A few weeks ago, my sixth-grade daughter asked me, "Am I allowed to have a boyfriend?"
Yes, that panicked feeling that you are experiencing as you read that is exactly how I felt. Or perhaps you felt thankful that your kids weren't old enough to worry about that yet. That's how I had been feeling. My daughter was never one of those kids -- you know, the ones who are talking about their boyfriends from age 4 on up (Kyle might be a different story, as he's already told me about his girlfriends). She was always sensibly age-appropriate.
After having a little internal dialogue with myself ("This is age-appropriate. You and your friends were 'going with' boys in 6th grade."), I tried to have a mature conversation with her about it. I asked her what meant to have a boyfriend and if there was someone in particular who she liked or who liked her.
I didn't really get an answer about specifics, but I found out that her friend had a boyfriend, and so she just wanted to know, "Can I? Am I allowed?"
Just as I thought, "having a boyfriend" means not much more than saying that you had a boyfriend. The boy might join her gaggle of girls at her lunch table, and I suppose they might text or email (tweens don't really talk on the phone much anymore).
I took a deep breath and told her that it would probably be fine. I explained that starting all this boyfriend business too soon can lead to other things later (which of course she rolled her eyes about), and that she shouldn't be holding hands at school (which I had seen when I was there at lunch last month), and she shouldn't be kissing.
I was glad she even asked. I didn't ask my mom about that sort of thing. I told her that, and she said, "Well, some girls aren't allowed to date until high school, so I thought I should ask if I am."
That explained it. They call it "dating" or "going out," even though they don't actually go out. I clarified that she wasn't allowed to "date" either, but I didn't consider that dating.
In the coming days, I fretted and worried over my decision, my mind immediately making irrational leaps -- is she going to be asking to go to the OB/GYN for birth control next??
But then the next week, I was sitting at a soccer game talking to two of my friends. They both mentioned that the topic of boyfriends or renewed interest in boys (even as friends) had come up at their houses too. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Amanda was never afraid of boys. She was friends with them as a preschooler and in elementary school. But over the last couple of years, a sort of wall has gone up. Because there is that burgeoning interest, you can't simply be friends with boys. I think that this is their way to return to boy-girl interaction. It's exactly what I was doing in 6th grade. Later in middle school, it was okay to have boys who were friends as well, and I had some good ones.
I had sort of forgotten about all this until I had a long-overdue chat with another good friend on the phone this week, where she told me that her son was emailing with a girl, and they were sort of boyfriend/girlfriend. This is the friend who I feel like does everything right with her kids -- setting limits and following through and guiding them into maturity as I try to with my kids. She thinks that this kind of exploration is okay too.
Why did I feel the need to go it alone? I was afraid to tell my two close friends about this conversation -- worried that they would think that I was letting my little girl grow up too fast. But the truth is, I need my friends. I need their wisdom and experience and advice.
The other truth is that my little girl is growing up whether I want her to or not.