Q: My brother and his girlfriend have been living together for four years. He's wanted our two boys to come over and spend a weekend with them, but because their living arrangement contradicts our values, I've been putting him off. My wife disagrees with their living together, but feels we should let them spend the night so they can develop a relationship with their uncle. What are your thoughts?
Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president, Family Ministries: Because I share your concerns related to cohabitation, I understand and appreciate your struggle. So what's the answer?
The first thing you need to make absolutely certain is that you don't allow this to drive a wedge between you and your wife. As you discuss this question, don't forget that you're both on the same team.
Your next step is to prayerfully identify what your real concerns are. For your wife, it's that your boys won't develop a relationship with their uncle. That's legitimate. I suspect that's equally important to you, but you're afraid that by allowing them to spend the weekend with your brother, you'll be communicating a confusing and compromising message to your kids.
Depending on your boys' ages and maturity, you might consider allowing them to go, provided you discuss things with them beforehand. The truth is, their values will be challenged and confronted soon enough, and this provides a teachable moment opportunity.
You can start by teaching them the important differences between marriage and cohabitation. Second, you can help them answer the hard question of, "What do we do when we don't agree with someone's choice?" You can do this by helping them understand the difference between "love" and "approval"; that they can love their uncle by spending time with him, without approving of his choices. And though they disapprove of his choices, it doesn't mean they don't love him.
Q: I've heard that you were abandoned and orphaned as a child, and that Focus on the Family is encouraging adoption through the foster care system. Can you provide my spouse and me with any guidance, or suggest any resources as we consider adopting a child?
Jim: You've heard correctly, so I'm encouraged to learn of your interest in adoption. Currently, there are approximately 100,000 kids in the United States waiting for permanent adoptive families. In each instance, parental rights have been terminated, so the only "parents" the children have are the states in which they live. For this reason, to adopt from foster care, it's necessary to work through a licensed placing agency.
After selecting an agency, individuals will need to complete an application, have a background check and undergo a home study (conducted by the agency). You can access your state's website through the link on our site at www.iCareAboutOrphans.org/StateAdoptionRequirements. This page will direct you to more specific information on adoption in your state and help answer many of your questions.
I'd also encourage you to visit our Adoption and Orphan Care Initiative website (www.iCareAboutOrphans.org) from time to time to stay current on matters related to adoption.
Q: My 16-year-old daughter wants to get a tongue ring and a tattoo. I'm skeptical. What are your thoughts on this?
Smalley: Piercings and ink are becoming more and more popular among youth and even adults. But there are some things you and your daughter need to be aware of before she takes the plunge.
When it comes to tattoos, there are health risks to consider. Complications can include local bacterial infections, allergic reactions and potential disfiguring skin reactions. More serious infections, such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV can result from tattoo needles that have been contaminated with infected blood. Plus, as time passes, many regret the tattoos they got in their younger days. Removing them is not only costly, but may leave scarring.
Piercings carry similar risks. Oral piercing carries a higher risk of infection than ear piercing, and also opens the door to dental and gum problems.
Finally, there are sexual and "subcultural" implications associated with certain tattoos and piercings. Your daughter may not intend to send overtly sexual or rebellious signals through her choices, but that doesn't mean others won't perceive them that way. Do some homework first to make sure she's not communicating anything dangerous or unnecessarily provocative. Like it or not, other people will often make assumptions about her character and personality based on her appearance. This is especially true in job interviews. So it's worth taking the time to think through the image she wants to portray.
If, after examining all the evidence, your daughter is still determined to go through with it, you have two choices. Given that this decision will have lifelong consequences, you may feel it's in her best interest to exercise your authority as parents and ask your daughter to hold off until she's 18. On the other hand, since she's considering something that is not inherently immoral or illegal, is this worth creating a potential rift between you? May God grant you wisdom in this process!