My two girls and I were walking out of the craft store, arms full of bags carrying all sorts of red and pink goodies to make gifts and cards and to decorate boxes, when another customer spoke to us. She asked if I was from a nearby small town (I am) and if my name is Mary (it is). She introduced herself as the mom of one of my classmates, a boy I’d known since preschool but haven’t seen since high school.
It was a brief, unexpected meeting but gave my nine-year-old and I lots to laugh about that evening. Partly because I couldn’t believe the older woman recognized me after all these years and partly because my daughter couldn’t believe I’d ever been her age or younger. But we also laughed when I admitted to my daughter that I remembered this particular classmate well (even if I didn’t recognize his mom more than three decades later), because I’d had a crush on him in preschool.
PRESCHOOL! What on earth?!
Yes, it’s true. Even today I can name the boys I admired (not always secretly) all the way through school, from Pre-K to graduation. My middle name isn’t “boy crazy,” but it could have been!
After nearly 18 years of marriage, I’ve learned a lot about love and relationships, about my own predisposition as well as the way I was raised, about the benefit of focusing on school and family and, basically, anything other than boys. So as a mom of girls, I’ve steered clear of anything that might encourage their interest in romantic relationships. But it seems all the efforts and intentions in the world can’t stop a nine-year-old girl from noticing the blonde boy who lives down the street.
My daughter shared with me this winter that she “likes” one of our neighbors. He’s in the grade above her, and they ride the bus together each day. And, rumor has it, he likes her, too.
Ahhhhhh! What am I supposed to do about THIS?!
Clearly I am in the trenches and (hopefully) learning as I go here. But just in case you are going through this situation with your tween or teen, I wanted to share a few things I’m keeping in mind as I navigate these waters.
Don’t panic. No matter what scary or surprising information my kids share with me, I try to keep my reactions calm. That’s far from my instinct or personality’s tendency, but because I want them to feel safe sharing with me – even when it comes to the hard things – I try to keep my emotions in check.
Remember. As I processed the news that my baby girl is officially noticing boys in a new way, I reminded myself of a few truths. First, I remembered that this is a stage and, like her love of the color pink and ponies, her interest in this specific boy might fade over time. Second, I remembered my own history of crushes and the fact that I still turned out (mostly) well-adjusted with solid priorities.
Ask questions. When I hear that half-smile tone of voice come out of my little girl, I honestly want to stick my fingers in my ears and sing loudly. But since I can’t very well ignore my daughter into forgetting about boys, I am trying to take a wiser approach by asking questions. And asking questions first, before offering any opinions or advice.
I ask her, “What do you like about him?” and “What does that [crush] mean?” I also ask about his family and his interests in an effort to learn more about him, and I ask questions about the time they spend together. (Luckily, at this age, it’s nothing more than a walk from the bus stop to our driveway, but I know that will change as she gets older!)
Discuss and teach. We use the approach of saying, “In this family, we…” when talking about our values, priorities and rules. So for years my daughter has heard me say, “In this family, kids don’t go on dates,” or “In this family, we don’t believe nine-year-olds need boyfriends.” Of course I didn’t bring this up in the minutes immediately following her crush confession; I don’t want to push her away or shut down lines of communication. But I’ll continue teaching our girls our family values, no matter what stage they’re in or boys they’re noticing.
I also take any opportunity I can to talk with my kids about healthy, God-honoring friendship. So that might mean dissecting lyrics from a pop song we hear in the car, asking a probing question or two about characters we see interact on TV, or reading Bible verses that offer wisdom for relationships, such as. . .
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23 NLT
Pray. At the end of the day, I don’t know how to keep my kids safe and pure and healthy and focused. I’m figuring this out one conversation, one argument, one hug, one fit of giggles at a time. And what I think I know about parenting today is likely to be proven wrong tomorrow, because kids are constantly changing and our world is, too. So the smartest, most effective thing for any parent is the same as it’s always been: pray for them. Pray for wisdom and discernment, pray for their hearts and their friendships, pray for their protection and their faith.