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.

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2 thoughts on “Dating and Daughters

  1. I hate the double standards when it comes to dating. Whatever lessons I give my son About dating will be the same for my daughter. I’m not going to tell my son to have a blast and turn around and tell my daughter to shut her legs or else she’s worthless. I hate how we shame young girls for their sexuality and place all their value between their legs.

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  2. I have a daughter who is only one month old, but I’m already starting to think about these things 🙂 I agree very strongly with the idea of teaching daughters to navigate the world of dating rather than navigating it for them. But then again, I’ve only been a mother of a daughter for one month 🙂

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