Most parents love their kids, and would like to spend more quality time with them. It's recently become a bit of a "thing" for parents to take their kids out on platonic dates, which undoubtably allows for some special one on one time with the child. Critics of "mother/son dates" and more commonly "father/daughter dates" have a lot to say about the practice. Many are uncomfortable with the illusion to romantic relationships, which I think is a valid concern. But as a queer mom, I have another concern. These "dates" reinforce a heteronormative ideal which leaves out queer parents and queer children alike, and those ideals can be hurtful and dangerous.
It isn't that I don't understand the appeal to some degree. All families get busy, and mine is certainly no exception. My wife and I both work, and while we certainly spend lots of time with our young son, quality time is sometimes another matter altogether. Children benefit from the attention of their parents, but as parents we can easily get distracted. As we scour the internet looking for ideas to stay connected — in a life is which we're way too busy — parent/child dates might seem like a fun solution. It requires (and allows for) one-on-one time, it can make the kid feel special, and some parents think it has the possibility of teaching the child something about how their future relationships might work. So while sure, I do find the idea of dating your kid a bit creepy, I get that most parents who are into it don't see it that way. They're just trying to do what's best for their children — and isn't that all any of us are trying to do?
Daddy-daughter dances, and being told that it was my father’s job to “teach me how a guy should treat me” made it harder to figure out my own sexuality, and ultimately harder to come out once I realized I wasn’t straight. I found my own way eventually, but it was hard. I can't imagine how much worse it would have been if I'd been taken on mock dates such as these.
Yet, what message does this send to kids who fall somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum? Kids aren’t stupid, they know what the word “date” means, and they understand that these “dates” with their parents are a playful approximation of romance, and that's kind of part of the point. When a little girl is taken out on a pretend date by her father, it reinforces the heteronormative idea of that her future partners will — and should — be men. For gay kids, this is just one more message that there is something "wrong" with being the way they are.
In my case, I wasn’t taken on “dates” like these, but I received plenty of messages in early childhood that heterosexual was the only way to be. Some of these messages came from places that weren’t all that different: things like daddy-daughter dances, and being told that it was my father’s job to “teach me how a guy should treat me” made it harder to figure out my own sexuality, and ultimately harder to come out once I realized I wasn’t straight. I found my own way eventually, but it was hard. I can't imagine how much worse it would have been if I'd been taken on mock dates such as these.
Queer kids have enough to work against as it is.
Even if a child is 100 percent heterosexual (though I’d like to remind you that you can't know that about a kid), I think the practice sends the wrong message. It goes without saying that most straight people will have to deal with non-straight people at some point, and the presumption that all children are straight teaches kids that there's something wrong with their peers who turn out not to be. Considering the bullying many LGBTQIA+ kids already face, this is no laughing matter. I'd hope even parents who are operating under the assumption that their own kids are straight would want those kids to know there's nothing wrong with being queer, and that they'd teach their children to treat LGBTQIA+ kids that way as well.
And then there are families like mine. My son has two mothers, so I suppose technically we could each take him on the occasional “mother/son date.” But why would we, as a gay couple, want to model heterosexuality in that way? It doesn't make much sense for us as a queer couple to essentially tell him "it's OK for us to be queer, but you should be straight!" I have no idea what my child's future orientation will be, and frankly, I don't really care. As his parent, and as a decent human being, I plan to support him completely whether he dates women, men, both, or neither. I don't assume he's going to be straight, just like I don't assume he's going to be gay, or any other orientation under the sun.
What would happen if a gay mom took her daughter out on a “date,” or a gay dad took his son? I’ll wait while you picture the hatred and vitriol that family would most likely receive. I'll tell you one thing I know from a lifetime of witnessing homophobia: it sure as hell wouldn't get shared on Pinterest as a "cute idea."
And what happens if, sometime in the future, we decide to have another child, and that one turns out to be a girl? That’s kind of where it falls apart, because regardless of the orientation of the parents, there are plenty of kids who just don’t have a parent of the “appropriate” gender to do these kinds of mock heterosexual dates. Just imagine what would happen if a gay mom took her daughter out on a “date,” or a gay dad took his son? I’ll wait while you picture the hatred and vitriol that family would most likely receive. I'll tell you one thing I know from a lifetime of witnessing homophobia: it sure as hell wouldn't get shared on Pinterest as a "cute idea."
My son is still quite young, but as his parent, I don’t feel it’s my job to model the exact way he should date in future. Instead, it's my job to show him I love him, allow him a safe space to explore and spread his wings, teach him to be kind and compassionate to all people (not just potential romantic partners), and help him learn the skills he’ll need in this life. Then, if and when he’s ready to date some day, all of that will serve him well. Basic lessons like “respect others, and don’t let others treat you poorly” are great because they translate well to family relationships, friendships, work relationships, and yes, even dating. The best part? Doing so means there are no mock dates required.