers.

Today is Pentecost.
We should be on Fire.
Instead, the city is burning.

 

How To Survive At Home With Your Kids During the Pandemic

Congratulations!

The COVID-19 virus has officially been declared a “pandemic” and that means you’re now officially a stay-at-home parent.

Welcome to the party.

Let’s be clear about something here at the start–
Being with your kids around the clock is hard. Super hard. So hard that the next few weeks will make you wonder, at times, why you ever decided to have kids at all. They will annoy you. You will annoy them. There may be screaming involved.

But your kids are actually pretty awesome. And you are going to do a great job. (God gave you these kids; you were made for this.)

And this won’t last forever. (Repeat that as many times as you need to so you can sleep at night.)

Now I understand that some of you are in really tricky situations at this point. Maybe you are unable to work from home–or to work well from home–or you will have to take unpaid leave to tend to your kids. Maybe you are a single parent with no childcare options.

I don’t want to make light of your situation but I also want you to understand that, once you find a solution that works, this disruption could be an immense blessing for both you and your kids .

I hope you find a way to be home together.
I believe that “home together” is a great place to be, even if it doesn’t last forever.

So, whether you’ll be rearranging work schedules so you can stay home with your kids or are already home but not used to having the kids around, let’s talk about how to make the most of the next few weeks.

First, you can use this time to establish healthy family rhythms that the busy-ness of your normal lives don’t allow.

You can begin your days together around the breakfast table and share dinner together without rush and hurry. You can spend more time sharing things you love–things like reading, praying, playing, or hiking. If you’d like, you can share poetry or fairy-tales over tea or hot cocoa in the afternoon like we do.

You can incorporate your children into the daily responsibilities of home life.

They can take on more chores and household projects during the day. They can help prepare meals. They can help care for siblings. They can help you care for neighbors in need. In so doing, they will develop a better understanding for all the work that happens “behind the scenes” while they are usually at school or at play or doing homework.

You can give your children space to explore interests that are usually only afforded a fraction of their time.

They can deep dive into subjects they’ve only skimmed the surface of at school or research something they’d love to know more about. They can spend three weeks learning about whatever makes them excited to learn, whether it’s WWII airplanes or the plumage of waterfowl. Or, if they need to, they can use the time to catch up on math skills or reading assignments they’ve fallen behind on in their regular classes. 

And you can let them play hard.

Without “school tomorrow” looming over their heads, your kids can immerse themselves in a favorite toy or game that usually takes too much time to play or set up (or take down). It might be playing a game of RISK, building a Lego city, writing a short story, or sewing a skirt. Maybe it’s writing a new song or organizing a game of Capture the Flag with neighbors. You child now has time to learn a new skill like embroidery or carpentry. They can read in a tree all morning; they can paint on the back porch all afternoon.

Basically, for those of you who are now on an extended Spring Break, this is your chance to experience the best parts of homeschooling without the actual “schooling.”

It sounds awesome, right? Enjoy it.

And for those whose kids have formal academic work to complete at home during this time–via digital lessons or take-home work–this is going to be a hard couple of weeks. I won’t lie. Homeschooling is hard. (Especially if you will be working at the same time, as well.)

But homeschooling is also awesome.

And with a family rhythm that works for you and your kids, a lot of patience with each other, and a little more intentional time management, you might find that it’s much easier than you feared and you’ll be surprised to see how each day affords plenty of time for both the work and the fun.

Heck, you might actually enjoy it a little bit.

 

 

 

 

 

If you are interested in some tangible resources that can help you order your day so it moves along without too much fruitless boredom or frustration, the internet is a wealth of resources. And there are as many homeschool family schedules as there are homeschool families because everyone’s needs are different.

I’d be happy to help you find what you’re looking for if you reach out to me. I’m certainly not an expert, but I’ve done enough research and have enough experience at this point to at least know where to find the real experts.

 

When I Changed My Mind About Abortion

Growing up in the 80’s, we were taught that, in mixed company, a reasonable person never discussed religion or politics.

I didn’t listen.
I still don’t.

In high school, I loved to debate religion and politics, especially with teachers and fellow students who already disagreed with me. I was a devout Evangelical church kid with all the answers and one of my deepest commitments was to the pro-life cause.

One of my favorite t-shirts was from the Rock for Life campaign, which read in big bold block letters, “ABORTION IS MURDER.”

Gosh, I loved that shirt.

But I remember being in a big crowd of strangers one day while wearing that shirt and I was suddenly struck by the thought, “What would my shirt communicate to a young woman who had already had an abortion? Would she feel loved? Would she feel safe? Would someone considering an abortion want to come to me for help?”

This was the first time I changed my mind about abortion.
I stopped wearing the shirt. Even if I still believed its message was true, the shirt just didn’t make sense to me anymore.

