When my kids were small, my criteria for helping them choose their friends was simple: The kid could not be a biter, and I had to like the mother. As long as the kid didn’t use their chompers to solve playground disputes and the mother wasn’t a judgy asshole who rolled her eyes at the sight of my laundry pile, making friends when my kids were in preschool was a breeze.
And that worked for a good long time. In fact, many of my closest friendships were formed in the preschool pickup line, and I have to say, my children have chosen some pretty amazing kids as their best friends. Often, as I listen to the sounds of giggling and pantry raiding, I smile to myself and am grateful that they’ve developed a sound friendship radar. Our house is often filled with the sounds of teens and tweens playing video games or yard games outside, and for the most part, we’ve never had an issue with a kid being disrespectful.
However, now that my son is a teenager, I’m finding that I am in uncharted waters. He has recently begun dating and I’ve been shocked to realize that I don’t have as much control over whom he decides to take to a movie on a Friday night. As the saying goes, the heart wants what the heart wants, and as I watch my first born navigate the choppy waters of dating in the social media age, I’m finding that my opinion isn’t the first he considers when he’s texting with a girl.
I’m having a hard time keeping my mouth shut when it comes to having an opinion on whom he dates. Gone are the days when I could size up a mom in the preschool line and base playdates on whether or not a kid is going to bite. Life was so much simpler when my kids were small, and learning to let my kids make their own choices when it comes to dating partners has thrown me for a loop.
I wasn’t prepared for the feelings of anxiety over whether my son will have his heart broken or the need to maintain a poker face when he announces he’s going to date a girl who runs with a mean girl crowd. And what’s more: I wasn’t prepared for the anonymity of teen dating. These days, kids text rather than chat on the phone for hours on end. Teens are silently communicating, and it’s impossible to pick up the other extension and listen in to their conversations like my parents did when I was his age (yes, Mom, I was totally on to you).
It’s maddening. And I didn’t expect to have to deal with these feelings so soon.
But, if I’m being honest, I have no intention of closing the lines of communication when it comes to his dating choices. In fact, I’ve been anything but silent when he’s mentioned whom he’d like to date because I feel that it’s my job to make sure he realizes what he’s getting into when he’s eating froyo with a new leading lady. It’s my job to make sure he takes dating seriously ,and while I realize that the likelihood of him marrying a girl he meets at the age of 14 is very small, I still want him to be selective and careful when it comes to giving away his heart.
I want him to know that dating isn’t easy, that finding the right partnership balance is hard for adults too. I want him to be cautious and kind, practical and loving. And I want him to know that finding your first love is a feeling like no other.
I want him to know that when a girl says no, it always means no. There are no exceptions.
I want him to know that a girl might feel that she needs to perform sexual favors in order to get him to like her. And I want to give him the words to say, “Let’s not rush anything. You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with, now or ever.”
I want him to know that there is value in real, face-to-face conversations, that texting isn’t really dating. I want him to invite his girlfriends to our home so she can see how we interact as a family and be a part of our lives.
I want him to know that dating is hard, fraught with angst and broken hearts, and that he’ll eventually find a girl who will love all of him, including his Star Wars obsession.
I want him to know that he doesn’t have to pretend to be someone he is not. That it’s okay to want to date the smart girl, the nerdy girl, the girl who can hold a conversation and win an argument with him.
I want him to know that jealous rage, and yelling, and flying off the handle is not the norm, and shouldn’t be accepted as such. I want him to want more than nasty texts and hurtful words flung out in anger. (I also expect him not to partake in these behaviors.)
I want him to know that, for all my worry, for all my fears, I trust that he loves his father and me. That I know he’s not trying to replace us or leave us behind. I want him to know that it’s okay to want to kiss a girl and to feel so deeply for her that it makes his heart throb some days.
And I’ll never stop telling him how I feel because, one day, when he’s standing at the end of the aisle, next to the woman he’s chosen to spend his life with, he’ll tell me she’s the one and I’ll say, “I know.”