By Brian Lewis, MD and PEP Parent Educator
To my 12-year-old daughter,
Now that you’re almost a teenager, it’s more and more obvious to me that you are beautiful inside and out. I hope I tell you this often, since it’s frequently on my mind. You and I may be driving to or from a seventh grade party, and you are shining in a new dress, singing your favorite new songs. I take it all in, listening.
I like the song “Most Girls” on your playlist. It reminds me that some girls feel best in their tiny dresses, but some don’t. Some days you feel good in your skin, some days you might not. I can see that some girls will need to learn how to love and relate to boys. Some will need the same skills to have loving relationships with girls.
The John Mayer song “Daughters” is another favorite of mine because it says “Fathers, be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do.” I hope that if I’m loving and kind, it might help you learn to be loving and kind as you live your life. Learning to love requires time, good role models and a lot of basic capabilities, such as manners.
Your mom and I believe you can handle whatever the future brings and that our mission as parents involves three important jobs: to watch over your safety and health, to love you no matter what and to teach you the skills you need to be capable and to enjoy life as an independent adult. We learned to be better parents by taking classes and volunteering at the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP). Each class reminded us that it is possible to control only one person’s behavior: our own. We don’t control you – that’s your job.
When you were young, Mom and I took you to PEP’s “Can Do Kids Fair” to learn some of the practical skills we all will need in life. Our family made repeat visits together so you could learn things like doing laundry, vacuuming a big mess, planting a garden and making smoothies. One time we built a wooden bookend together. At home, Mom and I have tried to load you up with other learning opportunities so you can gain practice on grown-up jobs you’ll need to do for yourself in just a few years. When the time is right, I look forward to helping you learn to drive just the way we worked together when you learned to ride a bike (but without the crash!).
Bike riding and driving aren’t the only life skills that require time and collaboration to make gradual progress. Take relationships. There is no “Can Do Kids Fair” to teach you how to love and care for someone as a grown-up and experience your body with them. In some ways that’s a shame, since learning how to love and care for others in a grown-up relationship is complicated and more important than most of the other skills we learn in life. You’d think there would be as many hours of required “loving education” as there are of driver’s education. But for that, you must rely on your family – especially Mom and me – for guidance. You can always ask questions. We’ll never be judgmental, and I promise we’ll always be honest.
But … if I could create a “Can Do Kids Fair” to help you build better loving relationships, here’s what I would include:
And don’t try to do complicated communicating by text, since you can’t read a person’s face or get to know their interests and preferences. As girls mature, they may find that dating someone without really connecting ends in “ghosting,” which is when someone inexplicably stops seeing you, dating you or communicating with you. I’m told this is getting more common, and I wonder whether it’s just a sign that basic in-person communications aren’t happening in the first place.
But since I was a boy once, I’ll suggest starting here: Boys can sometimes be less mature than girls. They sometimes won’t share how they feel. Sometimes boys and girls think similarly, but sometimes boys are just thinking in a very basic way about sex. That’s no surprise, given all the pop songs saying exactly that!
What does a girl like you have to do to get along with a boy who is less mature, less able to explain his thoughts and feelings and more distracted (by sex)? Yep … you’ll have to get really curious and interested in that person. You’ll have to communicate well and set clear boundaries. And in the end, if your partner can’t do that, perhaps he’s not for you.
Finally, I noticed that your playlist includes “A Million Dreams” from “The Greatest Showman.” I like its message of infinite possibility and envisioning all the things the world can be. We both wonder what the future holds for you. If I can be of any help navigating the next steps toward loving relationships, “however big, however small, let me be a part of it all” (as the lyric goes), until you are ready to go it alone … or with someone special. I hope you will learn to love in all the ways that keep you healthy and happy. I’m always here for you.
This article appears in the June 2019 Ages and Stages Column by PEP in Washington Parent magazine.