On Sunday my husband took our little girl on a date to see Monsters University. I was sure to talk up the event and he accused me of being as excited about their upcoming outing as she was. I can't say that I was more excited than our daughter. After all, we had a nearly impossible time keeping her focused on anything through church. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have reminded my slowly awakening daughter what she was going to be doing after church, but yes, I was excited for them. It wasn't like I was going to be getting "me" time during their date. I would be spending time at home with our son, but I was excited for my daughter. She not only got to see a movie, she got to spend quality time being treated like a princess by her daddy. While it was rare, I vividly remember "dates" with my dad: going to the Home-a-Rama in the Detroit area when I was only a little older than my daughter is now and going to see both Back To the Future 2 and 3. They were great moments and memories I will always have. I want my daughter to have even more of those memories.
When I found out we were having a boy to make for a complete All-American Family set, I had a thought: our children deserved the opportunity to spend one on one time with both of their parents, but more importantly they needed to spend quality time with the parent of the opposite sex. Why? Parents need to date their kids.
Parenting experts have made this suggestion for years, but I wonder how many of us make a habit of doing just that. Many of us parents have a hard enough time fitting in dating each other (I know that is something that we are constantly failing at) let alone our kids, but I believe it is important, which is why I was so excited about our daughter going to eat lunch and see a movie with just her Daddy. And it is why I can't wait until my two-year-old is just a little older to appreciate actual outings with Mommy so that we can begin our own ritual.
Dads need to date their daughters. Girls who have good relationships with their fathers are more likely to delay sexual activity, less likely to get pregnant, and more likely to be successful in school. They have a higher self-esteem and better relationships. And they are more likely to form relationships that lead to successful marriages. When Daddy takes them out and shows them how a real man treats their significant other, girls grow up understanding that they should not tolerate the abuses that teenage boys might throw their way. They understand what it is like to spend time with someone who loves them unconditionally, reflecting their Heavenly Father's love for them. And if the date doesn't go perfectly, they eventually learn how to resolve the conflict because they have to go home and live under the same roof as their Daddy.
Moms need to date their sons. They need to teach their sons how to treat women. They need to give their sons the opportunity to practice being a gentleman without risking being laughed at or offending a potential significant other. They need to learn that dating is not a gateway to sex but instead a gateway to friendship and a potential long term relationship, or even marriage. Just like with daughters, sons learn about the power of unconditional love by spending quality time with their mothers.
In addition I need to "date" my daughter and my husband needs to "date" our son. One-on-one time with our kids keeps us from losing track of them. It keeps the lines of communication open with our children. I'm reminded of a great scene in the movie Horton Hears a Who (very cute film that expands the brilliant Dr. Seuss book while maintaining the original intent of his story) in which the mayor is trying to keep track of time spent with each of his 100 children (99 girls and 1 boy) with a timer. Once the timer sounds the next child is shuffled towards him to talk to him about whatever topic is most important to them. They get only seconds to talk to their dad before they are shuffled along. While a cute scene the mom in me struggles to see the development of any kind of relationship with the Mayor's daughters. While this example is entirely fictional, it highlights the age old question of quantity vs. quality time, something with which I constantly struggle, especially as a working mom. And all of us parents of young children know that we are operating on borrowed time. At some point, kids shut down. Our daughter has no secrets, but I know that will change. And if experience is any indicator, someday our son and daughter will know way more about each other than we know about them (at least I know that is the case with my sisters). But I don't want to be shut out of their lives. There are probably things I won't want to know. And even if I am teaching at the same school they are attending, it is likely that there will be a lot of things I will be unaware of. I want to know my kids even if I don't know everything about their lives. I want to know them well enough that I can tell when things are REALLY wrong even if they refuse to open up about it, at least at first. That might be idealistic, but it's what I want, and I'm hoping that dating my kids will help me in that quest.
Being a parent is hard. Finding time is hard. But we need to do it. Yes, we need to first be an example to our kids by dating our spouses. They need to see how healthy relationships work. But then we need to show them how to treat their significant others by taking them out. I want my daughter to know what it is to be treated like a princess. I want my son to know what it is to treat another man's little girl like a princess. And I want to know my kids, really know my kids. I'll let you know how that's working for me in 10 years.