Your Child’s Dating Journey AND You
The time arrives in every parent’s journey when our sons and daughters start to date. Deep in our souls a twinge of excitement peaks out from behind the walls of our apprehension and protection. We look forward to the joys and the fun our children will experience as they date…but we also recall the pain of rejection, the heartbreak of the breakup, and the despair of feeling as though “I will never love anyone that much again.” In fact, our children’s dating relationships are part of a journey we navigate with them, a journey through the peaks and valleys of a thousand emotions. There’s no way around it. We have to go through this journey with them. I offer three tips to help you navigate this journey with your children.
- Remember, your children’s dating experience will not be the same are your dating experience were. Dating has changed since you were a teen or a young adult. Your children are not you. They may not experience the same ups and downs as you did. Do not thrust the baggage from your dating relationship onto your children’s dating relationships. Separate your emotions and feelings from what your children’s emotions and feelings because your children will likely experience dating differently than you did. Instead, be aware of their emotions, their relationship joys and struggles, their motives and intentions. Meet them in their journey and support them “where they are.”
- Build and nurture a strong relationship with your children. Through your words and your actions, teach them that you are trustworthy, reliable, understanding, and willing to listen. In other words, build a relationship in which they know you are a person they can turn to with the joys, struggles, and decisions of life. This requires spending time with your children as well as deeply listening to your children over time. Starting early is best; so start developing this relationship before your children start to date. But remember, it is never too late to show yourself trustworthy and reliable in relationship with your children.
- Avoid making evaluations or judgements. Along the same line, avoid teasing them about dating. Even if it’s in fun and jest, it increases the possibility that they will not feel comfortable talking to you if relationship concerns or issues do arise. If (or when) they experience a break up, don’t respond with “I told you she would hurt you.” Instead, offer a listening ear. Invite them to put their dating experience into words by asking open-ended questions like, “What do you like about him/her the most?” Communicate empathy and understanding when they experience joy in the relationship–“I bet that was exciting” or “Tell me more about that fun date”–or when they experience hurt and sorrow–“That had to hurt” or “I’m sorry he/she hurt you like that.” Inviting them to talk about their relationship will help them learn from their experience and develop their healthy “dating philosophy.” After you have listened deeply (and only after you have listened deeply), you can lovingly share your wisdom and knowledge to the development of that philosophy by encouraging them to think about certain strategies.
In summary, build a trusting relationship with your child and, because their experience will be different than your experience was, listen deeply to understand their unique experience. Really, that basically describes honoring your children’s dating experience and loving your children deeply as you traverse the dating journey together.