It’s cool if you’re not a woman, and 9 other rules for dating my son

Guest post by Dootsie Bug

By: husin.saniCC BY 2.0
Since the advent of Pinterest and Tumblr, posts venting parental frustrations have been shared, pinned and reblogged with silent nods of understanding, uproarious laughter and the occasional GPOY tag. Now and then, I’ll come across a post intended as humor that really bugs me. When I look at what the post is really saying, it’s just passive-aggressive repetition of the tropes and assumptions that I don’t want to include in my parenting.

So when I saw a post entitled “Rules for Dating My Son”, I felt compelled to respond with the sort of message I do want to pass on. (And yeah, I feel like all or most of this could apply to any child.)

Rules for Dating *MY* Son:

1. I expect you both to contribute to your relationship. It’s most important to me that the commerce between you be LOVE. If you are in need of cash, I will understand if my son provides that for you, but he should have a firm understanding of what such a transaction may mean. If my son is in need of cash (though I pray to God he won’t be) I would appreciate it if you’d help him out. I’ll try to make sure you’re paid in kind.

2. If you show up at my house scantily clad, I will probably offer you a judgment-free cardigan for your comfort. Please understand, I just want to make sure that you don’t get cold. If your dress is truly disquieting to me, I might ask my son a few questions about you to better understand your personal style. This may be a judgement, but I hope I will learn and grow from a better understanding of you and your tastes.

3. If I see any “sexts” on his phone, I will open up a sex-positive discussion with him about your physical relations. I will offer him STI/pregnancy protection and I will ask him to make sure you have free access to the same. If you don’t, I will help you get it.

4. Understand that if I don’t like you, I might raise these concerns to my son. Ultimately, I will let him choose whether to be with you or not. Because in the end, it’s his choice to make.

5. Understand that I will choose to intervene if you’re engaging in risky behaviors with my son. I may call the police or your parent(s) if you’re breaking the law or a threat to my son’s health/wellbeing. I will offer you pamphlets about how to get help because I want you to get help.

6. He’s his own person. He (hopefully) loves his parents and we love him. If you can’t relate to that, come around for dinner a little more often. We’d love to love you, too.

7. No, seriously, he’s his own person. Respect his individuality the way I expect him to respect yours. Trying to change the person you’re with is a dead-end path, full of heartache. Love the person you chose to be with, or choose to be with someone else. If he is not respecting you as an individual, you tell him so. If it is an ongoing problem, you come tell me and I’ll let him know that I don’t think it’s acceptable, either.

8. He has a heart. I raised him to treat others with respect and empathy. Treat him with respect and empathy, too. If he ever fails to treat you with respect and empathy, remind him of his upbringing.

8. b. You might not be a woman. That’s okay with me.

9. If I act like a harpy, you don’t have to like me. There’s a thing between a lot of moms and their sons’ partners. I get it. You can tell me if I’m being overbearing and I’ll try to respect you as a couple. If I resist, remind me that you are forming a life together.

10. You don’t have to get married or legally committed in any way. Choose the future you want to live together.

Comments on It’s cool if you’re not a woman, and 9 other rules for dating my son

  1. Well said! Though I expect that the other version was meant to be some attempt at conveying a kind of protective mothering badassery it just comes off as creepily possessive.

    Maybe as the mother of a daughter I ‘just don’t get it’ but I feel the same way when mothers refer to their son as their ‘Little Man’ or repost the thing about a mother being his first true love or something.

    I can only hope more young men and women get mother-in-laws like you.

    • Perfect way of saying it, thanks! I see a LOT of posts that come across as creepily possessive and it just doesn’t sit right with me. I get wanting to keep your child close to you (and I get that these posts are obviously exaggerated and meant as “humor”), but I feel like the attitudes in them might just go the opposite way in real life–for a teenage kid just entering the dating world, that behavior might just breed resentment.

      • Reminds me of that book where the mom sneaks into her adult son’s room (in his own house) to watch him sleep. As a mom I can resonate with the sentiment (awe, my baby is all grown up), but the actual carrying that idea out…weird…

        • OMG Love You Forever! My mother-in-law gave it to us when we had our son, and from the beginning I was wigged out by it. Even the early years, when she crawls on her knees to peek at her kid? It’s just unsettling, not to mention when she’s old and hauls a ladder across town to climb in his window. Whaaaaaat!

