We have had the fantastic experience as parents of teaching our children how to drive a vehicle. The truth is my husband is much more patient in this area than I am, but, nonetheless, we work as a team to teach our kiddos to drive safely. As each one of our teens has gone through weeklong drivers’ ed training and then weeks of behind the wheel lessons, they would inevitably come home and share what they learned.
During this fun, yet nerve-wracking time, we would have robust talks about safe driving and they would inevitably critique our own driving habits. What we have noticed as they have gone on to be drivers, they would often repeat many of the habits we have taught them over the years, for better or for worse. The drivers’ ed experience is a great analogy for marriage preparation. Our children have been learning how to be married their entire lives. There are actually three stages of marriage preparation — remote, proximate and immediate — and it’s fun to explore some of the good things that can be done long before a person gets engaged.
Remote preparation — which is when the child is still young until approximately when they reach puberty — the family experience shapes them. The kind of traditions a family has — what values they pass down, religion and worldviews — are all integral parts in shaping a child. But for remote preparation, a child is also learning how an argument is handled, how decisions are made, and how to show love and respect for those around them.
It is the living out of the day-to-day life of the family that shapes our children for their future vocations. In fact, our Holy Father Pope Francis states in Amoris Laetitia, 208: “Those best prepared for marriage are probably those who learned what Christian marriage is from their own parents, who chose each other unconditionally and daily renew this decision.” The beauty of this statement is that it shows that by loving our own spouses and families we can best prepare our children for their future.
Proximate preparation is when a child hits puberty, until the time when they get engaged — the dating years. This is a very fun time because the child learns to be less self-focused as they start to notice others around them, and the intricacies of navigating those relationships. There are a lot of life lessons in these years and, again, the family is a beautiful place to help the young person during this time.
As a youth takes on more personal responsibility, they are also in a phase where they discern their future vocation. They may be called to a vocation of marriage or a different vocation; either way, they are preparing to live in a more mature way. The parish and community also play a large part in the formation of the youth in proximate marriage preparation. Are there happily married couples in the child’s world; are there mentors or spiritual directors who they can turn to; can they hear God speak to them? Retreats, family gatherings and lots of heart-to-heart conversations will have a large impact on helping a young person know if they are ready for their future vocation — and if the person they are with is the one God is calling them to.
Finally, once a couple gets engaged, they are now entering the immediate phase of marriage preparation. These are the months leading up to their wedding. In addition to all the beautiful traditions surrounding marriage — such as engagement parties and wedding showers — family and friends can find lots of creative ways to help a couple prepare.
The couple will be meeting with their parish priest or deacon and going through classes, talking with them about their questions and experiences. Mentorship and friendship go a long way here. Families and friends can share experiences learned over the years, but, more importantly, make it clear that you will be there to accompany them in the journey going forward. Here it is so important that the couple sees their parish and community as “a family of families, forming relationships which can be life-long.” (See usccb.org.)
No matter what stage our children or grandchildren are in regard to their future vocations, the message is still the same — the family is a powerful place to learn. The influence that families, friends and the community have on the formation of our youth for their future lives is tremendous. The famous saying rings true — the best thing a couple can do for their children is to love their spouse. Our children have been learning to be married their whole lives and are greatly influenced by the environment around them.
Of course, they will go on to make their own decisions and live their own lives, but they will carry the influence of their family and friends for a very long time. Proverbs reminds us: “Hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching; for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck.” (1:8-9)
Tremblay is the marriage and life ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay.