My 5 year-old son has a male best friend he talks about constantly. They cause mischief, they have their own secret language. They send notes home with each other. They adore each other. My 3 year-old daughter has a female best friend she talks about constantly. She includes her in stories she makes up, she names her dolls after her. She seeks her out the very second she arrives at daycare and then sticks to her like glue all day, according to the teachers.
The kids both use the term “best friends” to describe their people. All us grown-ups go, “That’s great! You’re fitting in. You have friend(s)!”
But I’ve been thinking….if my kids had opposite-sex favorite people, would us grown-ups (and then, in time, the kids) describe those relationships differently? What if my son had a female best friend or my daughter had a male best friend? Would we still say, “Yay! Friends!” or would be weirdly romanticize/sexualize these pint-size, pre-pubescent relationships? Would we refer to them as their “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” and talk about how one day they might get married? Or would we discourage the opposite-sex friendships since ‘boys should play with boys doing boy things’ and ‘girls should play with girls doing girls things?’
If we did that, would it change the way they look at those relationships? Would it effect the way they look at themselves, even? Would it shape their expectations? Could it jack up their relationships for the rest of their lives? Could it put unnecessary divisions or distance between themselves and other parts of themselves, or others? Is that our adult/societal subconscious goal?
AND, isn’t it possible that my daughter, with her total infatuation with this little girl at her daycare has some early loving feelings for her? Or my son for his friend? If the potential for romantic loving feelings starts early in life, are we witnessing it now in these relationships but just are using heteronormative language to describe them?
It’s just a ponder. I wouldn’t be surprise if you’re crying total bullshit on me right now. I mean, the idea of my kids as romantic beings is eww gross. They’re under 4′ tall and still don’t wipe their asses very well.
I’m not going to sexualize/romanticize any of my kids’ relationships with either sex until they tell me what’s up, later in life. I want them to be naive, sweet kids without the flutters of the heart and the straining of the groin for as long as possible. But I’m aware that their sexuality is never not developing, just as their emotional selves and intellectual selves and physical selves…whether I’m squeamish with it or not, it’s happening. And the things I say and do now might have later impact in what they see as normal and acceptable and valuable.
So with all of their same-sex or opposite-sex friends, I’m going to try hard to let them describe and define the relationships and not put words or labels in their mouths or ideas in their minds.
Partly my goal is that they grow to expect respectful, loving relationships out of any friendship they make, with either sex and can be themselves in those friendships. Maybe they can see that men and women have way more alikes than differences? Maybe my kids can be of the first generation in the history of humans to have healthy opposite-sex friendships? If that’s even a thing? (Harry Burns would say no)
Mostly my goal is that they can peacefully (as peaceful as navigating relationships and human sexuality can be) figure out who they are and how they love and what makes sense to them without my/society’s expectations filtering through them too much.
So…you’re 5, kid. You have to sit at your desk and not talk when the teacher is talking, but you don’t have to have a girlfriend or boyfriend now. You’re 3, kid. You have to sit on the carpet when told and not eat too much Play-Doh, you don’t have to be thinking about who you’re going to marry right now.
And forgive any adult who tells you otherwise. Negotiate your way through friendships, expect honor and love from them all. Day by day, as you get older, listen to the flutter in your heart and you’ll figure out what love means for you. I’m hear to listen to what you learn about yourself.
And when you ask me about how babies are made, I’m going to give you way too much clinical information and pull out all my colorful diagrams and to-scale models, so make sure you’re in a comfortable chair.