          The “I’ll love you forever/like you for always” part does choke me up sometimes, though.

          • I don’t know if it helps make it less creepy or not, but that’s a Robert Munsch for you…his thing is to kind of take a regular situation and throw a weirdly oddball thing into it and repeat it over and over through the story – hence the mom sneaking peeks over and over at her son even as a grown up. And Love you Forever is actually about his own stillborn baby. To me, if you think of it in that context it’s both sadder, and makes more sense, and kind of more like an imagined future vs. actual stalking? If that makes any sense? (“as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be” and all that…)

          • Little off topic- My younger sister was OBSESSED with Robert Munsch books- except that one. She had them all memorized when she was 3 and would “read” them to us. They were my family’s Dr. Suess.

          • Yeah, the sentiment is so sweet, but it is carried a little far 🙂 If my mother-in-law ever sneaked into our house in the middle of the night to watch my husband sleep….

            Sad to hear it was about a miscarriage. And while I know he’s not really advocating someone creeping through the window, it still reminds me of the overbearing idea that we’re talking about in today’s post. Just like I doubt my dad would every REALLY have shot my boyfriend…the threat was still too much.

          • I think the problem might be that you’re reading it as an adult. It seems to be the kind of obvious over exaggeration that small children find hilarious.
            But, also, maybe a little bit comforting at the same time, to a toddler, to know that your mommy will always be your mommy no matter what you do and even when you grow up. When my daughter was 3 her favourite book was “Runaway Bunny” which has a similar message – no matter what you do, you can’t get away from your mother because she will Hunt You Down.
            Having said that, while a toddler needs to hear “You can jump, I’ll always catch you” from their parent/s, a teenager needs to hear “You can jump, you don’t need me to catch you” (even if you both sort of know you would) and that’s when the ‘You’ll always be My Little Baby/Man/Princess’ messages start to get weird.

            And, “choked up”? I’ve been completely unable to read that book out loud since I was pregnant – so that’s 18 years and counting, and it only gets more difficult as my own mother gets older. The sneaky thing about that book as an adult is that it gets you on both sides of the parent/child relationship.

          • I agree there are differences between reading it as a child and reading it as an adult. Though I disagree with the Runaway Bunny story as an example…mostly because as an adopted kid I remember being TERRIFIED that the story would come true, and that my bio mom would come back for me no matter where I went. And then I remember being a little bit older (7 maybe?) and wondering WHY she wouldn’t come back for me, if mothers always came back. It was both confusing and sad then, even though I loved my adoptive mom.

            I’m partial to the book No Matter What that has the same sentiment “I’d love you even if you were a crocodile, or a squishy bug” but has more of the sentiment that, like stars, even if we are far away “our love will reach us at the end of the day.” Seems both reaching for a kid’s need to know that information, but also doesn’t delve into creepy for me 😉

    • I feel the same way about the “daddy’s little princess” thing. I’ve seen a number of people on Pinterest post some picture of a crown ring that a father gives to his daughter when she turns 16 and is allowed to date; she wears the ring on her wedding band finger to remind her that she is his princess until she gets married. I can’t even. I’m horrified by it even now writing it. It’s not sweet or sentimental- it’s possessive and debilitating. [shudders]

      • In my community it was the purity ring. I myself got one when I was maybe 17 or 18? It was more of a symbol than a possesive thing. I can understand why fathers/mothers want it but if your child was raised hands on; wouldn’t they understand that without a physical symbol reminding them of it?

        What I’m trying to say is that the daddy’s little princess thing is fine I think as long as that girl understands that it doesn’t mean anyone can take ownership of her body except for herself.

        • I also had a purity ring, but that was a promise I made to God, not my dad. My issue with the “daddy’s princess” thing is that it makes it feel like a daughter needs even more than her father’s permission or approval to own her sexuality; it’s like she’s too delicate to be trusted with any feelings.- daddy’s little princess doesn’t throw tantrums or say bad words or kiss boys or make mistakes. I want my sisters and future daughters to want to be so much more than pink lace-wearing girls with no power over their lives. People may not mean it that way necessarily, but that’s the kind of daughter every person I’ve heard say that phrase seems to want.

