Q: I'm a single woman and have a mutual interest in getting to know a man who's eight years younger than I am. This feels strange because other guys I've dated have been closer to my own age. Do you think this is OK? Any advice?
Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president, Family Ministries: It wasn't so long ago that your question would've raised eyebrows. But older women dating and marrying younger men isn't considered as culturally taboo as it once was. Like every other relationship, the most important consideration is the character of the man and woman involved. That said, it's worth mentioning some dynamics that can make these relationships unique in their challenges.
One obvious area you'll want to evaluate is his level of maturity and stability. Keep in mind that there can be a big difference if you and he are ages 26 and 18, or 34 and 26. This can be an issue, as men generally take more time to identify their purpose and place in the world; they aren't always inclined to settle down, or prepared to support a family. Watch for how he handles his finances, stress, commitments to job, church, friends, family, etc.
Equally important is the need for you to take an honest look at your motives and to be aware of possible blind spots. Women tend to be the more nurturing of the sexes, and some guys are looking for a perpetual mother. Such pairings typically have disastrous results, with the woman taking on every responsibility and eventually losing respect for and resenting the "little boy" she married who never grew up.
Feel free, then, to move ahead. But as you do, be sure to ask yourself these and other questions early on and along the way to ensure that you're both like-minded and in a similar, healthy place.
Q: What's your opinion about overnight group activities for elementary-grade children? We want our kids to have fun with their friends, but we're concerned about exposing them to inappropriate influences.
Jim: As the dad of a fifth-grader myself, I completely understand your struggle. It's a sad fact that we live in a world that is increasingly dangerous and unhealthy for our kids. As parents, we must be mindful of what our kids are exposed to when they're in someone else's care.
I realize we can't keep our children in a safe cocoon forever. Eventually they'll face external threats and temptations, and as parents, we're responsible to equip them for that challenge as early as possible. It's important to look for appropriate opportunities that will allow your kids to step out from under your immediate oversight a little bit at a time.
For us, however, we've elected to encourage our kids' growth in this area through avenues other than sleepovers. (Although we've done them in rare cases where we've known the families well.) Your situation and comfort level may be different. If so, I'd simply encourage you to exercise due diligence with every invitation. You might consider meeting with the adults responsible for supervising the overnighter. Find out where it will be held and what activities are planned. If you're well-acquainted with the person in charge, there's probably little to worry about.
If, however, this sleepover is being held in someone's private home and you're unfamiliar with the parents, I'd suggest that you meet with them beforehand to make sure that their values and perspectives are in line with your own. If this is a school- or church-sponsored event, you may discover that the teacher or leader would love to have you volunteer as a chaperone.
- Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.