Young Love

After a random conversation with a friend about my previous boyfriends it occurred to me that as a list, a collective, they can be summarised like a list of Friends episodes.

The first love. The one who lied about everything. The one with seriously bad hygiene.

It's a short list. I haven't had many boyfriends. But I apparently kissed a lot of frogs before I found and married Matt.

Pretty standard.

Like most teens I had a long list of crushes and the odd stolen kiss. There was the boyfriend who cheated on me with my step-sister and the one guy I fancied throughout secondary school but never told anyone about and then there are loads of boys who held my attention for periods of time, the Disney-inspired dreams of an adolescent female desperate to find someone to love her and hold her hand.

At work the other day some giggly year 6 girls were talking about which boys they liked. It made me smile nostalgically, like a wizened old woman as they told me the nicknames they have for each other based on the boys they had chosen. It took me back to a time and a place where you could work out your marriage suitability based on what letters from the word 'Love' you had in your name.

It starts young. The search for 'true love'.

Like my daughter, Lily. She's 5. She has a boyfriend. Apparently.

She takes it in her stride. They're going to marry when they're 16. She thinks he's handsome and a good dancer. She likes to hold his hand.

But no kissing. Kissing isn't allowed in school.

Thank God.

Being a mother to a girl I always knew that one day I would have to deal with talk of boyfriends and kissing. I looked forward to that awkward right of passage, when my daughter would squirm and look at me in disbelief as I tell her about something she thinks I'm too old to remember.

I just wasn't expecting it for at least another 5 years.

I'm just not prepared for the drama.

Like when the 'boyfriend' she had in nursery tells his hairdresser that his girlfriend has left him for his best friend. That they're going to get married but he wanted her to marry him.

True story.

I am not prepared to be having these conversations with my child who still calls a cucumber 'cubunga'.

Surely she is too young for all this? How can I protect her innocence? Do I need to put a stop to this?

It took a much needed conversation with a teacher to calm the undercurrent of anxiety. To reassure me that this is, indeed, totally 'normal'. They're mimicking the adult relationships they see around them, it's a friendship, it's a sweet little thing and nothing to worry about.

Which is fine.

But it has raised more questions in my head about how I present my relationships and marriage to her. How I can demonstrate, that despite my past dating disasters, it is possible to find a warm and loving relationship?

I can't stand the idea of Lily feeling the hurt and rejection I went through as teenager desperate for the stamp of approval I felt (wrongly, obviously) that could only be obtained from a dashingly handsome young man at school.

But it's something we all go through, right? It all turns out OK in the end.

I have made many mistakes but have few regrets. That is the benefit of experience and hindsight. That I can look back on the choices I made and see how they formed the person I am today. I can see what I gained, lost and learnt from situations and relationships. Enough time has passed that I can shrug off the sort of situations I wish to protect Lily from when she's older.

I can't bubble wrap my daughter and I don't want to. I want her to experience life to the full and I expect that will include her bringing home some dodgy partners in the future.

All I can do in the meantime is build up her foundations.

Instil a confidence in her that can't be broken by the first few heartbreaks she is bound to experience.

Encourage her sense of self. The knowledge of who she is and what she wants to be.

Demonstrate openness and honesty, trust and faith, kindness and forgiveness.

Give her the ability to follow her dreams, pursue her vision, follow a career no matter who is holding her hand.

Teach her how to find balance between caring for herself and caring for others.

Let her know that I have her back. Always. That she can talk to me about anything. She can share the little things with me now that seem huge for her and that she'll have my support unconditionally. That I'll always tell her the truth, even if it's hard to hear.

So that's another task recently added to my never-ending list of how I want to parent my children. How to cover them in love, appreciation and empathy now so that when they feel young love's keen sting they can cope with the rejection and move on, knowing their own worth.

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