Last year, my daughter, who was an 8th-grader at the time, took an anonymous survey in school, to gauge attitudes toward drugs, alcohol, and sex. It was designed (assuming the kids answered honestly), to determine who was doing what right then... and who might do what in the near future. I asked if she'd be willing to share with me how she answered.
I should note here that we talk a lot... about a lot. I grew up in a house where a boatload of talking went on, but not a lot of real communicating, and I vowed to make sure that would not be the case when I had children (or, as it turned out, child). With us, no topic is off-limits, and even if it makes me feel ooky on the inside, I try not to let it show... and if it makes Ryan feel ooky, I make sure she knows it's normal to feel that way and we'll talk our way out of it. And we always do. In fact, she has let a few things fly with me that have left me with my jaw hanging open, flabbergasted that they came out of my kid's mouth. But let me tell you, I'd much rather be flabbergasted at what she did say than blindsided later by what she didn't.
Anyway, back to the survey. She gave me her answers. And it was very clear she didn't just tell me what I wanted to hear (which was that she'd never do drugs and wouldn't drink or have sex until she's at least 30)...
She said that she really didn't expect to ever be interested in doing drugs (whew).
Alcohol was another story. She said she couldn't be sure that she wouldn't ever drink in high school.
OK. Honest answer. And though we've talked about alcohol in the past, her reply simply opens up a new avenue of discussion. It's all good.
Her answer to the sex question opened up a few more avenues as well... she said that although she didn't figure she'd ever have a boyfriend, if she ever did, she couldn't say that she wouldn't have sex.
Again, an honest answer. And honest is way better than dishonest, even if if's not what you want to hear. I can work with honest.
So... fast forward to freshman year in high school.
One month in...
Now, when I mentioned this little turn of events during a break in a training meeting at work, two women spoke up right away, declaring that they would never let their 14-year-old daughters have boyfriends.
They wouldn't let them have boyfriends.
I understand not letting your kid have an iPhone. I understand not letting her go to a concert un-chaperoned. I understand not letting her have the second piece of cake after dinner...
But not letting her have a boyfriend? That one seems like not letting the tide come in. It'll happen, whether you want it to or not (did they never see Romeo and Juliet? Or Westside Story?). But while the tide will come in before your eyes, the boyfriend thing will happen behind your back, because at 14, your children are not with you every minute of every day. They are in school and at social functions and they are living a big portion of their lives without you watching.
So it never occurred to me to say 'no boyfriend.' But ground rules were established right off the bat, with regard to what she could do and what I wouldn't allow (no car dating until at least her sophomore year).
And then I met him.
And he's adorable. He's also a year ahead of her in school... and since my girl is one of the youngest in her class and he's one of the oldest in his, there are nearly two years between them age-wise.
But he's adorable. And he's so nice. And he comes from a really nice, really involved family. And he shook my hand - firmly - when he met me. And when I speak, even if it's not to him, he looks right at me and he makes eye contact and he smiles genuine smiles.
There is not one iota of Eddie Haskell in this boy.
I like him.
My girl really likes him.
And he? Really likes my girl. He tells her she's awesome. And smart. And funny. And pretty. All of which she is. And when she puts herself down, he hollers at her, just like I do. And he's kind and funny and he respects his parents.
He's a good one, I think.
So, we talk about him. And them. And the stuff that comes out of her mouth flabbergasts me. Not in a lord-this-child-has-no-filters-! way (which happens often), but in a lord-how-did-this-child-get-to-be-so-wise-? way.
She knew, right from the beginning, that his being cute wasn't enough. He liked her before she liked him. And when I asked why it took her so long to work out that she liked him, because he's so stinkin' cute (i.e. how could she not?), she informed me that his being cute wasn't enough. She had to know if she really liked him, too.
She knows that this isn't a 'forever love,' the way so many teenagers look at every romance. She understands that it will end eventually and when it does, it will feel really bad, but it won't be the end of the world.
She understands that public displays of affection will make the people around them really uncomfortable (because she's really uncomfortable when people do it around her) and there is a time and place for them... and she understands that time and place is not behind a closed bedroom door in a house where no parents are present.
She understands that the words, "If you love me" will never precede anything she should feel obligated to do and that if a person is using those words? He/she needs to check him/herself. Immediately.
She feels good about this relationship. She genuinely likes this boy and she can give you a list a page long of all the legitimately great qualities he possesses and things he does that make him so likeable.
She also worries for a friend who is in a situation that doesn't feel good to my girl, based on what she's observing. She's worried that her friend has not figured out some of those things listed above... the things it's important to understand when you're diving in to a teenage romance. She's worried that her friend is going to find herself in a situation she can't get out of and that she'll wind up doing something she'll regret.
Last night, she said to me:
"If you're going to be in a relationship with someone, you have to be friends. You have to have things in common. You have to be able to talk about all kinds of stuff with each other... and not just make out on the bus ride home."
She went on to say that if the only thing two people have in common is that they like to make out with each other? They're doomed.
She's 14. If I had been so wise when I was 14... or 21... or 26... or 42, my life would look far different than it does today.
So the conversations will continue - the ones about drugs and alcohol and especially about sex. I'll do everything I can to make sure she's armed with all the information she needs to continue to make smart choices. I will forever worry about my girl, because I'm her mother and that's my job. But I have to say, I think she's going to OK. I really do.
Yeah. She's going to be just fine.