Dating and Daughters

Last night, my brother posted a link to this blog post, about interviewing your daughter’s dates. He asked what everyone thought … and my mind raced so fast I had to write it all out.

I know all of us with daughters like to crack jokes about not letting them date until they’re 30, cleaning the shotgun when the first boy comes to pick her up and that sort of thing. But the truth is, I feel very strongly about equipping both of my children, Ellie especially, with the confidence and wisdom they need to navigate the dating world on their own.

Yep, on their own. As my friend Jacqueline wrote the other day, “my job as a parent is to teach them to live without me.” I’m not doing my job if Ellie can’t say yes or no to going to a movie with a boy until Jon puts him through his paces.

I understand the inclination and the argument behind the interview process. The author says he does it because he loves and values his daughters. He says it’s a “first line of defense” and allows him to “play the heavy” and say no for her if she doesn’t want to accept the date.

I love and value my daughter too, but I want to teach her how to be her own first line of defense. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a lesson more vital than teaching Ellie she can say no confidently and without embarrassment to anything she doesn’t want to do – ESPECIALLY with a boy. Allowing her daddy to say no for her sounds sweet, but really it’s weakening. She needs to learn to trust her own instincts, and she’ll only do that by trying them out. I will be here for support, encouragement and advice whenever she needs it. I’m sure to have my preferences about who she dates and what she does/doesn’t do with them, and I won’t hesitate to make those known. But I have to respect that the decisions ultimately belong to her. She’s not my puppet, she’s my daughter.

Equipping my children with the independence and decision-making skills they need to be successful, kind, competent adults is what parenting is all about, in my opinion. Taking that decision-making out of their hands – especially when it comes to their relationships – is one of the least empowering things I could do. What if, God forbid, something happens to Jon or me? Do I want to leave a daughter who doesn’t know how to say no when she doesn’t want to go on a date or how to determine if he’s worth saying “yes” to? Absolutely not. We will start sowing the seeds early and often about choosing friends and confidently saying no to things we don’t want to do. Our job will always be to love and support her, but we won’t do for her what she needs to be able to do herself.

Navigating relationships, especially the romantic kind, seems like adult business – and I understand the inclination to keep those decisions in adult hands. The drive to protect our children is the most powerful force I’ve ever experienced, but it’s also a dangerous one. If we’re not careful, we use the excuse of keeping them safe to keep them from making mistakes or having their own experiences. Eventually they grow up and leave us, after all. So I can either spend 18 years shielding, protecting and ruling over my children, and launch adults who are woefully unprepared to navigate life on their own … or I can spend 18 years carefully guiding and teaching, while simultaneously peeling back the limits and giving them the room to make their own choices and practice living with the consequences, so that I, prayerfully, launch adults who understand how to make a good decision and the consequences of a bad one.

When Ellie meets a boy she likes someday, we will expect to meet him, of course. Not as part of a multi-step vetting process, but because we’ll expect to meet and know everyone she and Nathan care about and choose to spend time with. She’ll know that if at anytime she feels uncomfortable or in over her head, she can call us (or text us or hologram us, or whatever it is we’re doing those days to communicate) and we’ll come running. We will support, encourage and, I’m sure, occasionally disagree with the decisions she makes. But we’re parents, not guards. Letting go without loving less is the most painful part of the raising children process, but we can’t shield ourselves from the pain at the expense of their independence. As they grow up, we must learn to love and value them not just as our children, but as individuals.

So no, we won’t be interviewing our daughter’s dates someday (or our son’s). We’ll offer a guiding hand, and I feel confident we’ll veto more than one date night outfit. But we won’t take decisions out of their hands that need to belong to them. And we won’t say no for them, when learning to say no for themselves is so terrifyingly necessary.

I can’t say for sure that we’re doing this right. All parenting choices come with their own side of guilt and questioning and series of “what ifs.” But we feel strongly about instilling kindness, empathy, faith and confidence in our children and then letting them blaze their own trails.

