As the father of a sixteen-year old daughter, I can’t complain. It’s not because she isn’t sneaking out. It’s not due to the fact that she hangs out with good kids. And, it’s not because she works hard and does well in school.
I’m not complaining because she has yet to tell my wife and I that she’s in love with a boy. Now, I am fully aware that she may be most adept at pulling the wool over our eyes, but from where I am sitting, she hasn’t really gotten into boys yet.
I have no problem with this. I’m milking the whole “spend your time and energy with your girlfriends and schoolwork” thing for as long as we can. But, she’s a beautiful young lady. She’s kind and funny and I know one day she’s going to fall for a young man. And, that means I’m going to hear her say, “I love him,” one day. And, I need to remind myself not to tell her that it isn’t love.
As parents we’ve been through the puppy love stages and have broken hearts as well as had our hearts broken. We’ve thought we were in love more times than we’d like to admit and now look back knowing that wasn’t love at all.
And, do you remember when your parents, or another family member, or a friend’s mom, or a teacher told you, “You don’t know what love is; you’re too young. You haven’t experienced love yet”? Do you remember how that made you feel?
Here was this adult, someone that you were supposed to respect, telling you that your feelings weren’t valid. And, that hurts. It hurts teens, just like it would hurt if someone told us that today as an adult.
So, I need to remember that I can’t tell my daughter that she doesn’t know what love is when she tells me she’s in love. And, here’s why…
Love is very difficult to define, but it’s pretty easy to explain. When we are talking about romantic love, it is the strongest feeling we have ever felt for another… That’s it. Simple.
So, that first time your teen falls for someone, that’s the strongest romantic feeling she’s ever felt for someone else. Therefore, she’s in love.
“Wait! Hold on,” you say. “How can that be love, when I know from my own personal experience that love is much more? It’s greater. It’s stronger. It’s deeper than what my kid has experienced in a mere two months.”
The reason is because our definition of love changes as we have more romantic experiences. I knew when I fell for Teresa in high school that I was in love with her. No one could tell me otherwise. And, why should they? It was my love, my feelings, my experience. By the time I started dating Sandy in college, looking back at what I felt for Teresa was laughable when I thought of what love meant to me.
The feelings hadn’t changed, but my experience (and my definition of love) had. By the time I was dating Mary, my future wife, love had become so much more than what I thought it had been with Sandy.
And, here’s the kicker. I’ve been married to Mary for 23 years, and what I feel for her today, love, is different than what I felt for her (and called “love”) a quarter century ago.
But, had my parents at any point with any of these young women told me that I wasn’t in love, it would have undermined the experiences I was going through to get where I am today.
When one day Riley tells me she’s in love, I will have to assume it’s not the same definition of what I consider to be love, but that shouldn’t negate that what she experiences is her own love.
So, as parents, it’s our job to embrace that moment. It will make our children feel like they have someone who is hearing them, someone who understands, and someone who they can open up to.
It’s important for us to remember how intense these first-love feelings can be, and never respond with “Wait until you’ve been married for….” or “That’s only puppy love,” or “You’re too young to understand love.”
Love is the strongest feeling one has felt for another. So, their love is valid. I know that I can’t imagine loving my wife any more or differently or deeper than I do today, but I felt that way twenty years ago as well, and love has changed. I would be willing to bet that my grandparents’ definition of love after 60 years of marriage was more than what my wife and I know today. And, I know that when they were living, they never would have told me that I didn’t know love, because they realized that my love was valid.
We may not always agree with our teen’s choices for partners or their timing. And, it’s okay to tell them so, but don’t tell them it’s not love, because they may stop telling you when they do fall in love.