Yesterday, when I went to pick up my daughter Gigi from preschool, a little boy — A — was at his usual spot, waiting for her. He gave me a sweet smile and big hug. "He thinks Jamie is going to be his mother-in-law once day," A's mom explained to another mom. "Aw!" the other mom said. "Is Gigi your girlfriend?" "No!" I piped up cheerily before A could say anything. "They're just very good friends." This is not only a statement of truth, but the fact is I'll never let another child call my daughter their girlfriend. Certainly not at this age, at least.
This has nothing to do with a creepy desire to keep my daughter boyfriend-free until she's 35. And it absolutely isn't personal. I think A is the sweetest boy in the world. I mean, I genuinely adore this little guy. Honestly, I find his "intentions" to be absolutely precious, and his mom and I joke together about our "future-in-law" status. But we never joke within our kids' hearing. We haven't established this as an official rule, but she's hella cool and I feel like we're on the same page about this issue.
What our kids have is too adorable to change a damn thing about it. And if I won't even accept that my daughter is A's "girlfriend," I'm not going to let anyone else give her that title either, for all of the following reasons:
Because She's 4
Actually, she's not going to be 4 for a few weeks, but that only further demonstrates my point. Because seriously, what does being someone's girlfriend at 4 even look like? It doesn't look like anything, because it's not a thing, because 4-year-olds lack the social and emotional capacity to have that kind of relationship (which is generally hinged upon ideas of heteronormative sexuality and romance). Think of the first time you were someone's girlfriend: what were the kinds of things you did with that person (sexual, romantic, or otherwise) that solidified that title? Yeah, a 4-year-old can't do any of those things.
Words mean stuff. A 4-year-old can't be someone's "girlfriend."
Because I Don't Want Her To Think Dating Is Important From Such A Young Age
"So they're obviously not really boyfriend and girlfriend," you say. "But so what?! It's still cute."
But, like, is it really? Or is it just perpetuating the idea that being someone's girlfriend is something she should be doing? Even if it's just play, children's play is significant in shaping their social attitudes as well as their goals as they get older. I don't want my daughter to think that being someone's girlfriend is the be-all-end-all of what she should want or what others expect of her.
If my daughter grows up to be someone interested in romantic relationships, that's totally cool! And in that case I hope she builds significant partnerships, too. But I want her to develop the interest on her own, not because she thinks it's what's expected of her.
Because It Perpetuates The Idea That Boys & Girls Can't Be Friends
There's this gross, damaging idea that men and women can't be friends without their being some sexual underpinnings or tension.
Why do we think that? How on Earth could we have come to that conclusion? Hey, here's a thought! Maybe if we didn't automatically label compatibility and affection between two people of the opposite gender starting from the time their toddlers as a boyfriend/girlfriend situation, preemptively concluding that all male-female relationships are romantic, we wouldn't!
"Well what if another girl calls your daughter their girlfriend!" you might say.
Number one, come on, no one does that. And number two, if they did I would still ask them not to.
Because I Don't Want Her To Define Herself By Relationships To Others
A school in Massachusetts was recently in the news for banning the use of the term "best friend." At first blush, I'll admit, this does seem pretty silly. But, to quote my Romper colleague Vanessa Taylor, "It might seem like a stretch, but think back to your own childhood, or to any children that you know. Growing up, I remember watching kids in my daycare have complete meltdowns because their best friend was playing with someone else." Indeed, the school wanted to prevent (as best they could) cliques, exclusion, and possessiveness.
I absolutely agree with Taylor — kids become really preoccupied with their "best friends." They start to act like them, talk like them, and see themselves through the lens of this important person. Best friends are great, but "best friend" is a term loaded down with a lot of baggage when you're a kid.
"Girlfriend" or "boyfriend" is basically another version of that, only it isn't just leaded down with baggage; it's so deeply buried underneath it all that we can't even begin to pick it out. So I don't want to do anything to encourage that kind of externalized identification.
Because I Don't Want Her To Feel Pressured In Any Way
Because that whole "not wanting to hurt people's feelings" can start young in girls. And while my little Philistine doesn't seem to be particularly concerned about tact ("Do you have a baby in your tummy?" No. I don't.) I don't want her to feel pressured to have any kind of relationship with someone just because they've foisted an imaginary relationship on her that claims to have importance.
Because It Presumes She *Wants* To Date At All
Sometimes not wanting a relationship or romance is not a question of not being old enough, it's a question of, "Yeah, you do you, but I'm not interested." And even though so much of society is built around the idea that everyone has to be paired off with someone (or perhaps just wants to be), it's a-OK to never want to date. I want my daughter to know that's an option for her, instead of just presuming that of course she'll want to date someday.
Because It Presumes Heterosexuality
My preschooler does not have a sexuality yet, at the very least not in the sense of one that she can share with another person. But while heterosexuality has long been presumed, it's been to everyone's detriment.
I did not have the language to come to terms with my own sexuality for a long time and then, after I was given the right word (bisexual), the idea of an "either/or" binary and queer-shaming kept me from using that word for more than a decade. I never want that for my kids, so I'm going to avoid, to the best of my ability, the presumption of heterosexuality.
Because She Gets To Choose When She's Someone's Girlfriend
Look, there are worse things in the world than a naive little boy calling my daughter his girlfriend. I get that he's not saying this to intentionally uphold the patriarchy any more than the adults who latch onto it are — it's just a cute little kid being cute.
But for all the reasons above (and probably more), it's not something I want my daughter participate in. If she decides she wants to be someone's girlfriend, then OK. Let her play adult the way she does when she, say, pretends to be her doll's mommy or cooks in her kitchen or hammers away with her miniature toolbox. But, just like when she's an adult, whether or not she's someone's girlfriend (or in this case "girlfriend") is entirely up to her.
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