If you follow me on Facebook, then you know that my oldest son just had a birthday and when we asked him if he wanted to invite someone from school to celebrate with us, he chose A GIRL. This was big news. He is ELEVEN. So when he told us this, it triggered the inquisition. Who was she? Is she just a friend who is a girl or was she a girlfriend? You get the idea. He said she was "sorta his girlfriend" and that she was really nice. He didn't know her last name, but was able to get her phone number so that I could call her parents to invite her to come over. It was an awkward phone call.
When I called the mom of this mystery 11 year old, I was pretty cautious. I had no idea who this woman was, what the family dynamic was, how they felt about this budding "relationship" etc. I mean, we thought that the idea of an 11 year old "dating" was amusing, but we certainly weren't encouraging it. After all, they are 11 years old. We definitely don't want it going beyond the occasional note in class or a birthday invitation, but I had no idea what this woman was thinking. A few minutes into the conversation, I learned that while I had just learned about their daughter this week, they had been hearing about my son for months. I told her that I was hoping that their daughter could come to our house to celebrate with us and that they were welcome to join us as well. I stressed that this was a very informal "party" and that most everything we did was laid back. I was pleased to discover that both she and her husband were approaching this whole relationship thing with the same attitude that we were -- the crush is cute as long as that's all it is. It was a relief to know that they weren't picking out china patterns or anything.
The day of the party, she and her family came to our house and spent the evening with us and the rest of our crazy extended family. They were remarkably normal (by our standards) and they got along well with everyone there. And the little girl gave my son a Barnes and Noble gift card which scored major points with me as I am always trying to get him to read more.
Any fears I had about my son meddling in things like dating were squashed by the conversations overheard between him and his little sister. We learned that he thinks that holding hands is "weird" and when she asked him if he had kissed her, he fake gagged. I just hope that he can maintain that attitude for a few more years. At least. I want him to date eventually (as long as I can pre-approve any possible girlfriends and their families), but not until he is older.
This experience has prompted a discussion about when our kids can "date" and what that involves. I was thrilled to find that my husband and I are on the same page. We have 2 boys and 2 girls. It is important to both of us that the dating rules in this house be universal -- no difference between boys and girls. So these are our basic rules:
1) Group dates (as in going to the movies with a group of people where you happen to be in mutual "like" with another member of the group) will be allowed as young as 14 if and only if we are accquainted with all members of the party and we (or another parent that we know) drives you to and from the "date."
2) Double dating (where you are allowed to go off with the person that you are in mutual "like" with provided that you are with another couple) will be allowed as young as 15, if and only if we are accquainted with both couples, and transportation is provided by us or another responsible adult.
3) Individual, one-on-one dating will not be allowed until 16. You will not be allowed to get into the car with anyone that we have not met.
4) You will not respond to honked horns from the edge of the driveway (nor will you ever honk your horn for your date). Boys will introduce themselves to their date's parents, girls will introduce their dates to us. More than one date with a girl requires that the boys bring the girl to meet us. Prolonged relationships, boys or girls, will result in me contacting the parents of the date. This is not to embarrass you, but to insure that we are all on the same page as far as the dating rules and expectations go.These rules are not just to protect my kids, but also to make certain that they date the kind of kids that would potentially make good life partners. I know that they are going to hate these rules. But I need them to understand the respect that is communicated to their dates when they are followed. Anyone that they date will know that my kids have respect for them and that they demand repsect from them. I do not expect them to marry the first person that they date, but they need to understand from the get-go that you DO marry who you date, so treat your dating life as an audition or interview. If I give them the impression that dating doesn't matter, then they could end up very unhappy in life.
And the one thing that I want for my kids above all else is for them to be happy.