I was recently in a conversation with a good friend of mine and the conversation turned to dating. When we were allowed to date, who we dated, etc. I do not recall there being pressure to date in my friend group or community while I was growing up. We were all just friends with each other and none of us really dated until we were off at our separate colleges.
Imagine my surprise moving to Oklahoma and attending college with peers who “had been dating since they were 10.” What? How? I have so many questions. I don’t know if it’s just the culture of living further South than where I grew up, but I was honestly shocked by how prevalent the dating culture is here.
Mama bear came out the first time someone asked my FOUR-YEAR-OLD son if he likes any of the girls at school. Seriously? You are the problem, Karen!! (No offense if your name is Karen).
As much as I hate to gender stereotype, at this point he doesn’t really share many common interests with many girls that he knows. So no, he does not “like-like” any of the girls in his class. He doesn’t think they are pretty because we haven’t taught him that he should notice girls and form an opinion on their appearance. Honestly, he probably doesn’t even know most of their names.
Having to walk my son through answering that question did get me thinking though. Don’t our kids have enough pressure to live up to a certain standard? That might come in the form of performing well in academics or extracurricular activities. Maybe it comes from just having a shy personality, where talking to any other child is a struggle, so let’s not add the pressure of them thinking they should be involved in some sort of romantic relationship. Instead, can they just be little kids with little kid problems?
Pressuring my son to have a girlfriend at such a young age, saying he’s on his “first date” with a girl he is sharing a snack at a table with, making a big deal about him holding hands with a girl or kissing a girl as a young toddler, sets him up for a life where he thinks that he always needs to be paired up, and also sets him up for a life where he thinks he needs to be paired up with a specific gender.
I don’t ever want our kids to be afraid to tell us who they like, or to be afraid to tell us that they actually don’t like anyone, and are really enjoying their life being single. One of my fears for my parenting future is to have teenagers or young adult children who feel like they need to sneak around and hide things from us. I know stereotypically, that this kind of comes with the territory of raising teenagers, but I would prefer my child know I am a safe space for anything they might be thinking and feeling and I hope that I live up to that expectation of my future self.
So, instead of emphasizing the moments of childhood where they were paired up with someone, which I myself am guilty of (my toddler daughter kissing her little friend is sometimes too cute to resist pulling out my phone and snapping a picture), instead, let’s focus on the moments of childhood that highlight what makes our kids so great as individuals!