At the gym the other day, I accidentally turned on the Real Housewives of Atlanta while on the elliptical (Oh who am I kidding, I know every single Housewife in every city; Damn you, Bravo). Nevertheless, RHOA is on, I’m watching it and two of the women are having a heated discussion about whether a mom should allow her daughter to have a boyfriend. The girl is 13.
Let’s overlook, for a moment, the strong possibility that this argument was staged for the show. The question remains: Is it such a big deal for a girl to have a boyfriend at 13? How about 10 or even 7? Up until a few days ago, I thought I had a clear and correct answer, at least for my child. But now, like with so much related to parenthood, I’m confused.
Growing up in a small town, I saw lots of parents prohibit their daughters from dating and I never understood it. My friends, especially the ones with strict parents, still found a way to be alone with the guys they liked. They still had sex with these boys. And it often seemed that the gals with the strictest parents were the ones least likely to use protection.
But let’s go back even a few more years, since how we handle our kids' special feelings for others, I’ve recently come to discover, starts early. Last year, my seven-year-old daughter and a fellow classmate announced that they have crushes on each other. I adore this kid and his parents, so I did nothing to discourage it. What, I thought to myself, could go wrong?
Eager to help my daughter explore her feelings, we would talk about him. We discussed whether she should take his name after they get married and I teased her about how he wants four kids. I texted with his mom about their sweet exchanges and we'd joke about becoming in-laws. I have to admit, I started to feel a little smug. Look how open I am and look at how easy it is to guide my daughter through her first crush!
Then I found out the inevitable the other day, which is that her crush is now unsure whether he should marry my daughter or another girl in their class. In an instant, UGH, I became that mother. The one who feels – can I even say this? – almost rejected because a first grade romance (and I even cringe using the word romance) is ending. Isn’t that the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard?
Quickly, I pull myself together and realize I am being a complete idiot. Then I think about my kiddo. Do I tell her about the other girl? Do I stop talking about him altogether? Will she soon be crying on the couch and watching reruns of Teen Mom while gorging on bags of Honey Wheat pretzels followed by boxes of Skinny Cow Chocolate Ice Cream Cones? What the hell did I get her into.
I realize now, maybe too late, that I probably didn't handle this whole crush thing very well. Mistake number one is that I dumped my adult understanding of what a crush is on my child. I also have to admit that I liked the fact that this boy saw her as special and this his feelings about her raised my daughter's status among their peers. Talk about hypocritical: I write so much women not giving a crap about what men think and not competing with other women, and I see that I'm already teaching those two things to my daughter when she's seven years old.
If I could rewind the last few months and do it all again, I would be a lot quieter about her crush. I would refrain from talking about what we would serve at their wedding. And I would not secretly wish that it does indeed work out between the two of them. If I want my daughter to be a strong independent woman someday, I need to show her that now.
(photo credit: thanunkorn/freedigitalphotos.net)
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