    • And as the mother of sons, I absolutely don’t get how parents of daughters justify threatening the lives of boys with comments like, “I know how to hide bodies. I’m pretty sure no one would miss you, so don’t break her heart” or “Scoot over honey; I don’t want to get blood on that new dress of yours.” It’s all in good fun, of course, and anyone who gets offended is just a stick-in-the-mud. But parents of little boys who call their sons “little men” are creepy and overbearing. Sure. We’ll go with that.

      To the author: I love this. I’m utterly weary of articles that take away our children’s autonomy and try to force them into narrow little boxes that we’ve created for them (both boys AND girls). I am raising my children to have wings — I don’t want to govern their lives. That’s not my job. My job is to raise them to be fully functioning adults who can determine the course of their own lives, including their own relationships. As they become teens, it becomes scarier because I’m going to have to watch them fail once in a while. But those failures teach them valuable lessons, and I’m always going to be there to help them back up. Keeping your child in a gilded cage doesn’t protect them. Teaching your child to make healthy, positive choices and offering them a soft place to land does.

  2. Rules for dating my son? Never ever heard of it and when I clicked on the link I could not believe my eyes…. Wrong on so many levels, is that suppose to be a joke? Because it is not funny. Not at all. Thank you for writing something what actually makes sense and does not threaten or judge!!!

  3. First off more totally awesome life stuff from Dootsie. Can you adopt me? I feel like I need some one who has it together as much as you in my life!!!

    Second, I find it interesting that the writer of the original rules says the GF has to act like a lady, then states that they themselves know how to avoid jail….which is maybe not so lady like?

  4. Well said, Dootsie!

    You know, even if I agreed with the sentiments from the original post ( I don’t, but let’s play along ) this would surely be the most antagonistic way to express them. You might as hang wear a t-shirt that says “I’m his mother and I’m absolutely committed to hating you.”

    • Exactly! I almost understand some of the viewpoints going on here (the issue of money is certainly one that I can see taking a pretty hard-nosed stance on, for instance,) but it’s a lot of girl-on-girl hatred happening. Dear OP Mother, were you this girl in your youth? Is that where this aggression stems from?

  5. LOVE THIS! All of those lists of “rules” creep me out.

    You know what else creeps me out? All of the wedding day “Daddy’s little girl, he loved her first” and “Even though you give me away today, I will always be your little girl” -type things.

    1. GeeeAAAHH. I’m pretty sure a father’s love for his daughter is different than a husband’s love for a wife. At least I hope so.
    2. Why does everyone see the husband as a replacement for the father in the bride’s life? Why can’t both relationships exist together? Do we still have to use language that implies that ownership of the bride is being transferred from one man to another?
    I’m probably preaching to the choir on this site 🙂
    Dootsie, can you re-write these also?

    • YES! This! My husband is always on about how our (5 year old!) daughter will grow up one day and get married and not need him/love him anymore. I always say…oh stop it, I don’t need my dad any less or love him any less now that I’m married to you so just stop that nonsense!

    • I had been saying it here but then I posted a thing on Facebook and so I had to call my dad to tell him so he didn’t just discover it: I’m not planning on having my dad walk me down the aisle. I didn’t expect to get so choked up about the whole thing, but I told him it’s nothing to do with being mad at him or disrespecting his role in my life, it’s just that the tradition came about from being viewed as property and I AM NOT PROPERTY. I expected a but more than “No honey, you’re not property. We are OK. So anyway how is your garden going?”

      Totally the kind of reaction I expected if I had ever Come Out about being bi or poly or anything. Somehow that wasn’t the reaction I was expecting over that, EVEN THOUGH I knew if I explained it he would understand. He said later he already suspected as much but figured we would get around to talking about it when I had a wedding date set. Apparently with my last engagement, we had a conversation alluding to my discomfort with the tradition’s origins but knowing we had both been sort of looking forward to it. I don’t remember the conversation but it means he’s had 5 years to come to terms with the idea that I might decide not to do it (or if I do, it will be both my parents). But hearing him say no, you’re not property and WE ARE OK was everything I needed right then. I thought I was calling to care for his feelings and it ended up being more agonizing for ME!

      • I had similar issues leading up to my wedding. Also I didn’t have an aisle primarily because my wedding was really small and casual and secondarily because I didn’t want to deal with the walking down the aisle bit.