Then, in 2000, I entered college.

Like most kids entering the world of academic thought, issues of ethics and morality became much more nuanced and complicated. I began to think more philosophically and less moralistically. I learned parts of history that made me question my fundamental beliefs about my country, my church, and myself. I asked more questions than I knew answers.

At some point, I got more interested in the social implications of my faith. My theology became more robust and holistic. My heart was softened toward the poor. I was sensitized to women and children in crisis. My eyes were opened to a world of struggle that I’d never known, didn’t understand, and felt helpless to address.

This is the second time I changed my mind about abortion.
I decided I felt uncomfortable judging a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy when I had no idea what circumstances had led her to make that decision.

I wanted to be fair, I wanted to be generous. I wanted to leave space for outlying circumstances that, but by the grace of God, I could one day face myself.

But then I changed my mind again as my conception of “choice” and personal responsibility shifted.

Being raised in Evangelical culture, sex outside marriage had always been posited as an issue of personal morality and purity. Now, as a young adult pursuing long-term relationships, the rules of personal purity seemed much more nebulous because intimacy just seemed so natural. And, far beyond any questions of “should we be having sex,” I realized there was a lot I simply didn’t know or understand about how our bodies are made.

A friend (who had recently became Catholic) turned me on to some books about fertility and family planning. Unlike the fear-based abstinence training of my youth, these books taught that the natural cause and effect relationship between sex and procreation is a gift, not a liability. I also started to believe that sex, though it had other purposes and benefits, was fundamentally tied to fruitfulness and mutual commitment, not identity or personal enjoyment.

Suddenly the practicality of abstinence outside of a lifelong commitment was evident. As a woman, I realized that this was how I could exercise my fundamental right to choose. While sexual activity can be a source of empowerment, so can abstinence. I should not be having sex with anyone with whom I was not willing to also share a child since pregnancy is an eventual, natural consequence of a sexual relationship.

Sidebar: To some of my peers, the thought of abstaining completely because you aren’t ready for a baby might sound absurd because your beliefs about human sexuality are different than mine or because it’s impossible for you to imagine a life without sex.

But, lean in close and I’ll tell you a secret–

A sexless life will not kill you.

And if you just absolutely cannot bear a sexless life, a box of 10 condoms will set you back a whopping $7.99 and, even without insurance, most women can get birth control pills for less than $20 a month. (For women on Medicaid, it’s free.)

Do you want to exercise your right to choose? Choose one fewer latte a week, buy the pill instead, and you can have all the baby-free sex you want.

(It sounds snarky, but it’s true.)

My mind had been changed. All these “pro-choice” vs “pro-life” arguments seemed silly now once you first establish the fact that babies don’t get made by accident. There were a million ways to not get pregnant, including simply not having sex or being smart about how you did it.

And, before you say it, yes, I did ask myself–“But, what about rape? She didn’t have a choice!”

Well, that’s a great point and I’m going to get to that in a moment so please standby.* The story’s not over.

A few years later, my mind changed again.
This time it was about the issues of late-term abortion and “the life of the mother.”

Though abortions after 21 weeks’ gestation make up only about 1% of abortions, they seem to be used as a rally point for both those for and against all elective abortion. Both sides will tell you that late term abortions are horrifying procedures that no one would undergo unless it was absolutely necessary. But no one seems to agree about what constitutes a “necessity.” And that is where the medical term “abortion” gets manipulated and politicized, emotions get crazy, and it gets hard to see the truth.

So, a few years ago, I starting asking questions.

Who are these women who are having abortions after 20 weeks? Who are these babies? What kinds of scenarios lead them to these desperate measures?

This is what I found:

I found almost zero instances in my (admittedly imperfect, so I’m sure someone can prove me wrong) research when it was medically necessary for the sake of saving the mother’s life for an unborn child to be aborted (i.e. killed), rather than delivered through emergency induction or c-section.

Instead, it seems that the laws that exist to allow the termination of a pregnancy “to save the life of a mother” actually (rightly) exist to protect doctors and patients in an urgent, emergency situation where their patient (the mother) is in crisis and hard decisions have to be made about where to turn their attention. (Imagine a doctor telling the husband, “She’s losing blood! We need to do something!” and the husband yelling, “Doctor, just please save my wife!”)

This crisis scenario has always existed–because childbirth can be dangerous–but no one in their right mind would consider this scenario anything akin to an “elective abortion.” Yet, pro-abortion advocates continue to refer to this as just one more type of “abortion”–which is the clinical term for fetal demise–just to manipulate the political issue. (Same goes for the termination of ectopic pregnancies.)

