Daughters, Boyfriends, and Terrified Dads

The control of female sexuality, the paternal version.

The control of female sexuality, the paternal version.

My kids, ten and eight years old, both have their first crushes. Nothing more than “playground love” and I can see why my kids are crushing on the other two individuals. I adore the other children, they are great kids with fun personalities. While all very cute, the other parents and I agree they are entirely too young for romantic love and so instead we encourage strong friendships and do not tease them about “being in love” or being boyfriend/girlfriend.

That is a much different approach than viral dad-of-the-moment John Tierney took with his four-year-old daughter. When little Grace waved at two boys as they passed the family car her father told her “not to wave at the boys “because they’re smelly” and that sparked a debate about whether she could have a boyfriend,” as reported by the Evening Times.

Their conversation goes on and we hear “Dad of the Year”, as he has been called, telling his preschool-aged daughter he will break the legs of any boyfriend, kidnap the father, and eventually force her into a convent because she will “work for Jesus.”

Mr. Tierny’s parenting skills have been praised world wide and the video has been dubbed “hilarious” by several media outlets. Most of my conservative Christian friends loved it and shared it. Most of my progressive friends were horrified by it.

As the mother to a son and a daughter, it made me ill. And angry.

Can we please stop being so fearful of and trying to deny our children’s sexuality? They are human beings, they are going to develop into sexual creatures. It is a biological truth that got them here in the first place.

Dad of the Year? No. There is a lot going on here that is undoing the healthy development of this child. Maybe it is a harmless viral video, but it is upholding several highly problematic beliefs in our society that harm children.

First, this girl is exceptionally young to be focused on boyfriends. Her father encouraging the conversation as if it is age appropriate for her is sexualization. A more empowering conversation for this child would have been to have her list all the amazing things about her she sees in herself and that her friends and family love. She needs to be her own person long before she is anyone’s girlfriend.

Building on that idea, preschool is also a vital time to encourage friendships between boys and girls. The more time they spend together and the stronger friendships they develop, the better understanding they will have for each other and the more respect they will hold for each other.

Research supports the idea of boys and girls playing together, which makes sense since boys and girls will study, work, love, and live with each other for their entire lives.

Second, I don’t like the idea of a father controlling a child’s sexuality and tying that control to violence. Violence has no place in romantic relationships, and I’d rather see a father uphold that example than perpetuate the idea men hold title over the females in their lives.

In my family we prefer a more sex positive approach, and teach our children that having crushes on people is normal but dating and boyfriend/girlfriend stuff is best left for teenagers and college kids. In the meantime, there is a lot of growing up to do. For now, boys and girls just make really good friends.

Third, a “good father” does not threaten violence upon a child, especially the child of another family. Your daughter may be a very sweet girl, but I wouldn’t want my son anywhere near a crazy family like this. I can’t recall Jesus saying anything about breaking peoples legs or holding them hostage….Maybe we should review the work Jesus actually did.

Instead, a good father might allow his daughter to speak her mind as opposed to dominating the conversation, find out what she finds attractive in another person and use that as a teachable moment to review their family’s expectations and values.

A good father would raise a child whose judgement he can trust, instead of fear and control.

A good father raises a child who wants to keep company with other awesome people and sees the boyfriend/girlfriend as another unique, special, lovable young person.

A good father would raise his sons to be young men no family with daughters has to fear.

It takes a village to raise a child, so let’s raise them well.

To the boys or girls my children will date sometime in the future – Welcome to our village. We are big fans of respect, honesty, maturity, and no texting while driving. We have rules and expectations for our children, while in their company those also apply to you. We look at you as an awesome addition to our family. Let’s take good care of each other.


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).