Nikkole Paulun of MTV's 16 and Pregnant recently posted a Facebook status explaining how her 6-year-old son uses his own allowance money to take her out on dates. She talks about how they put the electronics away and focus on each other and how he's learning math skills in calculating the cost of the meal and tip. She ends her post by declaring, "Too many men these days have no idea how to treat women or how to take them on a nice date. It's nice to know my son won't be one of them."
While I'm all about teaching children the value of money and the importance of good manners, Paulun's post and the heaps of praise it received from people made me feel a little squirmy. I'm a mom to twin 4-year-old boys myself. And while I usually say I'm willing to try anything at least once, having my sons take me on a date is a hard no for me.
First of all, there's the obvious Oedipus issues that come with having my sons treat me the same way they'd one day treat a romantic partner. I already have a partner who makes me feel pretty and special, and even if I was a single mom, I feel strongly that it's not my children's job to fill that role.
Plus, could you imagine the awkwardness that could arise when my boys are old enough to go on actual dates? "How did you hear about this restaurant? Oh, I used to take my mom on dates here all the time." *Date sends "get me out of here" text to best friend under the table while my son's not looking.*
So really, by not dating my sons, I'm partially looking out for their romantic interests. You're welcome, kids.
I want them to regard women as equals, as humans who are just as capable of making decisions, earning, and spending money as men are. Having a young boy take his mother on a "date" where he's the one who orders and pays for the food only furthers antiquated gender roles that should have gone out of style with poodle skirts.
Beyond the fact that I'm not crazy about romanticizing the mother-son relationship, taking alone time between a mother and her son and calling it a "date" is pretty much the ultimate in heteronormativity. At 4 years old, my sons haven't voiced anything or acted in any way that indicates they're anything other than cisgendered, and they've yet to declare their sexuality (Lolo says he wants to live with his stuffed Lady dog forever, but I'm thinking that's just his age talking, and not a sign that he's going to be a Plushie when he's older, though who knows).
I don't want to paint them into a box or raise them to believe that only men and women pairings go on dates together, or that everyone even needs to find a partner to be happy in life. If I was out to teach them how to "treat a lady" in hopes of setting them up for their future romantic endeavors, then fairness would dictate also having them go on dates with their dad to learn how to "treat a man" too. And with all these "dates," we'd have no time or money to ever spend together as a family.
I want my sons to realize that I earn money independently from my partner and that I'm empowered to make my own decisions about what to do with that money. Teaching my sons gender equality from the jump means more to me than having them understanding how to calculate a tip.
Regardless of their gender or their sexuality, it's important to me that I raise my sons as feminists. I want them to regard women as equals, as humans who are just as capable of making decisions, earning, and spending money as men are. Having a young boy take his mother on a "date" where he's the one who orders and pays for the food only furthers antiquated gender roles that should have gone out of style with poodle skirts.
There's a lesson in generosity that could come with having my sons take me out with their allowance money, but there's a more powerful lesson in me spending my money on them so they can understand how mommy has a job. I want my sons to realize that I earn money independently from my partner and that I'm empowered to make my own decisions about what to do with that money. Teaching my sons gender equality from the jump means more to me than having them understanding how to calculate a tip — besides, by the time they're old enough to date, they'll have phones that can calculate it for them.
They're only 4. At this age, when we go out to eat, I'm less concerned with their ability to hold up their end of the conversation and "treat me nicely" than I am worried about whether or not they can make it through the meal without spilling something or talking so loudly that it bothers the other patrons. There are a million other skills children need to learn to be a well-adjusted member of society that turning my little boys into "ladies' men" is rock bottom on my list of priories.
Love and romance take up a lot of time and think space for many people. If we're going to call eating out with a child of the opposite sex a "date," then we're teaching them to place a lot of importance on the role of food in their lives. One in 5 children between the ages of 7 and 19 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While being overweight doesn't necessarily lead to health problems, because I have my own history of disordered eating it's important to me that my children grow up knowing that food can be enjoyable, but it's primary purpose is fuel. I don't want them to grow up thinking that all of their dating experiences need to revolve around food. Plus, going out to eat adds up. When or if they do grow up and choose to date, I don't want them to feel confined to always going out to eat, I want them exploring new and existing relationships by doing all sorts of things, like hiking, watching movies, spending hours together in bookstores, going to the beach, and doing whatever the hell they want.
Learning how to behave in restaurants is a good life skill. So is holding the door for others, learning to manage money, and the art of conversation. But all these things can be accomplished without slapping the label of "date" on it. In fact, they're things I do with my kids all day long, and I'm certainty not "dating" my kids every time we're awake together.
Call it spending quality time together, call it conscious parenting, call it trying not to raise a jerk. Just don't call it a date.