On the other side of the issue, what I have found is many, many instances like these when second- or third-term unborn children are aborted because they either have a terminal illness that is deemed “incompatible with life” or because the parents have been advised that the child’s medical complications would be so severe that they are, basically, better off dead.

These are absolutely unimaginable scenarios, yet they happen all the time.

So, rather than going into the ethical dilemma, in particular, of when it might or might not be okay to terminate a late term pregnancy, let’s ask a different question for a second.

What makes some people decide to pursue a late-term abortion–which is difficult to secure and extremely expensive–and makes others, despite popular wisdom, carry their child to full-term and deliver a baby destined for difficulty or (sometimes immediate) death?

It might seem simplistic to call this out, but my experience tells me that religious faith has a lot to do with it.

Religious people believe in a Creator. They believe that life has purpose. They believe that the creator God ordains life and death. There is a moral imperative to let God be the one to determine the number of a child’s days.

And on a deeper level, people of faith have a philosophical and spiritual framework that provides comfort for their pain. And they bear the burden of infant loss, chronic illness, and special needs children differently because of it. Moreover, they have a community of faith to help bear the burden alongside them.

Now, there are certainly religious people who have terminated pregnancies, but there’s also a reason that most of the news stories we see about people electing to not terminate a difficult pregnancy are about people of faith. It’s a real thing. Radical faith makes you do seemingly “foolish” things.

But, wait. The “religious card” can be used the other way, right?

Aren’t religious people supposed to exercise mercy and kindness? If so, then why do so many religious people refuse to budge about abortion in circumstances like *rape? Or in situations where the mother is all alone? Or when she was pressured into a sexual relationship? Or when she already has children who she struggles to provide for?

These are reasonable questions, and ones that I’ve felt challenged by many times. After all, it seems very judicious to just say, as many of my peers do, “Well, I could certainly never do it, but I’m not willing to stop someone else from doing it.”

But this reasoning works if–and only if–you don’t believe that there is another life hanging in the balance.

Which is why I eventually changed my mind about the pro-life position.
I decided pro-lifers are not crazy. And I decided I might actually be one of them after all.

See, “to each his own” just doesn’t fly if you believe an unborn child is, in fact, a child–a child, regardless of their health; regardless of their future quality of life; regardless of the circumstances of their conception or their birth.

Yet, when it comes to an unborn child, we don’t often let ourselves simply acknowledge it as a “life.” That would make it too simple and we’d be forced to reckon with our responsibility to protect it.

Instead, we want to categorize the unborn as “potential life” which becomes a “real life” and then becomes a “viable life” with a certain “quality of life.”

We do this because it helps us negotiate our own complicated feelings and fears about the fragility of life. It puts something inherently un-tidy into tidy categories so we can feel better about it. In addition to unnecessarily complicating our positions about the unborn, it helps us dismiss the heartbreak of infertility, the pain of miscarriage, the trauma of stillbirth, and the burden of chronic illness by compartmentalizing them in “not quite living” things.

But the most staunch anti-abortion activists don’t do this with an unborn child. They believe that life is life. Life comes from God. And God does not discriminate or compartmentalize, so neither can we.

And this seems like a far more honorable position than the flippant “to each his own,” doesn’t it?

My experience also tells me that, far from being the woman-hating judgmental prigs that I’d been warned about associating with, many people who lean anti-abortion are actually pretty awesome. Many of them are healthcare providers. They are school teachers and social workers. Many of them actively serve the poor. Many of them volunteer in crisis pregnancy centers, at after-school programs for low-income kids, and donate many, many dollars to social service agencies that provide a safety net for vulnerable families.

And it turns out very few pro-lifers prescribe to a strict no-birth control policy. They aren’t anti-sex and they aren’t anti-sex education. (Many pro-lifers are supportive of comprehensive education about issues related to family planning and fertility.)

They are also super pro-adoption and many have adopted vulnerable children themselves, especially profoundly special-needs children.

I’ve seen my environmentalist friends speak with passion and disgust about using plastic garbage bags, about the evils of large game hunting in Africa, or starving polar bears in Alaska but, when faced with the possibility that abortion actually ends a human life, mum’s the word. It’s all “personal freedom” and “don’t tell me what to do with my body.”

But, if the numbers are true, even the conservative numbers, then we’re not talking about a couple thousands polar bears in Alaska, we’re talking about something like 900,000 abortions a year. (And close to 90% of them occur in the first 12 weeks, which means most of these pregnancies are not being terminated for the safety of the mother or the health of the child.)

That’s over 46,000,000 babies since 1970.

That’s 46 million children. Actual human children.

That’s a big deal. A really big deal. Which makes street protesters seem a little less crazy to me.

But where does that leave me?
It is time for me to pull out that “ABORTION IS MURDER” shirt and wear it to next week’s Planned Parenthood protest?

