I was filled with joy when our first daughter was born. That day is one of the ‘flash-bulb’ moments in my life; I can tell you every detail. What I hadn’t considered, though, was the sheer terror I’d feel as she approaches dating age.
My wife and I have always raised our children in an atmosphere of mutual respect. It’s important to us that our girls (we have three) show proper respect to those around them, and to themselves. We believe that raising our children in an environment based on this respect will serve them well as they become contributing members of society.
Our oldest is now 14 and, although she’s still more interested in her friends than she is boys, I know the day is coming when her world will be wrapped around the comings and goings of one boy or another. In preparation for this eventuality, I’ve got my shotgun oiled and ready to ensure these boys understand I’ve got my little girl’s back.
The most important thing I can say to my baby girl is to respect herself and to demand that any boy she dates does the same. I know things have changed a lot since I was in middle school, but human nature hasn’t. That means 14-year-old boys still think like I thought when I was their age. And that’s what scares me!
According to my girls, dating at this age is more about hanging out between classes than anything else. The boys can’t drive (thank goodness) so dating options are pretty limited. And there certainly isn’t anything serious developing between the girls and boys who are dating. I hear about break ups daily. So it’s primarily the preparation stages for high school, when things can get more serious.
Although my girls don’t want to talk to me about specific boys, I still try to talk to them in general terms about what to expect and require when they start dating. Maybe I’m too old fashioned, but I expect a young man to go out of his way to show that he values my little girl (she’ll always be my baby, regardless of age). These displays can be as simple as opening doors for her or waiting patiently while she finishes getting ready. One thing that will automatically make me grab my shotgun is honking the car horn when he pulls into the driveway. If he’s too lazy to get out of the car and walk to the door, he’s too lazy to date my daughter. And if you don’t know how to use a belt to keep your pants up, you’re not going to be on my favorites list.
Of course the decision will be theirs when it comes to whom they date. We can only advise and prepare them for the adventure. I won’ t kid myself by thinking I’ll like every boy they date, but I can hope they’ll trust their core values when it comes time to consider spending their life together.
I’m still not sure what position I’ll take on curfews. When I was growing up, my parents wanted to know when I thought I’d be home. If it looked like I may be late, I always called to check in first. In a world where kids in first grade have their own cell phones, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Call me, text me, leave a post on my Facebook wall. As long as I know she is safe and being responsible, I’ll probably be content if she’s out late. She’s got to keep it reasonable, though. If she strolls in at 4am, we’re going to have big problems.
Prom nights have changed a lot since I was young. The dance is just the warm-up now. There are after-parties at hotels that run all night in some cases. I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, but I can’t imagine I’d be able to sleep if one of my girls is out that late. And my middle daughter is only 1’½ years younger than her sister, so it’s likely I’ll have both out late. The good news is that it’s also common to attend these events in large groups. I’ll feel better if I know there are several other couples in the group.
Another piece of advice I’ll offer is to wait until after college to get married. Some may disagree with me on this one, but I can’t imagine how anyone can split their attention between a new marriage and finishing school. Both require tremendous effort, and neither would be well served with less than one’s full focus.
In the end, I’m confident all three of our girls will find men who respect them and treat them well. They are strong young ladies and we’ve taught them to expect the best from the people with whom they spend time. But just in case, I’ve got my shotgun ready.