Being a parent is a tough fucking gig. It’s especially tough when you’re trying to parent a 12-year-old girl. It gets even harder when said pre-teen girl wants to start dating.
The situation becomes mind-boggling when you’re only 23 and doing the above.
My sister Liz wants to start dating — so she went and asked Fatherbot for permission. Now, don’t get me wrong: it says a lot of good things about Liz and our home generally that she came to ask permission. It reassures me somewhat.
But, well. Fatherbot isn’t the one who’s been having the foundational conversations with Liz over the last three years. The ones about consent, and how it applies to all touching — including hugs — and how no one has the right to touch your body in any way if you don’t consent. The ones about what dating is, and how it makes you grow as a person, and the way that hurts sometimes (or a lot of the time). The ones about how there is nothing normal about gender norms, and if traditional/ societal/ current roles don’t fit you, that’s okay. You need to be you. The ones about sexuality, and how it’s fluid and murky, and that it’s okay to be confused or gay or queer. It’s also okay not to have it figured out. The ones about puberty, and what that means for women, and how she never has to ashamed of her body or what it does, and that I’m always here for those questions and worries and awkward moments. The ones about how her worth is not tied to her body, but how she can and should celebrate her (gorgeous and amazingly strong) body and all that it’s capable of doing. How thin does not automatically equal healthy or beautiful, and that being healthy is the part that really matters. The ones about how bras are like socks — available in every possible combination of colour, size, material, prettiness/plainness, and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. The ones about how sex means a lot of different things, and the importance being safe about having it, and thus how communicating with an adult she trusts is far more important than some arbitrary age at which anyone else thinks she’s ready. The one about how sex is a good thing, when you’re ready and you want to and you’re with someone you trust — because sex is not always about love, but trust is damn important.
Fatherbot isn’t the one who’s modelled a healthy relationship for Liz. The one communicating about how to handle conflicts and arguments and unintentional hurts. The one showing her the not-always-romantic truth — that relationships are work, and how even the best ones suck sometimes. The one revealing the beautiful truth that love can, in fact, be magical.
Fatherbot isn’t the one who’s planned out future conversations about safe heterosexual and non-heterosexual sex, specific sexual acts, pornography, sexting, and masturbation. About what dating is, and how she should always listen to her instincts if she’s uncomfortable with something. About how she always has the right to ask for time, or stop any activity (sexual or otherwise) — and how someone who cares about her will not begrudge her that. About the delicate balancing act between your needs and desires, and those of the other person you’re with. About making mistakes, and how that’s okay — it’s how we learn — but that she doesn’t have to fear fixing them herself. About what healthy relationships are, and what they most emphatically are not — and what “red flags” are important to watch for. About loyalty and monogamy, and how there are alternatives to these — and that choosing those alternatives are not shameful or wrong, so long as everyone consents and no one is getting hurt. About what consent really means, and how its importance goes so far beyond sexual activity in romantic relationships.
No, that one doing those things would be me. Slowly and carefully, as these issues and teachable moments arise, either in her life or mine. It’s a lot of work — so much so that I occasionally want to go “NOPE” — but it really is the definition of “labour of love”. I do these things because I love her, and worry for her, and want her to have the best possible chance of happiness and healthy relationships.
I am, however, only 23, and am therefore most likely fucking something up. But, y’know. I’m doing my best over here, which has to count for something.
I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.