Probably not.
Because I believe that communication is just as much about the medium as the message and I’m not convinced the sidewalk protest is an effective medium.

So does this mean I vote for only pro-life candidates?

Not always.
Because it turns out that most “pro-life” politics in the year 2020 does not reflect a consistently pro-life position, nor the people who hold it. Not comprehensively, at least.

A consistently pro-life position honors the sanctity of life, the modern science of fertility and fetal development (which increasingly supports a pro-life position), and considers helping mothers navigate the realities of poverty, single-parenthood, healthcare woes, and adoption trauma (for mother and child).

When was the last time you saw a politician run on that kind of pro-life position?

Even within anti-abortion circles, people disagree about how to handle things like pregnancy from rape or incest, availability of birth control (and emergency contraception), or fatal health diagnoses. And, even in pro-abortion circles, most people still take serious issue with second- and third-term abortions and some would rather outlaw abortion entirely except in extreme cases. (Seriously, look at the statistics. We are not nearly as divided on these extreme cases as you might think.)

Popular media likes to place us all in dualistic categories of “anti-” or “pro-” abortion. And our politicians manipulate our fear of the uncomfortable nuance of the issue by forcing us to choose a camp. But this strict dualism doesn’t always exist in real life. Most of us know we don’t fit neatly into either political camp, but we also feel like we don’t have many options. We must either “side with the babies” and vote for pro-life candidates or “side with the women” and vote for pro-choice candidates.

So, does this mean I consider it all a loss and ignore abortion politics entirely because it’s such a cesspool?

Absolutely not. 
Because, deep down inside, I am still that 16 year-old evangelical, pro-life kid with the offensive t-shirt. It just took me twenty-some years to get back around to acknowledging it.

And elective abortions, while shrinking slightly in number, are still extremely prevalent. (Remember, 900,000 a year.) And we hear messages from celebrities and politicians all the time that any reasonable person would certainly believe abortion, for any reason, is somehow a basic human right and, ultimately, good for women.

And that’s a lie.

As a Christian, I believe that it’s necessary for us to obey the simplest of God’s commandments–including “Thou shalt not murder.” But I also have to obey the spirit of the Law of God, which demands I protect the vulnerable mother and child, as well.

Since neither political party, nor any one political candidate, corners the market on this consistent pro-life ethic, no one party or candidate has my loyalty these days. At least not in a comprehensive sense.

I allow myself the freedom to exercise discernment in who and what I support both as it relates to abortion, specifically, and women and children and families, in general.

Because a life worth saving doesn’t begin a birth.
But it doesn’t end there, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

**Why does this matter? Is the abortion debate really worth engagement?

I know publishing this means opening myself up to all sorts of criticism and negative feedback. I have many friends and acquaintances that disagree with me on the issue, some very deeply. And I do not look forward to the backlash from strangers, much less from people I love and respect. (Ideological conflict gets more and more stressful for me as I get older.)

But I also think that any issue with this much political import is worth honest and deliberate engagement, both independently and collectively. And since the issue is being debated in our current election cycle, I thought it might be helpful for some folks to know that it’s okay to reconsider your position. It’s good and healthy to walk through the discernment process and even, sometimes, change your mind about an issue. Sometimes you’ll end up on the other side.

Sometimes, like me, you’ll find you are right back where you started.

 

For further reading, a few resources I’ve found helpful:

Abortion by R. C. Sproul- Not an easy read, but it’s short and a great primer for a reformed Christian perspective on the issue.

Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward For a New Generation by Charles Camosy- A pastor and friend recommended this to me last week when I said I was writing this post. I’m only about 1/3 through but I can already tell it’s pretty representative of where I stand.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler- A comprehensive guide to women’s reproductive health. This should be required reading for every young woman.

The Art of Natural Family Planning by Kippley- I am not Catholic and I don’t use NFP, but I found the Catholic paradigm of fruitfulness mind-blowing after the very shallow theology of the body and sex I was given in Evangelical purity culture.

The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality by Luke Gilkerson- This is how I taught my kids “where babies come from.” It does not address abortion, but it sets a strong foundation for the relationships between marriage, sex, and procreation.

Abortion statistics from the Guttmacher Institute.

Abortion statistics interpreted through a pro-life lens from the nonprofit Abort 73.

Democrats for Life– the pro-life wing of the Democratic Party. I’m not a Democrat, but these folks have been super helpful for understanding the issue from a liberal perspective. They also publish and share some great legislative information and suggestions.

Feminists for Life– a progressive voice in the pro-life camp. I’m not a feminist, but I’ve found this perspective helpful. (Historically speaking, feminists advocating for abortion is a fairly new phenomenon.)

 

Rescuing My Kids’ Childhood From My Fear

My eleven year-old carries a pocket knife.

