One thing that’s hard to wrap your head around as a parent to young ‘uns is that someday you’ll be with your child and not their friend or BFF, but their boyfriend/girlfriend. At seven, a “girlfriend” is innocuous, but as they grow up and hit those teen years, well, the stakes go up and the chance for getting into serious trouble increases.
To make things more complicated, we live in a highly sexualized society where we’re all surrounded by messages that don’t promote procreation as much as promote being attractive and desirable. I type this sitting at a Starbucks and across from me is one of many stores focused on this particular sales pitch: Victoria’s Secret. And it’s not at all uncommon to see tweens come out of the store, or teen girls who are at best 13-14 years old. What do they possibly need with sexy lingerie? Best not to consider, perhaps, but in a culture where being physically attractive is so important, perhaps it’s no surprise that this all proves important to our children.
I digress. So back to topic: at a certain point kids move from the frisson of excitement coming from a smile and hand holding to more intimate interaction and, eventually, to more than that. So there’s a slight weirdness in the experience of meeting my daughter’s boyfriend for the first time, or my son’s girlfriend: Odds are quite good that they’re intimate with my children. My children!
And so there’s a disconnect because even at 21 I think of my daughter as being, well, my girl. But she’s got a boyfriend and they go camping together, spend weekends at each other’s apartments, etc. Still, papa bear lives.
My girls were watching the latest episode of The Bachelor (a show I detest, as it happens) and Mr. Bachelor has narrowed down his field to four women at this point in the storyline. In this particular episode he met with each woman’s parents, and the show was quick to highlight the one Dad threatening the Bachelor guy: “You better be serious because if you hurt my girl or break her heart, I can track you down…” Mildly amusing (though idiotic in context: did Dad not get the memo that the guy is also making out with and meeting the parents of three other women simultaneously?) but a part of me knows that sense of protectiveness anyway.
I also see inside myself that I’m more protective of my daughter than my son. I surmise this is biological — heck, the stats all show that it’s far more likely that a man will be abusive towards a woman than vice-versa — but there’s probably a cultural element to it too. Should I be perfectly equitable in this instance and be as protective towards my son? I don’t think so, but it’s an interesting question.
Anyway, so my 21yo daughter A- has a long-time boyfriend she’s been seeing for almost two years now and I like him. Still, I feel there’s an unspoken understanding between us that mess with her and <knuckle crack and glare> you and I will be talking about it, bub. This weekend I also had a chance to spend a lot of time with my 17yo son and his girlfriend of a few months and felt entirely differently about it, more of a “welcome to the family” sense, and if anything, have tried to coach my son on some basics of how to treat the woman in your life.
I’m curious if other parents feel the same way about boyfriends / girlfriends: Are you more protective of your girls than your boys? And if so, what’s your explanation?