Welcome, Mamma Crew! Today is Kiddos Tuesdays when I discuss issues related to the kids.
When I was a teenager, my father came up with the most disastrous dating rule. I could date if he never met my boyfriends and didn’t know anything about them. As a result, I was left to maneuver through the quagmire that is teenage relationships all on my own. I became a pro at dealing with the inevitable pressure to engage in sex. My terror of getting pregnant and having to tell my father superseded anything my various boyfriends had to say. I also had to learn to deal with controlling a hostile boyfriend, and another boyfriend that constantly crossed boundaries to increase his self-esteem at my expense. And finally, the loss of individuality as I became increasingly emotionally dependent on my last high school boyfriend.
My senior year boyfriend was probably the most dangerous hurdle in those early years because I was truly (at least I believed I was “truly”) in love with him. He did get me to lie to my parents and travel with him to Paris. Don’t ask me how I managed to leave San Diego, California a virgin, go to Paris, and return still a virgin. But I did. I really don’t know how I managed to stay out of trouble in the 80s.
Have you ever heard of the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Well, I attended the high school the movie is based on. And yup, you got it, the sex was crazy, the drugs were crazy, and hey, everybody was having a great time. This was before AIDS. And it wasn’t until the mid-80s really that we started hearing about rare cancer that was only impacting gay men.
So it didn’t seem like it had anything to do with us. And frankly, we were young. And invincible. It was in this context that my father made his decision.
However, my father’s decision had one unexpected result. Ultimately, this led to 25 years of compartmentalization in which the men in my life were never part of my family life. My worlds collided when I finally met the man that would become my husband and the father of my twin daughters. This collision had a truly negative impact on my familial relationships. It took years to overcome some of those problems.
Still, I never really thought about my dating or my father’s rules in relationships to the decisions I would be making as a parent when my daughters began dating. It always seems so far away — so far into the future. And, then Andi turned 4. She had her first boyfriend. Yup, believe it or not, at the age of 4, in daycare. This is when I realized that my husband and I, would all too soon need to make decisions regarding the dating rules for our girls. I asked my husband what he thought about it. He responded that we should ask our girls not have sex until they were eighteen out of respect for us. Okay, I hadn’t had sex until I was 24 out of fear of my father but that’s another story. My husband, on the other hand, had been very sexually active as a teenager so I was really surprised. I asked him, didn’t your mother ask you not to have sex until you became an adult out of respect for her? Yes, he agreed. Hmmm. Didn’t your girlfriend’s mother find her daughter and you naked on the couch having oral sex when you were teenagers? Once again, he agreed. I don’t think that rule is helpful at all. Well, then… I knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to ask my daughters to hide or to lie to me. I wanted to have honest and open conversations about the reality of dating so that they could come to me when they had to make decisions or at the very least have real knowledge when they had to deal with the conflicts of teenage relationships.
The first step for me was: I had to begin to accept that my girls would want to date before I was ready to deal with it. I mean, ready emotionally. I accepted that that was a normal part of growing up. In the same breath I had to realize that regardless of when they started dating, they would not have the skills to handle the relationship. I had to maintain a good relationship with my girls to help guide them through these learning experiences. So that they would have a positive outcome as adults instead of the challenges that I had to experience.
But as I have said, things started a lot sooner than I had expected. Andi’s first boyfriend was a 4 year old at daycare who watched cartoons with her. I really enjoyed hearing about their day eating ramen noodles and watching Scooby-Doo. Emmi jumped into the fray a year later. A fellow kindergartener asked for her hand in marriage. She told him he had to ask her dad if he wanted to marry her. He was prepared to do it, but the school year ended before things aligned. Good thing too, because the next year the same boy bonded with Andi over the word “meep.” They became “meeping” buddies and the crush was off and running. Emmi still teases Andi that she stole her first boyfriend. In those early years, when I still felt safe, I tried to think that the real conversation about dating was faraway. What can I tell you? I kept making the same mistakes because I just wasn’t ready.
But oh, my goodness! Kids grow so fast nowadays! I mean, things have changed so much — or have they? As I say the words, I realize that that’s not necessarily true. I too had my first “real” crush in the fifth grade so I shouldn’t have been surprised that Emmi followed suit. Here she was crushing on a boy two years older than her, a Brunette Cutie, who thankfully lived a flight away from us. And frankly, we could raise no objections about him. He has a great family, he’s a great kid. But this is where the rules began to emerge organically. Rule 1: Know the family of the boy and know the boy. Emmi was very upfront about the massive crush that ruled her every waking moment, and I listened attentively, glad of the distance. Then something completely unexpected happened — the younger brother of Brunette Cutie declared his love for Emmi! This is better than a soap opera!
So not surprisingly — you know preteens are fickle, are they not?! — Emmi was soon swooning over the Blond Cutie. I understood the change. He is a Type A golden boy, a lot like her, both driven overachievers. She was much too sophisticated for him, by far his intellectual superior, but boy, could that child sweet-talk her off her feet! They spent hours texting and video conferencing. There seemed little harm in allowing it. Her schoolwork was always done, her grades were as high as always and she continued to participate in her multiple extracurricular activities. Yet very soon, I was shocked to find out that this 11-year-old boy was trying to change my perfect daughter.
