Madeleine is eleven and a half now and whether I like it or not, boys are on her radar. She's not silly or screaming or following her cues from all the media messages that tell her this should be her be-all, end-all. No, she's just aware in a new way that boys can be people who you could have deep affection for--partially in the same way she adores her friends who are girls.
So far, I think this interest is healthy and I hope all of her upcoming relationships in her teen years are just as reasonable, respectful and fun. The boys seem to be as engaged as the girls and when they do interact, the whole thing strikes me as the kind of thing you remember as innocent and fun your whole life long.
So what's the catch? Madeleine continues to ask for permission either to have one-on-one time with the boy of her choice or to host get-togethers with boys AND girls for things like dance parties and more recently, a boy/girl sleepover. I know without a shadow of a doubt that these things are totally harmless, but I have a big red neon sign flashing in the back of my mind that says six months deeper into her adolescence it will be a whole different story.
It's a common parenting dilemma, right? Go with what's just right for your child's development right now and make adjustments to your strategy later or hold back (or push ahead) because you see what'll be better for their development right around the corner?
In the past, I've always been inclined to go with what's best for my kids in the moment. I didn't smack my toddlers hands when they touched the Christmas tree ornaments because I knew experiencing things in a tactile way was key to their development; I simply redirected their attention instead. I didn't fuss when my three and four year olds showed signs of being the world's most creative cross-dressers because I knew that trying on different roles and identities was a essential for them establishing their sense of self.
These were (in some circles) controversial parenting decisions I made at the time because let's face it--it's hard to be that parent whose baby is all up in the Christmas tree or the one whose adorable boy is showing up to preschool in Mardi Gras beads and Cinderella shoes. But I let things go and reined my kids in on certain things when they were old enough to do things a different way--Mardi Gras beads still excepted.
Now sticking to that plan feels a little more loaded. Boy/girl sleepover? I've read the more normal, non-sexualized interaction kids have across gender in pre-adolescence, the more healthily they re-meet one another across the big divide. But the hassle of reversing the precedent and saying no in a year or two (who wants to monitor a houseful of 13 year old boys and girls in the middle of the night?) sounds like a nightmare, too.
What do you think? I'm especially interested in hearing from parents on the issue of doing what's right for your kids right now or getting them ready for what's around the bend--even if it means sacrificing what's currently best for their development.