He cooks his own eggs. He rides a bike without a helmet. He hangs out on the front porch alone and digs through his dad’s woodworking tools without supervision.

After 11 years of parenting and four kids, I have never “baby-proofed” my home. No outlet covers, no table corner pads, no baby gates. No hiding the kitchen knives. No carrying hand sanitizer on my keychain.

We are a bumps and bruises, trial and error kind of family.

This sometimes gives people the impression that my husband and I are careless with our children or negligent. But the truth is that I welcome a healthy dose of vulnerability to danger in my home because I need to, not because I want to. In fact, I want none of this.

Sometimes it sounds like a dream to have quiet, calm, safe children who think nothing of setting fires in the backyard or being left home alone before they’re 16.

But “safe” is not what most children are. Nor what they should be.

Left to their own devices, children are small madmen, conjuring experiments and fairytales while dressed in their father’s work coat. They are con-artists. They are magicians. They are storytellers and thieves and tightrope walkers. They dream big and believe everything and sometimes really do think they could fly if they tried.

And the more alive they are in their child-ness, the more vulnerable to danger they become and the more their safety falls outside my control.

I want control.
I want power.

So none of this “free range kids” stuff feels good to me, at least not at first, because it is a daily reminder of the frailty of life and the powerlesness of parenting.

It doesn’t matter how smart and competent my kid is or how well my toddler can climb the stairs. The truth is: I cannot protect them from all the dangers of the world. I obviously know this. But every time they make a small mistake that leads to a small consequence–they cut their finger, they trip running down the sidewalk, etc.–it’s like a reminder that they may one day make a big mistake with a big consequence. And then the reality hits me that, one day, they might get hurt. Hurt bad. Or hurt someone else. (Or both.)

The anxiety can sometimes feel crippling.

I worry for my kids all the time. I worry about both rational and irrational things. I worry about them being bit by angry dogs, being abused by a friend, or getting stuck on an elevator alone.

House fires, flash floods, bee stings, hiking accidents, infectious diseases, accidental poisoning. I worry about all of it.

“Then put a lock on the medicine cabinet, you idiot!”

Right?
Maybe. But probably not.

(Don’t take it personally; It’s okay if you lock your medicine cabinet.)

The lengths to which we’ll go to protect our children vary at different times, at different ages, and with different kids. Hard and fast rules don’t apply to most of this stuff. Every parent has to exercise wisdom and weigh which risks are work the benefits of taking the risk and which are not.

But, trying to ensure the absolute safety of your child with more elbow pads or a larger carseat is an exercise in futility if you haven’t first done the hard work of accepting that your children live in a world that simply not safe.

Safety–as least so far as it depends on you–is a bit of an illusion. You can wash your kids’ hands a million times and they’ll still end up sick eventually.

We often exact our control over our children in immediate ways as a way of coping with our fears about all of the things that are possible and yet completely outside our control–things like being in the wrong place at the wrong time, needing the one thing missing from the first aid kit, a freak accident, or a random act of violence.

But, the irony of making our kids “safe” and under our control is that, in these kinds of unforeseen and scary scenarios, our children’s best chance of overcoming is to conjure that mad scientist to life. (The mad scientist that some of us killed long ago with our “Be careful!” and “Slow down!” and “Stop taking my garlic powder into the backyard!”)

Our kids need to have a survival instinct as they grow. They need to be able to think on their feet, to come up with creative solutions, and to be confident enough to actually try them. Most kids start with those gifts. We need to make sure they keep and develop them.

How do we do this?

Well, it has less to do with how long their carseat faces backwards and more to do with our posture toward them and their desire to exercise their freedom.

It means training ourselves to replace the words “be careful” with “think about what might happen if you do that.”

It means no longer insisting on doing for them the things they are capable of doing themselves, whether it’s packing their lunch or putting on their mittens or leading the way to the library.

It means no longer interpreting their confidence and independence as an assault on my authority.

It means cultivating strength into benevolent leadership, pride into confidence, and strong-will into tenacity.

It means teaching them the difference between being willing to take a risk and being reckless.

It means letting them experience the power of cause and effect.

It means giving them many opportunities to solve a problem on their own.

The specifics of how you do this with your kids will look different from mine because every kid is different. (And their natural ability to navigate danger will be different, too.)

Just start somewhere and let it grow from the ground up.

What’s the pay off? Well, they grow up. And it’s awesome.

Case in point:

Last Summer, when we were at the pool, my son took my keys and ran home to grab something we’d forgotten.

Meaning: I didn’t need to pack up the four kids and all of our crap and walk back home.

Often, I’ll send my kids down the road for a loaf of bread from the bakery.

Meaning: It doesn’t ruin soup night anymore if I forget the milk.

