Do you remember decades ago when you were in high school and how the week of Valentine’s Day always brought so much anxiety and anticipation (or loathing)? The high school I went to would sell flowers that week to be delivered on Valentine’s Day during homeroom—some would be sent anonymously and others would have a sentiment from a friend or an admirer. Every year girls (particularly girls) would wonder the entire week if they would get a flower. Cue the early 1990s version of The Bachelor, “Would you accept this rose?” Every year I was no different. I usually had my eye on a cute boy, hoping they had their eye on me. My friends would do the same. (Psst, if your daughter is boy-crazy, you need to read this article!)
Fast forward to only a few years ago when my own daughter was in high school. To be honest, I don’t remember if her school did the flower thing the week of Valentine’s Day. If they did, it passed without any drama, hallelujah! Most girls, at least the ones in the circle my daughter ran in, didn’t feel this need for a boyfriend. There wasn’t a prevailing mentality of having to have a boyfriend or an admirer to feel whole or complete while they were in high school. Did some of them date? Absolutely. Did some of them purposefully choose not to? Absolutely. Here’s the thing, though: my daughter and her high school friends were so busy doing their own thing (the thought of being held back by a boy was utterly ridiculous to them), that they actually enjoyed their high school experience so much more! There wasn’t the ever-present drama, the wondering, the worrying, the “am I still good enough for him” thoughts, etc. There was, instead, the purposeful and deliberate prowess of strong, determined young women forging their own path, guiding it to look and go the way they wanted it to without being influenced by someone who probably won’t care long-term.
Listen to Your Child and Support Their Passions
I’ve been asked by a few parents, mostly moms, over the past few years, “How did you teach your daughter to be so independent and driven?” Honestly, we listened to her. When she was a little girl, she played with dolls and pretended to be a mommy—not abnormal for a 4-year-old. As she grew, she would say, “When I grow up I want to…” My response was often a form of, “Great! What do you need to do to make that happen?” Our answer wasn’t “Oh, you’re gonna have to marry a doctor or a lawyer” but, rather, “you can be a doctor or a lawyer” (or whatever).
When our kids were little, we chose to listen to what their little hearts were saying. If they showed interest in something, we helped them learn about it by reading books, watching documentaries, taking lessons, practicing, etc. The local library became a great resource for us and we were there almost weekly! Our vacations were planned around their goals and dreams. We regularly invested in our kids’ passions and their passions quickly became our passions. Our children, particularly our daughter, didn’t usually read about heroines in books who always had a partner, but of women, strong women, who did what was necessary to achieve. When our daughter played with her toys—dolls, horses, craft supplies, princesses—she was busy dreaming about her future. She was carving out her own story in her mind, while simply being a child. She would draw pictures, build forts, write stories, decorate imaginary homes, catch and release creatures in our yard, run, swim, and bike with her younger brothers, and research and investigate the details to make a point. She was the most inquisitive kid…asking so many questions all the time. Eventually, we just told her to “look it up” to find answers. It was unbelievably exhausting! As cliche as it sounds, we certainly believe she is who she is because we let her imagination run wild and free when she was young. We created a safe place for her to dream out loud.
Don’t Emphasize Dating Either Way, But Teach Them How
As parents, we want all of our children to know who they are individually before they settle down with someone. We want them to find their own worth, their goals, values, dreams and desires long before they take on the additional identity and role of being someone’s spouse. Dating should be fun and carefree; there shouldn’t be pressure to be someone you’re not just to fit someone else’s idea of the “perfect” person. Honestly, as our daughter got older, we didn’t make a pointed effort to discourage dating, but we did make an effort to tell her (and our sons) that your path is your path, no one else’s. If someone wants to come along for the ride, that’s fine, but they need to get in and buckle up. Our kids should not course-correct and abandon their goals and dreams for one person.
Our son is currently dating the sweetest girl. They are cute and adorable and all the new relationship things. I have a really good radar for picking out the bad seeds that my son thought were fantastic; this one, she’s good. I regularly tell my son, “This one is good, don’t mess it up.” My son isn’t in college; he’s working and living with his parents (every grown up kid’s dream, right?). His girlfriend is in college. When they started to show signs of really liking each other, I said to my son, “Don’t you get in her way. If she has stuff to do for school, you leave her alone.” His response, “I already know that, mom.”
