Just a Parenting Moment: Thoughts on Teenage Relationships

Exploration is a normal part of teen years.

Exploration is a normal part of teen years.

My soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old daughter is gearing up for a boyfriend upgrade. I must confess I liked version 1.0. Despite the fact that he ate only Mac-N-Cheese and Mac-without-the cheese, I was sad to see this gentlemanly scholar-athlete parked in the friend zone. But I suspect I may like version 2.0, or 3.0 too—if or when those upgrades take place.

Satire aside, while I feel pretty good about what I’ve taught my girls about dating, respect and sex, I must say I’m conflicted about relationships. At what point should they just date or casually see lots of different young men (or partners) and at what point should they focus their time and energies on just one?

Especially when I get to weather the breakups? Especially when we humans seem to be hardwired for one-on-one relationships? And, how are young people supposed to know what they eventually (very eventually) want in a life partner without actually really getting to know a handful of prospects up close?

I recall lunching with a friend once who announced in all earnestness that her daughter would not be allowed to date until she went to college. I almost choked on an olive. She was serious. Given her cultural heritage, I was uncertain if the decision was cultural or personal. All night I twisted and turned in my sleep.

Wouldn’t you want to be there when she comes home after her first kiss? I did.

And what about the first breakup? Of course, I want my shoulders to be the first cried on.

The teacher in me decided that just like learning math and writing, kids need guided practice at relationships.

Relationships without guidance can leave teens feeling trapped.

In allowing them to date and try out different relationships, I can pick up on: the relational cues that my tender unpracticed child cannot; the subtle or sometimes unsubtle language used when one person tries to control or degrade another; or to help her put into perspective what her friends and peers say about relationships that may or may not be right for her.

With the first boyfriend, I was able point out how much we appreciated that he studied with our daughter and took time at our table even if he didn’t eat “that vegetarian stuff.”

But, the most important? Spending time with him and the two of them gave us a good sense of his moral compass and their relationship dynamic.

None of which would be possible if she waited until college to date or have a relationship. That much I know.

I don’t have all the answers. But, for today that’s enough.

Who knows? By tomorrow maybe my daughter and version 1.0 will have found the keys to getting themselves moving out of where they’re parked in the friend zone.

If so, I’ll need to rev up my Mac-N-Cheese skills again and refrain from reminding the fondly-thought-of 1.0 that Mac-N-Cheese IS vegetarian.

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26 thoughts on “Just a Parenting Moment: Thoughts on Teenage Relationships

  1. I couldn’t agree with your message, more! How do we learn what our favorite food is? By sampling other tastes…..too spicy, too sour, too sweet. I’ve told my oldest that it will be necessary to build a “dating resume” in order to find her soul mate. I would prefer that her relationship resume will resemble her professional one. I think a shorter resume that shows a handful of jobs with lengthy periods of experience gives you more creditability than a long list of job hopping.
    Giving your teenagers an age requirement before they can date is telling your daughter or son that you don’t have confidence in their abilities to make good decisions in an intimate relationship, and this kind of message most often leads to our teens acting out the exact behavior we were so afraid of. The high school years are really my final opportunity to have my daughter close enough to me where I can continue to teach, guide, advice, model, and comfort her through all the challenges and experiences life offers.

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    • Thank you Kristi. You put that so meaningfully. This felt like such a risky post to write, but now i am glad i did! You saw connections in there that i did not until you pointed them out: the menu. The resume. You have gifted me more tools for my parenting tool box!

      What a blessing you are! I am so enrichened when you viice in here!

      Thank you,

      Renee

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      • I really appreciate your kind words, Renee. Looks like we are all learning a lot from each other, thanks to your blogs! The energy and wisdom from mothers truly rocks!

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    • Kristi,
      I’ve been mulling over your answer all morning. The idea of a longer “dating resume” vs. a shorter “relationship resume” speaks so well to the question I posed. And, this idea is crafted in such a memorable way. I am so lucky to be connected to such a thoughtful mom from whom I can learn.

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  2. We are currently in boyfriend 1.0. Like you, we enjoy the young man: He is bright, funny, enjoys school and is active in his community. I struggle daily with balancing how I feel…my young daughter, now 14, seems too young for a boyfriend; on the other hand, she is level headed and made a great choice. One of the hardest parts of being a parent is watching our child fly with the wings we so lovingly taught them to use.

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    • I am so with you. And you pount out another important aspect: age. Daughter “i” also made a great choice and has overall exceptional judgement, but at an earlier age than i thought i would approve. But it worked out even in it’s cuurent undoing that has been handled sensitively and responsibly.

