Back when my oldest daughter, Marcia, was 10-years-old, I heard there was a 10-year-old boy who liked her – and whom she liked back. It sounded like it had been building for a few weeks.
It was an everyday dinner at our house except for the fact that Marcia’s friend Kelly was having dinner with us too. We discussed school, friends, and classroom dramas. Marcia told me Danny (a boy in her grade) liked her. Kelly added, almost accusingly, that Marcia liked Danny too. My nonchalant response of “Really,” was out of honest curiosity. I saw the little look in Marcia’s eyes that showed she was unsure how to read my response. I was a little excited for her because I remember being that age and that first crush.
Kelly asked me “Is Danny your nemesis?” I said, “No, not at all.” Then turning to Marcia, I said, “I just want to know that anyone you like or want to spend time with is kind to you, treats you respectfully, and you feel good about yourself when you spend time with them. Does he do that?” That is when the floodgates opened, and she told me a few stories:
I heard about Picture Day at school; it was a chilly day. As they stood outside waiting for their turn in front of the camera, Marcia got chilly. Danny offered his coat to my daughter. Then, on a field trip, she was feeling sad about her food sensitivities and the resulting food choices for her – none of which she liked – and was a little down about it. Danny came over and cheered her up. Most recently he made a necklace for her that had a dolphin on it. She had been wearing it every day, and she told me at the dinner table that he gave it to her. I was wondering where she got this necklace that wasn’t her typical style. …I am starting to like this kid.
All of these little stories about how this boy was treating her were locked up in Marcia’s brain – held back from being shared with me because she thought this person would be my nemesis because he liked her. I loved being able to tell her that as long as this person was treating her well, and not expecting her to do anything for him, I thought so far, so good.
You may be wondering why Kelly would wonder if Danny was my nemesis. That’s because it was what she knew. Kelly had a crush on a boy in her class. The object of her crush Albert did not seem to give Kelly the time of day. It was a long drawn out saga about how she liked this boy. Her dad “joked” with Kelly about how Albert was his “arch enemy.” Kelly talked about Albert a lot: “I sat next to Albert today.” “I checked out a book Albert likes today.” “Albert looked at me in the lunch line today.” Whenever Kelly’s dad heard his name from her, he would growl. He always said he was joking but something about the way he handled it did not feel right.
Once time, her dad stated to us, “Anyone who likes Kelly is a dad’s nemesis.” When my 8-year-old daughter Cindy heard this, she issued a challenge to that statement: “I like Kelly.” I chimed in as well, then tried to point out that this should not be stated criteria to dislike your child’s friends. I want my girls to have friends of all genders.
Later that night, I looked directly into Marcia’s eyes, and I saw the future 17-year-old she is going to be. I can see it in her eyes that she is going to be so challenging; she is smart, and I hope to continue to be with her as she develops her confidence and eventually her sexuality. I know that is some years off in the future, but I am starting to see it blossom now.
I am so happy I did not tease her or react in a negative way when she told me about Danny. I know if I would have teased her that would have shut her down as well. Or perhaps she would have made that relationship secretive. I have had clients and friends tell me this type of thing happened to them when they were young. Their parents didn’t want them to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, so they lied, made up secret names when people called the house, and otherwise snuck around behind their parents backs. I am more concerned with being available if anything were to happen to my daughters and they needed help or guidance than telling them what they cannot do. I mean, how comfortable will they be coming forth to me if they’ve been hiding a secret all along? I did not want this budding relationship to become a big secret she did not share with me. I would not have heard any of those stories about him that she seemed excited to share nor been able to help her think through how she should feel when she spends time with someone.
I have to stay on my toes and pay attention to what is happening in her life now – not that I have not been – but I want to be there for her through all phases of this budding friendship. I want her to stay open with me and know that her potential partners are not my enemy.
Who wants to be teased about whom they like? Who wants to know that their potential future partners are inherently enemies to their parents? Some people like to share stories about things that make them happy, even when it is a love interest. I am choosing very consciously to listen to my daughters when they want to tell me something, reserve my judgment, and demonstrate to them that I am accepting them. It is tough to be the parent I did not have when I was their age.
Do you remember how your parents treated your first love interest? Did your parents joke about having a shotgun handy when you went on your first date? How did that make you feel? How would you have wanted your parents to treat you?