Maybe there will be a “part two” to this post in 20 years or so to let you know how it all went.

8 Rules for Dining Out with Toddlers

Let’s be honest: eating in restaurants with children under five is awful. But you know what else is awful? Cooking dinner after you’ve had a terrible day at work/wrangling the kids/ life in general. It’s always a choice between the lesser of two evils, but really isn’t that basically all parenting is?

Some days the dinner out is the winner (loser?). How do you ensure survival? The odds are already in your favor if, like in our family, dinner time is 5:15 p.m., sharp. The only people in restaurants at that hour are old people who can’t hear and will think your children are adorable. Mainly because they can’t hear. Beyond the normal absurdly early dinner hour, here are 8 tips, straight from the trenches, to help stack the deck in your favor:

1. Don’t go anywhere that takes longer than an hour. That’s start to finish and includes waiting time. I promise, even an extraordinarily well-behaved child can’t be still and quiet longer than an hour. Don’t set yourself up for failure before you get started.

2. Do not go anywhere that you have to wait more than 10 minutes for a table. See above. You have one hour. Do not waste more than 10% waiting. This rule can be fudged a little if it’s early and you can wait outside. But still, don’t stretch it more than 20 minutes.

3. Bring snacks. Preferably non-messy ones. Do not worry about ruining your child’s appetite. Worry about keeping him quiet and agreeable. One dinner made up entirely of yogurt melts and goldfish crackers won’t ruin him forever. This is especially important for those rare occasions when you cannot adhere to rules one and two.

4. Order your kid’s food with the drinks. Especially if he’s super hungry, it’s later than normal dinner time or you have a slow eater.

5. Be prepared to get your meal to go. Sometimes disaster strikes. An epic meltdown, an obstinate, refuses-to-listen child … these things happen. Toddlers have bad days, just like everyone else. If it happens at home, you can ignore it and let them tire themselves out. If it happens in a restaurant, you ask for your food to go and the check. You get out of there as quickly as possible.

6. Do not allow your child to run around, play with the blinds, jump, yell, climb on the booth or otherwise bother other people. Even at family restaurants. If your child starts doing this, ask him to stop. If you can’t get him to stop, see number 5.

7. Tip well. Especially if your kids make a mess, you have to concoct a special order for a picky palate or your server goes out of his/her way to be accommodating. Note: 20 percent should be your baseline. Tipping “well” is 25% and up, in this instance.

8. Be considerate. This sums up all the previous rules. Be considerate of your child, and don’t ask him to wait 45 minutes to eat an hour later than usual while waiting quietly with no snacks or distractions. That’s a recipe for disaster.

But also be considerate of your fellow diners. Yes, some people in this world are just looking to be offended by something; they’re not your concern. But if the whole restaurant is giving you side eye, maybe things aren’t going as well as you thought and you need to redirect or pack it in. I know how I can tune out annoying behaviors to the point where they are background noise. This is a necessary survival skill for parenting, but your fellow patrons are likely lacking it. Bear that in mind.

And if all else fails, go for Mexican food. It’s almost always lightning fast, there are free chips and salsa and margaritas make everyone a little more forgiving. Happy dining!

Motherhood is More

This wasn’t what I expected.

I expected to feel tired. Really, really tired. But only for the first few months until the baby started sleeping through the night (bless me). I did not anticipate the bone deep exhaustion capable of stretching on for years and a sleep deficit so great I fear I’ll never truly feel rested again. I didn’t know about sleep regressions or consider all the lost nights to teething, sickness, big boy bed transitions, trips away from home and things that go bump in the night. Multiplied by each additional child.

I expected my body to change. I braced myself for softer, lower, stretched. And all of that came, plus eczema and new moles and different hair texture. I wasn’t expecting to feel strong, but hefting babies then toddlers then preschoolers does have that small perk. On a related note, I wasn’t expecting the back pain.

