Puppy Love Protocol

Well, the inevitable finally happened. I’m not talking about her first crush or even her first boyfriend. (I think that happened in 2nd grade!) I’m talking about unrequited love here, folks. We’ve all been there at various points in our life and we know it’s painful and awkward no matter which side you are on. But in case you have forgotten, let me remind you… it’s even more awkward in 7th grade.

So last week, I got a text from my 12 yr old daughter, Sylvie. “Hey Mom, I’m a little freaked out,” she wrote. My mom hackles immediately rose, “What’s wrong?”

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what followed. She proceeded to tell me that a boy gave her a note. He had asked her to come with him to a quiet side hall right after school and handed it to her. She read it right in front of him and then promptly excused herself to change for basketball practice. She sent me a screenshot of the note, which included heartfelt compliments, a profession of true love and a secret code for future correspondence. I have to hand it to the kid. It was actually pretty romantic and I could tell he was genuine.

I texted Sylvie to not show or tell anyone about the note and we would figure out a plan together when she got home. And then I immediately called my mom! I must admit I was a little freaked out, too. Together, we talked it through and came up with some appropriate steps that would teach Sylvie how to create boundaries while showing kindness and respect to others’ feelings as well. Parenting at every age is full of teaching moments and I can promise you, they don’t get any easier with time or practice. They get even more complicated!

The very first thing I needed to determine was exactly how “freaked out” she was. My number one concern is my daughter’s emotional well-being and safety. If she was truly feeling uncomfortable or even to the point of fear, than my approach would be to call the school immediately. I would not hesitate. But, I know my kid and my kid is a lot like me. We both tend to exaggerate. After a frank face to face assessment, I felt positive about proceeding with an approach that gave Sylvie more responsibility and hopefully some good experience she can use in the future.

The first thing Sylvie and I talked about was the importance of being honest with herself and examining her own feelings. How does she really feel about this boy? Does she like him at all? If so, at what level? If not, does she want a friendship or merely an acquaintance with him? It’s essential for her to respect her feelings as neither bad nor good and equally important in this situation as the other party’s feelings. Often, we don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings so we avoid being honest with ourselves or with them. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. As an innate people-pleaser, I tended to care more about my suitor’s feelings than my own and it always backfired. The other party always ended up feeling led on, I would be miserable and racked with guilt, and the whole situation created a lot more pain than necessary. Honesty is ALWAYS the best policy.

Once it was clear that Sylvie’s feelings were purely platonic, we talked about creating and communicating boundaries. Creating boundaries is the easy part. Initiating that conversation between two nervous and hormonally weirded out 7th graders is the hard part. I asked her what she wanted their relational interaction to be: Was she ok with his current practice of waiting for her every day after school and walking her to car pick up? Or does that truly make her uncomfortable? After that was settled, we agreed that it was absolutely essential for her to tell him clearly how she feels. In order to both respect her own feelings and to protect his feelings from unnecessary turmoil or further disappointment, she needed to communicate with no room for misunderstanding.

And finally, we focused on kindness. I explained to Sylvie that under no circumstances is unkindness or cruelty an appropriate response. We do not make fun of people or gossip. That was the reason I told her not to show her friends the note. It is a private matter about private feelings and deserves to be respected as such (another lesson I learned the hard way!)

Kindness is always imperative, but it is even more crucial when you are dealing with matters of the heart.

I think it’s important to take a little side note here. I have never been one to belittle my child’s feelings of love and attraction, no matter her smallness or her age. If I had done that at any point in her childhood, she would no longer trust me with her feelings. And then how would I be able to help her wade through these coming teen years of heartbreak and euphoria?!?

It turns out that all my teenage crushes and all my adult single dating dramas were a wealth of knowledge. If I can save my girl even an ounce of the pain and drama I went through, it was all worth it. That’s the magic of motherhood, isn’t it? Now, if I can just remember all this the next time around. In thirteen years, when Sylvie’s little brother is writing secret love notes to a cute girl, I really hope she will have a mama who teaches her to treat his feelings with respect and kindness. Who knows?? Maybe it will be one of you!

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