Navigating the MinefieldFebruary 3, 2008
I like to think that when discussing the birds and the bees with my kids, that I strike a good balance between being straightforwardly informative and not-too-embarassing–I answer questions as they come up, but refrain from mom-and-dad details to limit the ick factor. I honor the kids’ physical privacy as they develop it (“don’t look, Mom!), and remind them periodically that no-one, including friends and family, gets to touch them in a way that they don’t like, and ask if anyone has done so. As my children mature, particular subjects have emerged, such as when my celibate teen daughters’ monthly pregnancy tests for Accutane prescriptions sparked a discussion about rape and abortion.
My very intelligent, beautiful, talented, sweet, obedient, typical-eldest-child daughter, at 15, has a serious crush. I’ve known and loved this boy since the day he was born — he is also 15, LDS, a good kid, and returns my daughter’s feelings. While I’m not overly anxious about the situation, the boy’s parents are, understandably, worried about his mission. He has always been a very affectionate child who thrives on physical contact, and his folks’ concern is that what was endearing as a youngster could be disastrous as a teen.
The situation came to a head last summer when the two shared a kiss after a stake dance, which led to many weeks of lectures and restrictions for the boy. As his parents point out, with the raised bar, “anything more than a kiss, and he doesn’t go.” While I reacted to the kiss with nothing more than a raised eyebrow, I have instructed my daughter (who is not a touchy-feely person by nature) that I don’t intend to try to change her feelings for her guy, but that I do expect her to control her actions, and to not engage in any “pairing-off behavior” before 16. By mutual agreement with the other parents, we do allow the two to see each other in group settings, and provide frequent situations (chaperoned parties, 4-H meetings, caravaning a crowd to the movies, etc.) where the environment is somewhat controlled but they can still interact outside of school. The situation has brought me into new territory. On the practical side, I have had to be careful to define precisely what constitutes “pairing-off behavior,” such as kissing and even hand-holding, even though everyone who knows them knows they are an item. I’ve had to be careful to respect and uphold the boy’s parents’ wishes because they know him best, even if I think some of their restrictions (no email privacy, for instance), go overboard. I also have to be careful about what I say at home, so as not to create “cool mom vs. mean mom” dichotomy between the two families.
On the emotional and spiritual level, however, I have to wonder if there is something wrong with me — why am I more trusting, or perhaps even ambivalent, than the young man’s mother? The question is more compounded by the fact that (*sigh*) my daughter’s parents didn’t get married in the temple right away (despite us being RS Pres and an RM Ward Mission Leader at the time), while her beau’s parents did. You’d think that I, having experienced the pitfalls of “serious dating too long,” would be the more suspicious parent. Perhaps what is really going on is that the boy’s parents (who knew us at the time of our wedding) worry that the genes of two, um, less-restrained people might produce a girl of dubious values, thereby endangering their son?
And how much should my own experience figure into The Ongoing Chastity Conversation? It’s hard to know what to tell my kids; one of the inescapable consequences of my long-ago actions is that I will be asked why, by six little people at various times, I did not get married in the temple. My very evasive, but technically true answer thus far is, “Mommy and Daddy didn’t take the temple as seriously as we should have, but we did get sealed a year later, so you’ve all been born in the covenant. I hope you will choose to take getting married in the temple seriously.”
In other words, do what I say, not what I did.
I felt that my eldest, in light of the circumstances, should know more about that time in my life. I hope[d] that telling her would 1) provide a cautionary tale, 2) serve as evidence that I do know of what I speak 3) encourage her to trust me with her truths as I trusted her with mine, and 4) give a living example of the power of the Atonement. She took it well, and while I know that giving her that information could backfire, I believe it was the right decision.
Time will tell.