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.
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?
(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.”