There are certain experiences that all parents have to reckon with at one point or another. When your children begin to grow up, they’re going to go through a period when they stop thinking you’re cool, they’re going to want to hang out with their friends instead of you, and eventually they’re going to — gasp! — start dating. It’s a rite of passage so universal that it’s become the subject of countless movie cliches: the dangerous bad boy boyfriend, the overbearing dad eager to intimidate possible love interests, and so on. Given that I have four children who are all at or past the age of first dates, one of whom recently got married, I’d like to think I’ve become another kind of stereotype: the mom who’s seen it all before. All kidding aside, I’ve been extremely lucky when it comes to the dating lives of my kids. I can’t pretend I’m an expert on the topic or have a foolproof tip to keep your child from dating somebody who makes you scratch your head. Every family is different, and each will have their own rules and customs. But if I may be so bold as to offer some advice to parents reading this newsletter about navigating the waters of teen dating, then two pieces of wisdom stand out. Given that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I figure it’s the perfect time to share them. My first tip is to scare the bejesus out of your kids when they’re young. Now, I don’t mean to say you should make them terrified to ever go on a date and leave scars they’ll have to parse out in therapy in a few decades. No, I mean it’s important to instill the dangers and foibles that come along with romance before they are too old ignore your advice. Kids are going to get ideas about dating early and often from every direction — TV, social media, etc. — and it’s important that your voice is heard. If a child is old enough to brush you off dismissively, which is another universal parenting experience, they’re old enough to have an honest conversation about dating. A PARENT’S GUIDE TO TEENDATING IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A NIGHTMARE
the single greatest gesture in this regard is inviting your kids to have their dates over. When any of my children are dating someone, I want to meet that person and talk to them. If they’re shy, I’m going to do my best to ask them direct questions to engage them. Mostly, it’s a chance to have an honest dialogue and get to know people who are important in the lives of my kids. As a bonus, though, I think it encourages them to date people they’d be comfortable bringing home to mom. There’s an important caveat to this strategy, and that is making sure you go through these meetings without being outwardly judgmental or critical. Sometimes, that is a tough ask, but I promise you, it’s the best route. Kids are going to make their own choices, so all you can do is educate them and be there for them. Mocking their decisions isn’t helpful at all. I remember one time, one of my children brought over a date who made for a patently ridiculous pairing. The date had nothing in common with my child, and the two of them looked about as well matched as ketchup and breakfast cereal. Part of me wanted to ask my kid, “What on earth are you thinking?” But I bit my tongue, and they figured it out eventually. Unless your child is with someone you think is truly dangerous or bad for them, I think it’s best to let them figure it out on their own. Valentine’s Day is a chance to share our affection and love for the special people in our lives. It may also be the impetus for your children to begin dating. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be so bad, provided you enter the process with your eyes open.
-Melissa Emery WWW.EMERYLAWOFFICE.COM | 1
My second piece of advice is to be involved in a way that’s caring and not overbearing when you are ready for your children to begin dating. For me,
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