What to Do When Courtships Fail

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After last week's episode with author Thomas Umstattd, Jr. - Courtship in Crisis - a listener wrote to tell us about her son's heart-wrenching 3-year courtship that ended in sorrow. For every courtship pitfall Thomas mentioned on our podcast episode and in his book of the same name, our listener confirmed that her son had the exact same experience: a controlling father, jumping through numerous hoops, distrust, accusations, and ultimately, a phone call from the father to "break up" with his daughter's suitor - her son. 

We're protecting our listener's identity, but wanted to share this quote from her email:

"Our observation was that the father really liked being in CONTROL. They couch it in a lot of “biblical” language, so it’s almost like if our son questioned anything, he would be seen as rebellious to his authority, etc. and he would be “out”. He was compelled to to do whatever they said out of the fear of losing someone precious to him.  

There is so much more I could say about the dangers of this system. . ."

She then went on to ask us,

". . . how can we help him through this?  He said to me a few days ago, 'Mom, I don’t know how to get through this.'  He said he thought the whole point of doing things this way (i.e. the “right” way) was to protect you from this kind of hurt.  He just doesn’t understand. He poured so much of himself into this . . . 

I’m so frustrated with it all! He’s such a godly young man. He tried so hard to do things the right way. It is crushing me to watch him hurting so much. I thought maybe if he could talk to some other people, or read some stories of others who have gone through the same thing, it might help him? Would you or your guest be able to point me in some direction?"

It always amazes me how a listener will contact us when I think we have no impact.

First, I am so sorry to hear this story and no matter what I write, I want you to know how truly disappointed I am for your son, and by extension for you as you help him navigate the next step. We are walking a very similar path with a son who had a failed engagement five days before the wedding (and full of sinful behavior). Our son is still rebounding and it has been two years. I remain very critical of this model, so know that my criticism is pointed toward the system and not you or your son.

Yes, this is what the courtship “model” is supposed to avoid, but your son’s story is exactly what we see as the problem. These capable young men (who fail just like all of us) are forced to “engage” the father. When these young men are seen for who they are (real) and they don’t meet the father’s unreasonable expectations, they are shown everything that is wrong with them and then discarded. This is a pile of hooey!

Understand that as a dad with three beautiful daughters in the pipeline (16, 14, 12), I am very concerned about who will come knocking on our door. But we look at any potential relationships in the next few years as opportunities to continue to build relationships with our daughters. These are further chances to disciple our daughters in choices and help them to see the gospel. Obviously, we will share any red flags we see, but inevitably we will be pushing our kids back to Christ and guiding them into gospel-centered choices and helping them make decisions.

What do you do now? I can only share what we have been doing:

First, we are loving our son through this tough time. We want him to know that we love him. We say it. We show it. We display it. We want him to know how much we love him in an earthly way. After the failed wedding, he stiff-armed us. There are times that it has been hard to love him and the choices we’ve seen him make. Perseverance has paid off; he now knows that we love him.

Second, we continue to point our son back to Christ. We remind him nearly every time we are with him that his hope, his security, his acceptance, his value, his worth, and his identity are in Jesus. Here’s the kicker: our son is also stiff-arming his faith. He tells us often that he is not in a place to hear about God’s love. He is a skeptic and very discouraged in the “system” which includes God’s role in his well-being. That has been very hard to see, but God continues to provide opportunities for these conversations to bear fruit. We have faith in his return to trusting God. Again, we love unconditionally through these hard times and bad choices.

Third, we have found that being transparent with one another and with our listeners has helped us to realize that this is not an isolated incident. You and your son are not alone. It’s all over the place. In our circle of friends we have found sin and deception over and over. Even in the “courtship crowd,” we see marriages on the rocks, addiction to porn, and sin abounding. There is no perfect system when we deal with sinners.

Lastly, as we’ve watched this take place, we’ve had to remind each other about the gospel. It’s so hard to watch a smart strong faithful son crash. Again, in our case, we are watching him struggle not only with earthly relationships, but with his faith. My only advice is to remind yourself where your hope and security is founded. Fixate yourself daily on Christ and remind one another of the hope you have in Christ alone!


More on Christian courtship in the homeschooling movement:

What I Said to My Son When I Dropped Him Off at College

Fletch here. If you've already listened to this week's episode, you know that we dropped our second son off at college last week. Nate and I drove together for 11 hours, from California to Arizona, and we had a lot of time to talk along the way.

