Monday, September 24, 2007

Dating

Another post I wanted to save from GCM. I referred in my last blog entry to a post I made about dating guidelines. Here it is:

"Miss Priss asked me in another thread what my guidelines are for dating, since Vespera has been dating the same guy for the last 5 months. I have to admit to struggling with whether to give the short answer or the long answer to this question. It's hard for me to put my finger on a set of guidelines. So, there's a lot of explanation that comes with everything I say. I will try, try, try to be brief. Bear with me.

First, my rule of thumb in parenting is to say "yes" to my kids as often as possible. So, when I have to say no, they respect that & understand that I have a reason. So, I'm not inclined to set up a bunch of arbitrary rules. I'm more inclined to feel out a situation and see what rules are warranted.

Next, I think your rules about dating have to be somewhat dependent on the type of kid you have. You have to know your kids, their weaknesses, their strengths & personalities. I don't suppose that's too much to assume here on GCM. I think most of you have that type of relationship with your kids.

So, ok. I don't have a ton of rules for Vespera...mostly because she's extremely honest & trustworthy. She's forthright about her emotions and her expectations. She won't hide things from me, and we talk about her relationship with her boyfriend on a regular basis...at least once a week.

Hmmm.... The first rule is that if they go someplace together she has to be home by 8. It's starts to get dark around 8. Neither of them drive. So, they're out on rollerblades or bikes if they're out. We live in a high crime urban area. She needs to be off the streets before dark. Her boyfriend sometimes stays at our house past dark, but then he bikes home super fast & calls when he arrives.

They don't go out on school nights. Vespera has soccer & homework. That fills her week. In the summer they saw each other several days a week. That's not difficult for them since they live within biking distance of each other. It would have to be different if I had to drive everywhere. She checks in with me about plans, and family plans always take priority, though sometimes it is appropriate for her boyfriend to be included, and then he comes along.

As a philosophical aside, it helps if you can be really flexible and open about family time & activities. As our children grow up, I think we have to be willing to open our homes and our plans to the people who are important to them. I ask Vespera's boyfriend to stay for dinner when he's here at dinner time, just as I would one of my friends who happened to be here during the dinner hour. It helps to remember that hospitality extends to those who are younger than us, to the friends of our children. Likewise, I try to help him feel at home here...especially since they have been dating for so long. He knows how to get his own glass of water & put his dishes in the dishwasher. I think it's important for Vespera's friends to feel like I'm looking out for them, too...sort of like the way people used to look out for each other's kids when all the kids roamed the neighborhoods. It was me who insisted that he call when he gets home whenever he bikes home after dark. I ask him about school, his grades, classes teachers... Mango & I sometimes offer advice about school or jobs or extracurricular stuff. I make sure they've eaten when they're going to be gone for some hours, help them make a plan for how long to be gone if they've got a particular destination in mind.

It really, really helps that Vespera's boyfriend makes a concerted effort to talk with us. He asks questions and participates in family conversation. We also ask questions and make an effort to really get to know him. He's shy, and it's hard to draw him out sometimes. But, I love it that I see him making an effort. He's very respectful of Vespera's "curfew" and of her space in the house. He doesn't go into her room unless asked and he looks to us for a nod of approval before he goes in. They keep the door open.

I didn't make rules about keeping the bedroom door open, but I'd make it a rule if I thought my kids needed it. As it is, I know that Vespera & her boyfriend have had conversations about physical boundaries. They hold hands & kiss, which I think is fine. We have, on two occasions, left them at the house while we ran errands. We absolutely felt that we could trust them. If I didn't feel I could trust them, I'd make it a point to be home, but I'd also make it a point to be having some serious conversations about sex. ...oh wait, we've had the serious conversations about sex anyway. And she's told me about the conversations they've had about sex.

I think as their relationship deepens and they've been together longer, it may be more important to be sure they aren't alone together for too long. I think the willpower to wait for sex may begin to wane as their emotional commitment and passion for each other increases. They might need help maintaining their boundaries. Right now I am not concerned. I trust them both. I know where they're at, and I know this isn't something we need to worry about right now.

Hmmm...what else? Oh, Vespera has a cell phone. We find it's beneficial for our family. She calls her boyfriend pretty much every night or he calls her. The rule is that as long as it doesn't interfere with her homework she may talk to him for as long as she wishes. She sometimes chooses not to call or to just call & say that she has too much to do to talk tonight. She does not generally take calls during dinner or while we're out places. These aren't exactly rules, but she recognizes these things as a matter of respect. I guess I'd make rules about it if I felt I had to. Oh, and I make sure she actually has the ringer ON on her phone so I can reach her when she's out. She always calls if she's going to be late.

And about being late. They were really, REALLY late once. I sat on the porch waiting for them. When they arrived I very calmly asked if they had any idea what time it was. I told them that I know how to get angry, and I would be extremely angry if this ever happened again. I explained that I am concerned about safety, and it makes me worried when they don't show up when they say they will. And I told them that if it ever, ever happened again they'd do all their dating right here on my front porch. They've since done lots of dating on the front porch of their own accord, but they haven't been late without calling ever again. They have not been chronically late, but after they were late & called a few times I told them that I expected them to plan better so that they were not always calling to say they'd be late.

I don't have rules about dating age. Vespera moved in with us when she was 15. At the time, I recognized that she was mature enough to date if she chose to. I don't know when that will happen for Mane or if I'll need to set an age."

In response to some other questions:
"The reason Vespera's bedroom is an ok place to be is because it's right off the living room. We live in an 1870's duplex. The living room is the center of the house. Both bedrooms & the kitchen open off the living room. Through the kitchen is the bathroom & dining room. And that's my whole house. If they're in the bedroom I can see them from the living room & part of the kitchen. I can hear them from anywhere. So, in the bedroom with the door open is sort of like being in an extension of the living room. I might feel different if they were in another level of the house or down a hallway....but maybe not. I don't know. As long as the door is open, I don't see how they're going to do anything they shouldn't.

They also spend lots of alone in public time - biking & rollerblading. They ALWAYS (I am totally serious) run into people who know them and are looking out for them. And they spend lots of time with the family. Over all, I'm very satisfied with how they conduct themselves. They were 16 & 17 when they started dating. He's 18 now & she's almost 17. I think this has a great deal to do with why it's going so well. They are also both from Hispanic families by birth, and think this has something to do with their relational maturity as well. I hope to raise Mane in similar ways so that she is prepared to conduct herself in such a mature way.

I have to put in a word, too, for talking to teens about how to be with their boyfriend/girlfriend when they're around other friends. Vespera & her boyfriend have been careful (using some of our advice) to not alienate their other friends when they're all together. They're affectionate (holding hands & maybe leaning on each other when they sit together), but they don't kiss around their friends & they are careful to not always sit together. They want to make sure they maintain their other friendships. They both have had experience with people who are "all over each other," who "can't leave each other alone," and who can't do anything without their boyfriend/girlfriend. They knew exactly what we were talking about when we mentioned this to them, and they don't want to be that way.

And...since I can't seem to stop typing... ...we've also talked with Vespera about nurturing the friendship part of their relationship and making it a priority over the "romance" right now because they both have 2 years of school left (he moved here from Mexico & was placed back in school because of language issues) and they may break up. But they *do* have a totally unique friendship, a lot of similar interests, and a genuine care for each other. If it turns out that this isn't a long-term thing for them, they may be able to end the dating on good terms and keep a valuable friendship."

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