Blond Cutie didn’t want her to wear makeup, have girlie shoes, or wear cute dresses. My mini Arianna Grande, who was supposed to become Jordan Melissa Hasay, an American distance runner and track athlete. It was extremely upsetting to watch her attempt to become someone she was not. I stood on the sidelines, softly trying to get her to see that she needed to be appreciated for who she was. My independent and self-sufficient child became a needy girlfriend that couldn’t live without hearing from her boyfriend. Not surprisingly, after encouraging this behavior, Blonde Cutie eventually chafed under the pressure and began lashing out at Emmi. Suddenly, magically, she was over her spiraling crush. She began to think of his behavior, no more mature than hers, as controlling and irrational. So what if she enjoyed wearing makeup? So what if she liked girly shoes? So what if she likes to change into seven different outfits in one day? Why did he care anyway? It’s not like he was doing her laundry. Or buying the things for her. And frankly, to be honest, she had to admit that she found him boring. He couldn’t really talk to her about any of the things she enjoyed, like horses; and playing the piano or the guitar; or singing; or performing, which are the loves, the passions currently in her life. But even though she was over that mind-consuming crush, she didn’t want to break up with him. He had become an accessory like the fashionable purse that she loves. She could show him off to her friends and that was a lot of fun. Besides they had shared their first little kiss at Disney! I mean it’s hard to give up that kind of magic is it not?
The magic turned a little darker during one of the family’s visits when Blond Cutie asked Emmi to sneak out of her bedroom and join him on his bed. I’m not sure where he was going with this since his brother shared the same bed but there you have it. Emmi’s response, “I don’t think so. My mother would kill me.” We have a codicil in our relationship that I can be blamed for anything my girls don’t want to do but are too embarrassed to admit to their peers. Blond Cutie’s response was, “I told you to sneak out not stomp out of your room.” Emmi continued to refuse. He was not happy. And, well, I moved the sofabed from my craft room on the second floor to the family room downstairs. And so emerged Rule 2: No boys allowed upstairs where we have our bedrooms. She isn’t the only one learning as she goes.
When their family returned to our city for another visit, things had changed between the young couple. Emmi wanted to like Blond Cutie, but she had no respect for him. As he had become more demanding and demeaning, she had begun to make fun of his interests and challenged him by doing the very things he didn’t want her to do. We spent hours talking about this. She was getting close, oh, so close to ending the relationship. And I wanted it to be in her terms, not mine, and certainly, not his. I want her to feel empowered by the ability to make the decision for herself. The problem was that their relationship had become a status symbol. She liked dishing about him to her girlfriends and liked that he was “arm candy,” as she said. I wanted so badly to end this but instead kept talking to her about the reality of this situation and how it did not align with her values, meaning our family values. Even after she agreed, she didn’t know how to begin that conversation. Luckily Blond Cutie began it, and she was able to end their coupling.
One down and many to go. I so wanted to say “no dating.” The temptation was just killing me! But, I reminded myself she had made really good decisions by refusing the sexual advances and ending the relationship. We were on the right track. Still, we had long conversations about it. Rule 3: No agreeing to be a boy’s girlfriend unless he likes you for 3 months after he asks for the first time. I figured three months would be enough to let the embers of infatuation burn out. Either my daughter or the boy was sure to move on.
No such luck! Brunette Cutie was back and he declared his love as soon as his brother moved out of the way! OMG! Okay, once again I consoled myself with the fact that it took a flight for them to get together. Unlike Blond Cutie, Brunette Cutie was polite and liked Emmi for who she is. His type B personality seemed to blend better with her overachieving tendencies. They could talk about many things because he was interested in the things that she was interested in. And she became interested, or at least began to seriously explore more of his interests. Yep, actual conversations. They encouraged each other. And, they waited the three months which I kept hoping would lead to the demise of their blossoming crush. But I had underestimated the resiliency of preteens!
Another family visit and this time in the other family’s home. Everything went well, no problems, other than well, I had to ask myself how much privacy is appropriate at this age? On the one hand, the kids wanted to talk and be alone to do it. His baby brother and sister were chasing them around. But on the other hand, physical contact at this stage should be very limited. And privacy did lead to some chaste kisses. Uhmmmm, we were not ready for this! Unexpected! Things moving faster than we wanted them to yet again. After a conversation with my several girlfriends who have daughters the same age, it turns out that my daughters were far from advanced in this thing we call the dating game. They’re actually really naive for their age. That kind of saddens me. But I guess that’s the reality of our world today. Yet, I tried to keep things in perspective. Nevertheless, I decided, someone else’s child is not my child. Someone else’s family values are not our family values. We all had to do what we believe to be in the best interest of our children. Rule 4: They can be alone but only in a room where others are present. Meaning they can be in the family room while others are in the kitchen or in the living room. But they cannot be in an enclosed room by themselves.
Now, something unexpected happened after this visit. Both Brunette Cutie and Emmi were done, the long-distance thing didn’t work for either of them. Deep breathe in, deep breathe out, relief. The interesting thing about our foray into the dating game was that it really tapered Emmi’s interest in dating. Eight months later she still hasn’t expressed interest in dating another boy. In fact, quite the opposite. She often talks about how immature and boring she finds the boys her age or a year or two older than her. And she understands that it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to date someone older. She’s still boy crazy but in a completely different way. She likes to talk about boys, she likes to dish on the boys, and she certainly likes to look at boys. But she’s not interested in having a relationship with them. At least not for now. I’m sure this too, will pass. And once again, I won’t be ready for it. At least emotionally. But I do know I will be ready to be there for her and explore this exciting new phase in her development with her.