Some of our conversations were just guy stuff, some centered around my choice of music for the drive (apparently Nate's not a fan of non-stop Willie Nelson), but I also took the time to ask him about how well he thought we had prepared him to launch into life away at college. 

You can hear what he said on our exclusive subscriber content page, which you can sign up for below. It's totally free. It's helpful to hear where we did a good job and where we might improve for his younger siblings. Maybe you can learn from our mistakes.

But the most important thing I said to Nate when I dropped him off at college?

It’s all about Jesus. 

Sounds trite, huh? If you have been a reader or listener of Homeschooling in Real Life for any length of time, what else would you expect me to say to one of my children?

Would you expect me to talk with him about experiences? Four years of university life will certainly be filled with both positive and negative experiences. When I went away to school 25 years ago, I commented that university life looked very similar to summer camp, only they expected you to study. Yes, college will be loaded with experiences, but to chase after the college experience will leave him empty when school comes to an end. No, it is all about Jesus.

Maybe you thought I would tell Nate that college was all about relationships? For the past 19 years, he was raised in our home and surrounded by our friends that we had made during our 4 years at college. Certainly, we hope our son cultivates lifelong friendships and builds great memories during his time away at school. Relationships made during college are valuable and provide opportunities for networking during the rest of life. However, relationships can fail. Friendships will be strained by distance after college. I did tell him to surround himself with people who believe that life is all about Jesus and to not be afraid to reach out to others who don’t know Him yet. It is all about Jesus.

Education? His grandparents spent the past year inflating the idea that college was was all about getting a good education. I reminded Nate that education is merely a means to an end, but a lousy substitute for Jesus. An education will definitely open a few more doors and provide a few more opportunities. Shifting his hope from God onto education is a deceptive trap though. We have encouraged all of our kids to pursue an education, but that always comes with the warning to not put their hope in education. Nope. It is not about an education, it is all about Jesus.

Religion? Maybe you thought I would encourage him about his choice to go to a Christian college and the safe learning environment with a Christian worldview? That’s great and it is certainly a blessing, but I love how our pastor prayed for him on his last Sunday in worship. He prayed that Nate would be protected from religion on a Christian campus and that he would not fall prey to putting his hope in religious behavior as a substitute for faith in Jesus. Nate gets this. It’s all about Jesus.

I remember being corrected once by a friend and pastor for suggesting that it was all about Jesus. He warned me that it stopped short of what scripture teaches. For nearly an hour he expounded on scripture and theology to explain to me how that statement could lead people living a life void of the sanctifying works God requires. His argument and his theological slices reminded me even more: It’s all about Jesus.

We shift our hope so quickly. We have talked about that for years in our church and in our home as we’ve seen relationships implode and college educations lead to endless/hopeless job searches and layoffs. That’s what Nate knows and that is what I wanted to remind him about as we parted ways. Shifting his hope onto the college experience, onto relationships, onto education or even onto religious behavior might satisfy him in the short term, but in the long run it is all about putting his hope in God. It is all about the Gospel. It’s all about Jesus.

Paul, in his letter to the church of Corinth, says this:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

That is my hope and prayer for my son as he launches into college.



The Fear Of Being A Transparent Parent

The day after we published our last podcast, Episode 21: Let's Talk Sex...Again, a few of us sat down to watch the National Hot Dog Eating Championship. As we watched the panel of contestants shovel hot dogs down their throats, we found ourselves laughing hysterically at this perfectly timed commercial from Oscar Mayer. 

We talk about transparency often on our podcast and on this blog. Check out the grandpa in this commercial - he's the king of transparency:

That is a really funny commercial but it also ties in perfectly with our subject of teaching our kids about sex. As we have discussed, transparency is difficult for some parents and we have a few reasons this might be the case.

Some parents are just plain fearful of being honest with their kids, because it means they will have to own up to their past and some of their own personal failures. Christian homeschooling parents don't always want to admit their failures: sex before marriage, a history of multiple partners, broken engagements, or any other secret they have kept from their children.

This reminds me of a few stories. We knew two couples who were hiding big secrets from their children. One couple had a prior marriage. Even as their children became teenagers, they still did not know that their parents had each been married before. The second couple had hidden a secret elopement from their children, instead allowing them to believe the photo history that showed a staged wedding.

I believe both of these parents were living in fear. Fear of the truth and fear of what might happen if they told the truth to their kids. Why is this? Some parents don’t want to give their children the idea that it was okay to make bad choices, act on those bad choices and then discover that life would turn out okay like it had for them. In other words, some parents don't want their story to provide their kids with a license to sin.