I expected to know what I was doing after the first child. I forgot that babies are people, each with a personality and likes, dislikes and preferences. I didn’t remember that most siblings share very little in common, aside from a gene pool. I wasn’t expecting having a second child to be so hard. I wasn’t prepared for my tried-and-true soothing methods to fall flat, for my schedule to be useless. I forgot that we would still need to introduce ourselves to one another and find our own rhythm together. I didn’t know how hard it would be to learn how to weave those two relationships – the one I had already established with my son and this fresh new one with my daughter – together.

I expected to have good days and bad ones. I had no idea that the good ones would be so good. Little pieces of brightness and heaven beyond anything I knew possible. I had no way of anticipating the darkness of the bad days. The wracking sobs of a mother who feels like she’s failing. The bubbling anger and resentment when the patience runs out and the exhaustion overwhelms. The fear when your baby is sick or hurt.

I expected camaraderie. I wasn’t the first in my group of friends to have a baby, nor the last. I thought it would be a lovefest of swapped advice and playdates. I didn’t expect to feel lonely. Despite a husband who is my partner in every sense of the word and a network of supportive family and friends, motherhood feels like an island sometimes.

I expected the love, although the depth, breadth and ferocity of it still takes my breath away. But it’s the drive to protect them, a compulsion stronger even than the love, that I wasn’t prepared for. It’s the piece of motherhood that terrifies me the most, to be honest. Loosening my grip and letting go a little bit at a time, so they get to live their own lives instead of in the shadows of mine. Understanding that they’ll push against my love and protection every step of the way, carving out their own paths. Anticipating how much that will hurt me, to have them bristle at my touch and roll their eyes at my loving words. Knowing that I’ll spend the rest of my life hovering on the sidelines, stopping myself from intervening every time I see a risk they don’t.

I expected the love, I just didn’t know how much it could hurt or what it would cost me. It is brutal, exquisite and bankrupting, this mother’s love.

This isn’t what I expected. It’s more difficult, more exhausting, more beautiful. Simply put, motherhood is more.

“Mom, Why Do You Wear Makeup?”

“Mom, why do you wear makeup?”

makeupI glanced over in the midst of applying concealer to some very dark undereye circles to find Nathan watching me intently. His question gave me pause. Why do I wear makeup? Well, the honest answer is because I feel prettier when I wear it. But I couldn’t say that. Not when I spend all day every day trying, very intentionally, to teach my children that they are enough, just as they are. That everyone is enough, just as they are. That lesson gets shot to hell if I admit that I don’t feel “enough” over something as silly as missing mascara.

So I hedged and fumbled and ultimately redirected by asking Nathan what books he was excited about getting at the library. Sufficiently distracted, he began analyzing the merits of Nate the Great versus Clifford the Big Red Dog, and I was free to finish getting ready without further self-evaluation.

Or so I thought. I’ve revisited the question in my mind several times since, and I’ve still yet to come up with an answer I’m not embarrassed to admit to anyone other than myself. I don’t like to admit my dependence on makeup. I rationalize it, because it’s not an expensive hobby – you won’t find anything in my makeup bag that can’t be found in the aisles at Target (that statement is true for more than my makeup bag, but I digress). I justify it with my speed – if I can apply a full face of makeup, eyeliner included, in less than five minutes, I can’t be that high maintenance, right?

But the truth is, it’s carefully constructed daily armor. If I can hide my insecurities along with the signs of a sleepless night, maybe I’ll be more likeable. It’s a buffer between me and everyone else; another way to hide the real me and keep the version with the prettier packaging on display.

It’s not a truth I’m proud of. It’s another disconnect between the lesson I want to impart to my children and the example I’m providing. Maybe at 32 it’s time I settle more comfortably into my own, pale skin. Let the contents of my makeup bag be more about adding a little polish and a little fun, and less about being what I need to face the world each day.

I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it. In a couple of years, when Ellie asks, hopefully I’ll be ready.