Lately, my daughter (who is 8), has been asking if she can go spend time at the coffeeshop alone. (“When you’re ten,” I told her. And I meant it.)

Meaning: My daughter feels confident and brave and is excited to exercise those gifts.

When my kids are in a really lousy mood, I send the three oldest for a run around the block.

Meaning: They get exercise and I don’t have to deal with them when they’re acting like monsters.

Recently, I was neck deep into cooking dinner when I realized I didn’t have any milk for the recipe. So, I gave my kids $5 (which I borrowed from my son who always has more cash than me because he’s like that) and sent them down the road for a carton of milk. They were $.50 short (organic milk, dang), so my son left his sister there with the milk and he hightailed it home for the two quarters he needed.

They both returned a few minutes later.

And it felt totally normal.

This freedom should be normal for kids. I know it has been a real game-changer for us.

And, suddenly, this free-range kid thing starts to make a lot more sense.

 

When Your Kids Miss Out (and it’s your fault)

I have a friend whose kids don’t eat refined sugar.
I have another whose kids aren’t allowed to play with toy guns.
A different friend always gets her kids to bed by 7:30pm, no exceptions.

Every family has a culture and part of what makes their culture distinct is the lines they draw between what they will and will not do, regardless of what other families decide.

Speaking personally, our family draws a lot of lines.

We aren’t into Disney.
My girls don’t have Barbies.
My son doesn’t play baseball on Sundays.
We don’t have a tv or play video games.
We also don’t celebrate Halloween. (And that’s what got me thinking about this today.)

The Fear of Missing Out does not go away when you leave adolescence. It’s not something you grow out of when you get married or turn 35 or buy your first home. I still feel it. I feel it for myself and I most definitely feel it for my children.

I want my kids to have friends, to be a part of the fun. I want them to look back on their childhood and remember it being full of joy and laughter and friendship. I don’t want them to be the weirdos that no one invites over anymore because they’ve never played Minecraft.

But what do you do, then, if your personal conviction about something that “all the other kids get to do” means your kids have to miss out? Is it destined to make your kids resentful and painfully socially awkward, or can this become an opportunity for growth and character development? Can “missing out” actually be a blessing?

First of all, remind yourself that kids are resilient and will survive a little social exclusion. Give them lots of attachment and security at home and among trusted friends and family. They’ll be okay.

Also, think about the future and remember that what you do now, when your children are young, sets the stage for the years to come. Your expectations for them and their expectations of you will follow you well past their early childhood. Reinforce now that a) popular opinion is not always the right opinion, b) it’s alright to be different and live by different rules, and c) it’s a sign of maturity to be able to graciously say “No, thank you,” and walk away.

You do not want a teenager who expects to always be allowed to do whatever everyone else is doing. If your children are capable of bending your convictions now, when they are 6 and cry about not going to Lucy’s sleepover that “every other first grade girl is going to,” then good luck influencing their discernment when they’re 15 or 16 and all the same kids (and their boyfriends) are going to Lucy’s parents lake house for the weekend.

Then, think more proactively. When you think about your hopes and dreams for your kids, think bigger than your few small lines in the sand. Don’t feel like having a family rule about a few things means you have to be strict about everything. A family’s culture is more than their “don’ts.” If you can focus more—and help your kids focus more—on the things you do, then the kids won’t care as much about Mom not letting them buy a Barbie.

When I was a kid, my brother and I had some friends around the corner who were homeschooled. Their family culture was so very different from ours and they could have been perceived as socially-awkward by the “average” family. But that friend once (recently) joked that he had always loved coming to our house because we could watch a lot of tv and movies, but my brother loved his house because his dad did stuff like freeze their backyard into an ice rink in the winter.

The point is: you don’t have to give your kids everything. Just give them what you have to give. And give them the best of it. If you have a hang-up about sugar or nerf or witch costumes, offer your kids something else instead. Something good. Something they will love.

My kids don’t get to play video games or watch Frozen, but they do get to climb trees and use real knives and build fires and write songs and visit museums and ride the streetcar around downtown for fun.

Sure, its a different life I’m offering them. But it’s a good life. And they aren’t truly missing out on much. (Say that over and over to yourself if you need to.)

Remember, too, that feelings of “missing out” can be an opportunity to shape your kids hearts toward empathy for others.

Exercise your children’s sensitivity toward other kids who may be excluded and cultivate a variety of skills and interests in them so they can find a way to have fun with anyone. Then, teach your kids to encourage other children toward obedience of their family’s rules. Model for them what it looks like to consider others before themselves and to respect another’s conscience. And never tolerate them mocking or shaming another child for obeying their parents or not doing something that makes them uncomfortable or uneasy. (Big kids are notorious for this sort of “OMG, I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN BLAH BLAH BLAH…”)

At the end of the day, remember to put things into perspective. It’s not really about Barbies or baseball or trick or treating. In fact, you might change your mind about these things as time goes by. Worry more about who your children are becoming than what they’re wearing or what games they’re playing and the specifics will work themselves out. As refined as it may become, your list of “yeses” and “nos” won’t matter at all if your children never learn to discern right from wrong. They’ll eventually need to be the ones drawing the line in the sand for themselves. This is just the groundwork.

