"Young Love at the Malt Shop" by Kevin Simpson. Used under Creative Commons license.

My Dating Daughter

Featured Geek Culture Parenting
"Young Love at the Malt Shop" by Kevin Simpson. Used under Creative Commons license.
“Young Love at the Malt Shop” by Kevin Simpson. Used under Creative Commons license.

My daughter came home from school the other day. She was late, but not too late–she’s in grade 7 now and, in general, a responsible kid, so a little leeway is okay from time to time.

“Hey, kiddo. How was your day?”

“Great, dad! This is my new BOYFRIEND!”

And there he was. A little taller than her, a sheepish and nervous grin on his face. “H-hi,” he said in a soft voice.

Well then. Decision time. How to handle this.

Not what I had in mind.
Not quite what I had in mind.
“Shotgun Wedding” by Flickr user Ms. Phoenix. Used under Creative Commons license.

This is something I’ve thought about for a long time. Ever since she entered my life I knew there was going to be a moment when she brought someone home. A moment that someone would come along and whisk her off her feet, who would become more important in her life than her stuffy old parents.

I mean, it’s probably not this guy–she’s only 12 and this likely won’t last long. But still, you know?

Reactions from people I’ve told have been mixed. There’s been a few mentions of sympathy, a few exclamations of “she’s too young!”, and a lot of comments that made me deeply uncomfortable.

“Time to get a gun.”
“Leave the shotgun on the table when he’s over next.”
“Best put the fear of God into that boy.”
“How long is she grounded for?”

This is terrible.

Before I had a daughter I took part in the jokes. The 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter mentality. The joke of the dad telling a young suitor, “I have a gun and a shovel, and know how to use both of them.”

But not since she came along.

These are the questions I constantly consider: How do I want to raise her? What kind of person do I want her to be as an adult? Do I want her to be a strong, self-reliant person? Someone who not only feels confident in her own decisions, but is armed with the training to make smart choices? Someone who knows she has caring, supportive parents to turn to when things go wrong?

Or someone who feels she needs to hide? Someone who either buckles to being controlled, or learns to rebel and pulls away from us?

When I was sixteen, I fell for a girl. But we weren’t allowed to be in a relationship. “I’m not allowed to date anyone my father hasn’t met yet. He’s away on a work trip, so we have to wait until he’s home.”

That was a horrible two weeks. I mean, I really, really liked this girl. What if her dad didn’t like me? Was he some kind of ogre?

"There's always room for pie" by Flickr user Kenny Louie. Used under Creative Commons license.
I mean come on. Everyone loves pie.
“There’s always room for pie” by Flickr user Kenny Louie. Used under Creative Commons license.

(It turned out fine. He was a pretty gentle person and we bonded over a mutual love of lemon meringue pie.)

My daughter had a friend over the next day. I overheard her friend saying, “I’m surprised your dad is letting you have a boyfriend. I’m not allowed to have one until I’m 16.”

I poked my head in at that point. “Well, here’s how I feel about that. If I tell her she’s not allowed a boyfriend, I fully suspect she would still have a boyfriend, she just wouldn’t tell me about him.”

They both laughed. “Yeah, probably,” my daughter said.

I want her to feel comfortable to bring her boyfriends home. I want them to feel welcomed, to feel safe. I want this house to be a haven for her and the people important to her. The more welcoming I am about her loves, the more she’ll be willing to talk to me about them, the more willing she will be to listen to advice, to come to us for help, for ideas, for commiseration.

I don’t want her to learn about relationships from YouTube. I don’t want her to learn from the television. I don’t want her to have to draw upon the advice of fellow kids, none of whom really know anything about this stuff. I’m not saying we have all the answers ourselves, but if she feels free to talk to us, then we can explore the answers together.

I also know, when she really sparks with someone, she won’t listen to any rules that I’ve laid down. She will only listen to her heart. If I’m hard-line, if I’m strict and forbidding, she will just brush me off and close her ears to me.

But if I’ve been open, and we have a pattern of communication established… well, okay. She probably won’t listen anyway. But we’ll still have a strong bond and our relationship will always be there. And when her heart is broken, as it will be some day, that bond will be there so we can help her through it.

“Hey, nice to meet you,” I said with a smile. “C’mon in.”

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9 thoughts on “My Dating Daughter

  1. Very nicely written. I’m a mom of two boys and I hope their girlfriends’ parents are as understanding about it all as you are. My oldest is 7 so I suspect I have awhile yet before the talk of girlfriends and I’m already dreading it.

  2. Story I didn’t mention: My wife knew our daughter was bringing her boyfriend home in advance but had been asked not to tell me.

    So once my daughter and the boy were gone again I reach over and swatted my wife on the arm.

    “Ah! What was that for?”

    “Bad surprise! You have to prepare me for these things!”


  3. Let’s face it. We only haul out the shotgun and shovel comments for our daughters, not our sons, and we should honestly be ashamed about what that says about how differently we view teen dating, depending upon the gender of the child.

    Maybe if we didn’t lose our collective shit when that child wanting to date had a second X chromosome, so that this hoary old stereotype about males as interlopers and females as valuable flowers to be protected vanished, this kind of article wouldn’t even need to be written?

    1. It looks less like losing our collective shit and more like getting jealous and trying to keep our females for ourselves, really.

      Yuck. >:(

      I am so glad that my father has never conflated the role of parent and the role of romantic partner even *that* much.

  4. Great article, Phil. I only have boys (8 and 5, so hopefully a LONG way away from dating) and I hope that any girl whose company they enjoy will have parents who give them the benefit of the doubt. I still get a giggle over that Goonies comment from the mom: “Let her mother worry about it,” but my hope is to raise two boys in such a way that “her mother” doesn’t have to worry.

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