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    • Lisa, i forgot to add, how lovely and poignant your last line is… That even as our children do as we request, make, the right decisions, make us proud, we know how momentary life is.

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  3. This is a great topic and the writing is so moving. I can feel your anguish. I dont have teenagers, but your story made me think about my first dating experiences and the conflict with my mom regarding it. I love your line: “And what about the first breakup? Of course, I want my shoulders to be the first cried on.”

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  4. A very thoughtful post, Renee, and something I’ve been working on over here this week, too. My daughter came to me for advice about how to break up with her boyfriend without hurting his feelings. It gave us a chance to talk openly about what she liked about him and what made her feel he wasn’t the right guy. He is such a nice kid, shakes my husband’s hand firmly every time he comes over, has a weekend job and keeps his grades up, treated our daughter sweetly, brought her home from dates on time. But she just wasn’t into him the way he was into her. Her decision was best for both of them, but ahh, we will miss the kid (my husband and I). It took our 16 year old daughter about 5 minutes to get over it.

    She has plans with his replacement tomorrow night. The new boy is a poet who adores our family dog. That sounds pretty cool, too.

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    • Windy,

      You hit on so many great points here as well. You reminded me how I must have put my parents through a veritable menu of guys–a broad range of personalities and world experiences, etc… They still speak fondly and uh, not so fondly of some of them! My youngest is into pointing out how everything is karmic these days. If so, I have it coming! I love your last line about the dog! I chuckled b/c I know your propensity for humor… my gut reaction was “Let the dog decide…”

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  5. Renee, I’m 9 years out past this point, and I am still stuck in the blender on this stuff. I read a lot of “shoulds” in your post. I well know that feeling of frustration–that there is something I can do to predict a good outcome because I must, after all, have great influence over my daughter combined with the underlying realization that she will make her own choices and live her own life. Your sense of humor (1.0, 2.0, etc) will guide you through. Only sayin’ this to be upbeat ;): you’re gonna need it.

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    • I know. I mean, I can imagine. I’m only at the beginning of this. I appreciate your support and your wisdom. There are so many moving parts–no pun intended, to this part of parenting a teen… so many ways of reflecting the world, seeing yourself in them and not and letting go. Oh, ya.

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  6. Great post and very thought provoking. We have a set of 22 year old’s that we experienced first break ups with. Not a fun time at all. I thought they were in too serious of a relationship too quickly. However, it seemed that the more we tried to encourage a little distance the more drawn to the other person they became.

    We have two young girls left and the dating question will soon be the subject of conversation. I hope I learned from the first two kids and will know what to look for when the relationships are starting to get too serious or unhealthy.

    What are your thoughts on the makeup use and age?

    Maria

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    • Maria,

      Thank you for entering the discussion. On makeup, I’ve been of the mind that less is more. I wear a little eye and lip liner, sometimes lipstick, sometimes not. I’ve been blessed that while my girls may have some typical moderate self-consciousness, they have some comfort zone with their natural beauty too.

      I never laid down a hard and fast rule about when and how much the girls could wear makeup or date. Dating had a suggested start time of 16. AS you can see, we waived that… On makeup, my girls have always had access. Painted themselves up for fun at sleepovers, with each other as much as they liked in the beginning. That seemed to satisfy that need.

      I can count on one hand the times I’ve commented on the makeup use of others or them as a teachable moment… as with example, I find that the lighter parenting hand- the one that hands over the thought-provoking question goes further than the one that lays down the rules.

      I hope this makes sense. I’m more of a poser of questions than one who has answers…

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      • Thanks for your response. It makes sense. On the whole make up thing and age – our 14 year old loves to experiment with makeup and in particular with eyeliner. If we encouraged it we’d have an Amy Winehouse in the house. Our 12 year old loves to pick on her and will ask if someone was calling her while she was applying eyeliner because she smeared it to the side. Fun banter between the two and a really fun age.

        Maria

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  7. Renee,
    What a beautiful post. So thoughtful. I’m just entering all of this, and hope that boyfriends will remain in the distant future for a while. Right now we’re dealing with a melt down over not getting a smart phone like many other kids, and discussing our values in terms of what we spend our money on. But I do agree with the idea that you want to have your children explore those first relationships while they are still at home, even if seeing them with a partner will always feel too early. That exploration requires guidance, and college friends may not be able to offer much good guidance, if that’s when those explorations happen.

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    • Thank you Selina for the thoughtful affirmation. Yes, I recall the iphone, smart phone days. And you hit the nail on the head. It’s not about the item, it’s about who we are and what our values are… and you could still wind up with a phone like that… depending on the convo…

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