        Then, COMPLETELY UNPROMPTED, my dad brings it up. My religious politically conservative dad, mind you. He said that he didn’t “feel right giving me away because I’m not his property.” Best wedding present ever 🙂

  6. My mother used to say she “had it both ways.” When she met my husband, she sat both of us down and gave us a talk very similar to this. I think the major variation she added was that she gave us this speech (about how I am her child and she loves me very much and she hoped he could respect me and we could be equitable partners in the relationship). She said all this while cleaning and using a water stone to sharpen a very severe looking katana she was holding. She finished the speech, stood up, put the katana back and concluded by saying, “And I hope you and my daughter can be very happy together.” Talk about mixed messages – but my husband still maintains it was extremely effective. I really like to think that she was totally doing it for effect, but the problem with my mom is that you can rarely differentiate between her jokes and her seriousness. I actually asked her about it years later, and she continues to insist she was planning on cleaning the sword then anyway and that we just walked in at a bad time. So who knows?

  7. I’m kind of wondering if I’m the only one who doesn’t love this post. I like a lot of the sentiments in it, but I feel like it’s a little too non-judgmental. I think that a parent has the right to judge whether or not they support their child’s relationship and who they are having a relationship with. I get that Dootsie is not saying she won’t offer her opinion if she thinks it’s warranted, but I also feel like she’s saying she’ll ignore a lot of warning signs in the effort to let her child make his own choices.

    • But “children” (assuming that we are not really taking about actual children here but rather adult or at least teenage offspring, as children do not really “date”) are people, and people get to make their own choices generally in this, our modern Western world of free wills and freedom and such.

      When has a parent telling their child what to do, with regard to their love lives, had the desired effect, ever in the history of the world? See: Romeo and Juliet, etc.

      Sure, parents get to have opinions, everybody is entitled to an opinion, but I do not think that having an opinion translates into “judging” or not letting kids make their own relationship choices. And where does that end? When they are 30 and have been out of the house and out of college for many years, is it still okay for a parent to “veto” a kid’s fiancee because the parent doesn’t approve of them?

      • If the kid’s fiancee is beating them, stealing their paycheck, and openly cheating on them, then I would hope that the parent does veto that fiancee. The “child” can of course still marry them, but someone should tell them that they’re making a mistake and it should be their parent.

        From my own past, I can tell you that telling your kid you don’t approve of their partner can work. After yet another ex that my parents didn’t like, I decided if my parents didn’t like the next significant other, then they were gone. They didn’t like the next one, I broke up with him, and afterward found out stuff about him that made me so glad I’d listened to them.

        I’m not saying that a parent should “forbid” their child to date or even to date a specific person. But a parent absolutely should tell their child if their relationship is unhealthy and they’re being used. Or even if they think that there are major incompatibilities that the child may not want to see. Even as an adult, if my parents saw that in my relationship, I would WANT them to tell me that. The people in the relationship are often to close to it to see the problems.

        • I actually got the impression from Dootsie’s post that warning signs would not be ignored, but would be followed up on in a respectful way. There’s nothing here that says to me “I’ll ignore warning signs.” There’s nothing here that says “If I have concerns, I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

          The best way to curtail risky behavior and abuse is by being respectful present, and being there for the person when they chose to walk away. That doesn’t mean you have to approve of the relationship or like the relationship.

          These “rules for dating my son” simply says that this person’s parents will meet whoever he’s dating as a person and respect their son’s personhood and right to a sexual relationship, rather than approaching all sexual partners as antagonists.

        • When dealing with abuse it can become a double edged sword really fast though. If someone who is prime for abuse is told their significant other is abusing them and they need to get out, it might just have the opposite effect on the situation.

          I have also witnessed a friend who multiple people told her to hold off on getting married and just take it slower and well it just made her try to drop everyone like a bad habit the months leading up to her wedding which ended in a divorce. This wasn’t even a case of abuse(definite dysfunction though) just a stubborn lady.

          It really is one of those things that depend on the situation from the type of relationship the parent/child has to how it’s brought up. Then again that’s life, what works for one might not work for another.

          Also risky behavior is going to be addressed and I feel that includes if the girlfriend were to get the boy engaged in heavy duty drugs that it will be brought up. Considering the original post makes it sound like the mother is one of those monsters-in-law types and also dealing with a failure to launch situation this version is much more healthy looking of a relationship.