So, parents, don’t apologize for saying “no” to your kids. Even though it might mean they miss out on something with their peers. And don’t worry that their social status at 9 is going to follow them into eternity and they’ll never have any friends or get married or find a job. They’ll be fine. You’re doing great.

(Repeat, if necessary.) “They’ll be fine. I’m doing great.”

Every family is different and lives by different rules. It’s alright to be a little peculiar. If you play your cards right, your kids will grow into discerning adults who are able to glean the best from what you gave them and make the rest into some awesome stories to tell around the dinner table.

”You think that’s weird? When I was a kid…”

 

 

 

 

Dating Advice for a New World

Almost 13 years ago, I met my husband and officially stepped out of the dating game. It’s a good thing, too, because I was never very good at dating.

I have always really enjoyed socializing with men, but found intentional dating emotionally confusing and frustrating. I have never been good at communicating my feelings. I have always been awkward in intimate situations, emotional or otherwise. And I have never been particularly interested in the game of “attraction.” In fact I think that, were I ever left a widow, I’ll probably die single. I’m not sure you could pay me enough to jump back in that game.

Some of my friends don’t have the luxury of sitting back and thanking God the dating game is over for them. Some of you are still in the thick of it and, from what I hear and observe, it’s a very frustrating time to be in the thick of it. The world of dating in 2018 seems a lot more complicated than it did 15 years ago.

From my vantage point:
Young people seem far too emotionally immature and over-sexualized. Older people seem far too casual in their long-term, unmarried monogamy. Everybody’s got baggage. Everybody’s been married before or has kids already.

Add to these complications the recent “woke-ness” of our culture about issues of sexual harassment and assault which, for all the ways it has empowered victims, has also created a debilitating kind of social anxiety about relationships between men and women. I would imagine that people everywhere–men, especially–just don’t know anymore what is and is not permissible in casual relationships, and what, exactly, constitutes “expressed consent” in intimate relationships.

The nuanced dance of flirting and the thrill of the pursuit is over, my friends. Things went and got complicated.

Where does that leave us (you)? Well, I said I was no good at dating. But I did date. And I watched my friends date. And I’m watching my friends date now. And I have four children who will, one day, want to date.

So whether you’re trying to find a mate or trying to be found–or if you’re my child reading this in 10 years–I have a few suggestions for how to survive this complicated (new) world of dating without losing your mind.

Learn to date without expectations for intimacy.

I think it’s time to reintroduce casual dating to the world, especially to the Church. And by “casual,” I mean truly casual–not casual in public and intimate in private. I mean something like meeting up for a concert or for a cup of coffee or inviting a friend to a work event as your date. I mean two adult people spending one-on-one time alone doing normal things that normal adults do to keep each other company and to interact in the real world together and to have conversations like normal people do so they can get to know each other better.

I think it’s perfectly appropriate to casually date more than one person, at least for a short time. But casual things don’t usually last forever and it takes a lot of maturity to know when it’s time to either move on or ramp up the intentionality of the relationship. This will happen naturally if you get more interested in one person than the other(s), but it might need a little help. This is where being an effective communicator comes into play.

Learn how to express intentions.

Communicating feelings and intentions is hard, at least for me. But there comes a point at which both people in the relationship will start to wonder “what’s actually going on here,” and somebody needs to take the first step to define things. Especially if you’ve introduced any physical intimacy.

My husband and I spent hours upon hours together for six months before we ever actually touched or had a defining conversation about our relationship. We talked about everything in heaven and on earth except our actual relationship. And it was confusing and it did seem like it took forever to have that conversation and I did cry and pray over our relationship many times during those six months. But I’m so glad I didn’t force the conversation because if I had, he probably wouldn’t have been ready.

Neither my husband nor I were interested in diving into a long-term relationship that didn’t end in marriage. We had both been there before and walked away heartbroken and wanted to avoid going there again. We used the term “courting” to define the next stage in our relationship because we had a goal in mind–marriage–and we fully intended to walk away if, at any point, marriage wasn’t going to happen. It was a decision to dive in and pursue something other than just a good time together.

I can’t tell you how long it should take to go from “we’re more than friends” to “let’s get married.” It took just over a year for us. And it was an intense year with a lot of hard questions and hard conversations and a time or two when I honestly thought it was all over and he was walking away. It may take you six months or it may take two years. (But I think it’s safe to say that if it takes five years, you’re probably doing something wrong or you’re doing it with the wrong person.)