I think the second and bigger reason that these parents lack transparency is that they are just plain ashamed of their past. Fellow homeschooling parents – this blog post is no longer about educating your kids about sex, but about Christian parents choosing to live in the Gospel.

The Gospel exists for this exact situation! It is not about who we were, but it’s about who we are now in Christ. Think about it for a moment: the Gospel has the power to save everyone and God doesn’t rank us according to our sinful past. Your past is no more shameful than my past. The Gospel saves sinners. It removes fear and it allows us to be transparent.

This is what is sorely lacking: the willingness to be transparent with one another. The Christian Homeschooling environment often has two horrible ingredients: Pride and Fear. Homeschooling parents are too prideful and too fearful to be honest with one another.

When we live as loved, we are free from our chains and we are free to be honest with one another. When we know that God loves us 100%, we are free to tell our kids about our past. When we live as loved, husbands are free to tell their wives about a hidden sexual addiction. Wives are free to tell husbands about a hidden eating disorder.

Let me push a little farther:  if you are a parent like me who struggles to be truthful with your kids about your own past, are you truly grasping the grace of God that comes in the Gospel? Are you living as loved? If so, then you are free.

Even though I began this discussion about sex education, I am finishing it on the Gospel. Homeschooling parents, live as loved! Trust that God has your back. Live in the freedom to be honest with your kids, model transparency and start talking about sex, before someone else does. You can point them to Jesus and away from the world’s bankrupt view of sex.


Andy Fletcher

Andy "Fletch" Fletcher has been married for the past 22 years. He and his wife Kendra are the proud parents of five sons and three daughters, all of whom keep them laughing and on their toes. During the day he can be found fixing people's teeth, but in his spare time you can find Fletch stretching out a pair of flip-flops, creating a new pizza recipe, playing the drums, or rescuing a piece of his tie-dye wardrobe from his wife's donation pile. You can find him online where he writes on his personal blog: theMangoTimes and cohosts with his wife on the HomeschoolingIRL.com podcast.

Raising Boys - In Real Life


In anticipation of our this Friday's podcast episode about Homeschooling in Real LIfe With Boys, I remembered a funny interaction I had at the dinner table several years ago with a few of our young boys. This whole interaction is an "Adventure in Mangoland" (cue the music).

This is a clear illustration of the difference we have experienced in raising boys in our home and the types of discussions you can anticipate. This particular discussion took place when the older boys were probably 10, 8 and 6 and our oldest daughter would have been about 4.

It went down something like this:

MangoBoy #1: "Dad, if we were cannibals, which part of the body would you eat first?"

Fletch: "I'd probably start with the hands, because they'd be easy to hold and you could eat them one finger at a time and dip them into ketchup."

MangoBoy #2: "It would probably taste like chicken. Everything tastes like chicken."

MangoBoy #3 (chiming in): "Would we eat people like chicken? You know, breasts, thighs and would their arms/legs be like wings and legs?"

Fletch again (because I'm getting "that look" from Kendra that seems to be asking me how old I am behaving): "Okay, that's enough of this wonderful discussion. Let's focus on a better topic."


MangoBoy #3: "If I had to eat you, Dad, I'd eat your eyes, because they are very wise and have seen a lot of things."

Fletch: "Thanks, that is good to know you have my preferred body parts chosen, but this topic is now officially over."

MangoGIRL #1: "If I was a "can of bull" I'd hate to eat Dad. I'd rather eat McDonalds"


We're really looking forward to this Friday's episode -  all about homeschooling and living with boys in real life. We've interviewed Hal and Melanie Young, parents of 6 boys and  authors of the popular Raising Real Men website and book (affiliate link). We laughed all the way through the interview because there were so many common-ground moments, and we think you'll come away feeling like the boys in your real life homeschool are absolutely normal!



Andy Fletcher

Andy "Fletch" Fletcher has been married for the past 22 years. He and his wife Kendra are the proud parents of five sons and three daughters, all of whom keep them laughing and on their toes. During the day he can be found fixing people's teeth, but in his spare time you can find Fletch stretching out a pair of flip-flops, creating a new pizza recipe, playing the drums, or rescuing a piece of his tie-dye wardrobe from his wife's donation pile. You can find him online where he writes on his personal blog: theMangoTimes and cohosts with his wife on the HomeschoolingIRL.com podcast.

Let's Get This Party Started!


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