      • Also, a person with relatively non-judgmental parents is more likely to go to their parents for help and advice. As a teenager, I was in a toxic relationship that I kept secret from my parents because of their homophobia. I was afraid to confide in anyone and having parents who believed in the above rules would have helped me a lot (I might have been secure enough to talk to someone rather than just being terrified that they’d kick me out). Even if they couldn’t convince me to get out of the relationship, a little parental support would have eased some of the pain and helped me make better choices.

        And Dootsie, you’re awesome <3

  8. Funny thing – as I was reading this I was thinking how well it applied as Rules for Dating My Daughter.

    Except I do have a small quibble about Rule #3 – why would I see a ‘sext’ on her phone, unless she showed me? Why would she show me? And why would I wait until she might be having sex to start that conversation? That’s really information a person should have available beforehand.
    As an ongoing and evolving conversation, of course.

    • That rule–and all of them–was intentionally phrased as a response to the original list. For me, “the sex talk” is more like “the life talk” because I think it starts with a basic understanding of biology from a young age. But it’s definitely worth bringing up time and again, especially with confirmation that sex is definitely a part of the equation.
      I’ve accidentally read parts of text on friends’ smart phones that were lying about–maybe it’s just the way their phones are set up, but previews of texts show up on the locked screen when they come in and the alert buzz catches my attention every time.
      The whole issue of intentional snooping is a difficult one with me. My mom snooped through my diaries just to get a solid read of my moods, though she never confronted me about what she read. My hope has always been to keep the lines of communication open so I don’t ever even feel tempted to snoop.

      • That makes sense. I didn’t read the original until after I posted.
        The woman who wrote it sounds like my late ex-mother-in-law – she had three ‘boys’. In their mid to early forties there’s no history of a functional relationship among them.

        As for “the sex talk”, Daughter has had both a girlfriend and a boyfriend (but not at the same time) in the past year or so, and it’s weird how simultaneously alike and different said “talks” were in each instance – not just on my part, but hers.

  9. Thanks for this; it really has me thinking this morning. To be honest, (though I love your “rules”) when I first saw the original, it kind of made me smile.

    *breathe, hear me out*

    I am fortunate enough to have both a daughter and a son, and I’m always, ALWAYS, getting these types of “jokey” advice things about my girl dating. Dad at the door with a shotgun, protecting his delicate flower from the aggressive boys that would treat her badly. It was actually kind of nice for a change to see something similar geared toward sons and mothers. It’s kind of refreshing to acknowledge that my son can also be vulnerable and is also worth protecting. And that I, as his mother, have the power to step in and protect him if I feel it is necessary. So often, advice aimed at boys is more of the “toughen him up, turn him into a MAN” variety.

    This is probably a personal reaction. My daughter is much more rough and tumble, while my son is very gentle and soft-hearted. I regards to dating, I worry more about him that her.

    On further reflection, I do agree that the OP was fairly misogynistic. I guess I wish there was more of the non-judgmental, “explore but be safe, know your own limits, and stand up for yourself” type of message.

    This one is my all-time favorite:

  10. Definitely a much better version of the rules!

    Most of the posts like that I’ve seen make me feel ill, regardless if it’s about sons or daughters. There is a lack of respect and communication at the base of it so thank you so much for highlighting that. And the animosity towards future partners. Ug!

    My dude has had an awful relationship with his parents. His mother has moments of trying to be better but in the long run has failed to act like any kind of mother I could respect. Which leaves me moments of wanting to write something protective of my husband and how others treat him! But I am lucky that my own mum has adopted him wholeheartedly. My dad… well, while he used to sort of do the Daddy’s Little Girl thing, and joke about scaring off future boyfriends, he never made any attempt to act like that and is working on the fact that I make my own choices and he does not have to think my husband is the best man in the whole world because I do.

    It bugs me reading the bad versions of these “rules” and such partially because I’ve seen enough bad relationships with a parent (and had rocky moments with my own). Sorry, but if you raised me right, then I will make my decisions but by the time I’m starting to date, you are coming late to the game on starting those conversations. And some of the motivations of parents for why they would make the choices they would for their children are not “I want you to be with the right person for you” and be “I want you to be with who I want to be the right person for you.” Dootsie admirably left some room for that.

Join the Conversation