31 January 2005

Single...With Children: My Daughter Is Dating!

Single with Children: Teen-ager dating causes parent new set of problems

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 11/14/01

"Mom, is it okay if I go out on a date this weekend?'' my daughter asked me casually a couple of weeks ago.

"Sure,'' I answered, followed up quickly with "Who with?'' - trying to disguise my curiosity and not appear too nosy. "This very nice friend I met recently.''

I was also told that he's sweet, kind, really tall, attends the university here and, as a casual aside, I was soon to discover he's 21. Twenty-one. One year older than I was when I was married. Twenty-one. An age that in any state classifies one as an adult. I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that!

My daughter is a senior in high school. She's smart, funny, quirky and is one of the most responsible, sensible, grounded people I have ever met. She's also 18, which doesn't seem the least bit possible to me. But I can't deny it's true. I was there when she was born.

I have to admit that learning my daughter was planning a date with a 21-year-old college student made me the tiniest bit unsteady for a few minutes. I couldn't help but find the whole idea a bit odd. It comes with the territory of raising kids, I know, but every now and then, even when you know certain landmarks are looming, they hit you right between the parental eyes.

This new milestone has given me a lot to think about. I'm 41, and I never fancied myself one of those parents that would make the future dates of my two teen-agers nervous. I couldn't affect that demeanor if I tried. It's simply not my style. What to do? I did the only thing I could. I gently "quizzed'' and I got answers! I learned about his family, his major in college, the classes he was enrolled in and even the color of his eyes. Katie was gentle with me. She knew this was a huge step. I appreciated her consideration and the time she allowed for me to shake off my "deer in the headlights'' appearance.

It's at times like this that I find the whole business of "single parenting'' a confusing and intimidating business. I relentlessly, albeit silently, quiz myself. Am I asking the right questions? Ascertaining enough information? Making the right decision? I don't stop at second guessing myself...I take it all the way to the nth degree, which probably explains why I don't get as much sleep as I should.

Even though my daughter is 18 years old, and her brother is fast approaching 15, the decisions I find myself confronted with are much more serious than saying yes or no to things like play dates, sleepovers and increases in allowance. It's the natural order of things that as our kids get older, many of the things they grow into doing take them further away from home, the protective nest we, as parents, have ensconced them in for those fleeting years of childhood. Many times I consider that a "yes'' from me could result in something a lot more serious than a skinned knee or broken bicycle.

There is also another facet to this time passage that is something I've swept under the rug for a good many years. Eventually, children not only grow up, but they grow out as well. I'm fortunate that my kids seem to love spending time at home. The three of us have always had such an easy relationship with each other that it's not uncommon for us to go to movies, plays and even concerts together. I can't help but notice that they are at a point in their lives where friends are becoming, more often than not, their companions for many of the activities we used to share together.

Lately, I have come to the very serious realization that in a few short years they will be independent adults and won't even require my permission for things like dates and activities. And of course, this is exactly what we start preparing them for the second they are born. We patiently celebrate each new feather on their wings and before we know it, one day, those wings are aching to be tried, and that's just as it should be.

Of course, the growing isn't limited to teen-agers. There has been more encouragement directed at me. "Go out more, Mom. You need to have some fun!'' I can't help but feel as if the three of us have reached a new plateau. A friend pointed out to me that my kids will be able to enjoy themselves more if they worry about me less. There is wisdom in that, and the last thing I want to be is the lonely mother at home with nothing more for company than the cats they left behind.

A few days after the date, I was fortunate enough to meet Katie's new friend. I was pleased to discover that he was exactly as she said: kind, considerate and charming. I can't help but believe those feathers that make up her wings are going to serve her well. The one thing I want most of all is that when my kids finally do take flight, they will feel that home is a most welcome place to land.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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