But does he? I think so. He’s seen his older sister go for it and be successful by not letting a boy get in her way. Is he along for the ride with this girl? Is he her biggest cheerleader? Likely, but he is definitely not getting in her way. Will she get in his way? Will he put so much value in her opinion of him that he forgets who he is? Time will tell. Obviously we hope not and we hope and pray that he remembers who he is along the way. It goes both ways—the dating expectations. But, as we’re experiencing, the good ones stick.
Teach Your Child That “Traditional” Isn’t the Only Way
I have a strong feeling that social media has ruined a lot of the enjoyment of relationships—there’s always someone flaunting themselves, self-promoting, and showing only one side of who they are. As a parent, it is agonizing to watch your child try to live up to someone’s unrealistic standard. My husband and I have really encouraged not only our daughter, but also our sons, to be themselves. If they are true to themselves, dating, all relationships, and marriage will come when the time is right for both parties.
We really don’t need to push this antiquated notion of going to college, meeting Mr. or Mrs. Right, then having three babies by 30 (strangely this is our story, but that’s neither here nor there). We certainly could have fallen into the trap of trying to match our daughter with someone in kindergarten or preschool (there are probably even reality tv shows that encourage this behavior!). We could’ve encouraged her to learn more delicate ways to behave and career fields that are more “traditional.” Yet, she is neither of those things, and we are thrilled!
Here’s the thing, my mother-in-law, who happens to be the most caring woman I know, recently verbalized in a way of trying to be supportive and encouraging, that she worries excessively about my daughter’s safety because she will be “all alone” in a big city. I can only imagine what leads her to think this way, and maybe I’m wrong, but it probably has to do with some outdated concept that women can’t live by themselves, alone, in a big city…that they need a spouse to care for them. Even my niece (age 8) verbalized to my daughter at Christmas, “I feel sorry for you that you don’t have a boyfriend.” What?
Ironically, we’ve taught our children, particularly our daughter, the exact opposite. I get it, though…I do. When I went to college a few decades ago, the big joke was that people went to my college of choice to get their “Mrs.” degree. I said, “Nope, not me. I’m getting a degree.” Guess what happened? I got my “Mrs.” degree. So, I can understand the sentiment shared by my mother-in-law, but it just isn’t what we have instilled in our daughter. She is strong, capable, inventive, caring, kind, fierce in her convictions and beliefs, considerate, beautiful, intelligent (so intelligent!), ambitious, dedicated, determined, and more. She may desire to someday have a family of her own, but right now, she has other goals, plans, and dreams. Can she share those with someone? Sure! Does she have to? Nope.
This Is the Main Thing…
Dating isn’t something that needs to be forced on our children. This strange behavior I’ve seen in videos online to have little mini-weddings of 4-year-olds or that you’re daughter’s friend who is a boy in 2nd grade is somehow her boyfriend is disheartening. How about we tackle the notion that while maybe difficult in high school, many people of different sexes have long and strong friendships. Dating isn’t a requirement in humanity, but being able to communicate with others who are different from you is. Relationships, all relationships, are a life skill that need to be taught and practiced.
So before you think I have it all together and my family is perfect, remember that all of this is simply our experience with our children. Is it a perfect scenario? No. Are our kids perfect? Far from it. Have we mastered parenting? Not even close. We’re still in the middle of this parenting gig. The main thing is the main thing—your child is an individual and they need to fully accept themselves before they can be part of a relationship that requires maturity, respect, and genuine love. There will always be bad dating stories and those are great learning opportunities, but the key is to help your child grow individually, spiritually, and emotionally before they start spending excessive amounts of time with someone else.
Your daughter—especially your daughter—needs to know her value and worth are predetermined. No boy can change that no matter what. Realize and accept that your path as a parent and your experiences from 25+ years ago in high school are most likely going to be very different from your daughter or son. (Let’s take a moment and say a word of thanks that we didn’t have cell phones and social media during our high school days…Amen?) Kids will be kids, after all, and they will struggle with dating, it’s only normal. However, when they get their hearts broken or when they choose a different path (or partner) than what you had hoped for, the best thing is to show them you trust their judgement to move forward in a positive way. Be there for your sons and daughters. Show them encouragement, grace, and most of all love, always love.
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