Learn how to walk away.

If things aren’t working, it’s okay to walk away.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, for most married people, there was another person before their spouse, someone that they were head over heels for or someone who they thought was The One. Learning to walk away from a good thing, when you know it’s not the right or best thing, is harder than hard. It’s heart-breaking. But when the irreconcilable differences are big enough to cause recurrent problems or when, at the end of the day, you’re really just not that into each other, it’s okay to walk away. It can be done graciously and without irreparable emotional damage, especially if you learn to do this before jumping into bed together or tagging along on the family vacation to Jamaica. Again, honest (and kind) communication works wonders for this sort of thing.

Pursue marriage.

I don’t believe in the Perfect Mate myth, so I am comfortable encouraging people to date for fun and to get to know each other before becoming exclusive. But I also believe that long-term non-married monogamy is a lame substitution for marriage.

Marriage is good. It’s good for you and your spouse, good for children, good for the world, good for the economy, etc. Marriage is a good relationship goal. And if you spend your first fifteen adult years screwing around for fun, sowing your wild oats instead of looking for a good wife or husband, finding a good wife or husband will be much harder and your eventual marriage will be harder, too.

Pro tip: Our world is increasingly more okay with shunning the institutions of marriage and parenthood. So if you know, for a fact, that you want to be married and have children, don’t be afraid to say so when you meet someone you’re interested in. Don’t be weird about it and make it a big deal. And don’t show him your dream wedding dress or anything bonkers like that. But mention it when it comes up if it comes up. If they go running, bid them good riddance.

Expect sexual brokenness.

Let’s be honest, friends. We live in a broken world. There is a high likelihood that the person you date and/or end up marrying will have some sort of emotional or physical baggage about sex. Either they’ve been abused or have been an abuser. Maybe they have had a lot of sexual partners or are afraid to have one. They may have been happily married before and you may feel insecure about their expectations. They may be addicted to sex or porn or you may be addicted to sex or porn.

Screw the taboos. Maybe don’t discuss your sexual history on Day 1. But, when things get serious, get serious about being honest. Your future spouse deserves to know your whole story, even if the details or the depth of the effects takes time to unravel. Sexual brokenness can heal and marriages can thrive amidst the brokenness, but not so long as there are secrets and unaddressed fears or insecurities. A healthy sex life requires openness, vulnerability, and trust. Don’t wait until after you’re married to tell it like it is.

Limit your alcohol and be wary of being alone.

This bit of advice, especially, will be a constant refrain spoken to my children.

First, I’ll say this now so you know I said it: sexual assault is never justified. It is not okay. A victim is never to blame.

Now, let’s also be honest about what environments make sexual assault–or uncomfortable relationship scenarios of any kind–more likely. My guess is that many assault situations involve a) drugs or alcohol and/or b) being alone in a compromising situation.

I can’t tell you what to do, but my advice to my children will be straight-forward:
Do not drink alcohol in mixed company, with a group of people you don’t know and trust. Do not spend time alone, in private places, with someone you do not know and desire intimacy with–especially with alcohol involved. Do not push the limits of sexual desire and self-control with someone you do not know and trust, especially if he/she seems more or less interested than you do. If you don’t know what someone wants or is really asking for, ask them. And do not hesitate to call me or your father or any other trustworthy person within reach if or when you feel vulnerable and need help.

Yes, assault and abuse can absolutely happen in marriages or in friendships, at the hands of people you trust. But I think this “don’t drink / don’t be alone” advice is a good start and could save a lot of people from unnecessary baggage later on in life and relationships.

But, really, my best piece of dating advice is this:

You’re great.

Lots of people think you’re great.

But not everyone is going to want to date you or marry you and that’s okay.

Marriage is awesome and I recommend it and I think everyone should do it. BUT. Marriage is not the end goal of life and it’s not a sign of success. You can be a million awesome things without being married.

So, while you wait or while you look for a mate, find good work that makes those around you and your world better. Surround yourself with people who support you and whose love for you makes you an even better you. Do the hard work now of becoming the kind of person you’d like to marry. And then even if you never end up married, you’re still super awesome and have amazing friends and have made the world a better place to boot.

And, lastly, marriage is 10% magic and 90% doing the dishes and “Honey, can you bring me a roll of toilet paper?” So, when you meet someone who’s a good catch, don’t wait for the magical moment to ask them to hang out. Even if you’re already friends and it might be awkward. Even if they aren’t really your type or you’re afraid you might not be theirs.

Maybe grab a coffee. Maybe go for a walk.
And maybe skip the cocktails until a few months in.

Godspeed. (I think you’ll need it.)