Would you like to know what age we allow our kids to begin dating?
To wear makeup?
When they’re allowed to get their ears pierced?
Or what their curfews are?
Or what age they have to be to watch certain movies or go certain places or have certain privileges?
Or to drive?
I’d be happy to share.
The ages my kids have to be for the above items and activities is….
We don’t parent by the calendar.
We parent by the character.
Now, I have plenty of friends who have numerous rights of passage based on the numbers. Ears pierced by this birthday. Dating by that birthday. Slumber parties by this birthday. Later curfew by that birthday. It works for their families. And if it’s working for you, awesome. Stay the course.
But Michael and I wanted our kids to understand that there are several thresholds in their worlds that have to do with maturity, not a timetable. And we didn’t feel it fair to raise them thinking, “Oh, on my sixteenth birthday I’m for sure getting my license,” and then have us pull as fast one and announce last minute, “Well, we’re not sure you’re ready.”
If I want my kids to understand respect for me, I have to model respect for them. And that means, as much as possible, no last minute mercurial course changes, no unfair capricious mandates.
So they know.
Driving, dating, whatever other items we believe carry a trust and maturity and curation quotient to them, those are the provenance of the reliable. The prepared. The reasonable and the calm and the coachable.
Not just someone who has managed to blow out a certain number of candles on a birthday cake.
And then there are some other things on the list that, to our minds, have nothing to do with maturity.
For example, makeup.
I’ve had friends have holy wars with their kids about makeup and I could have easily headed down that path, creating an arbitrary age for all things face paint. But I decided it wasn’t a battle that had worth. My oldest daughter started jonesing for mascara when she was about ten. I took a couple of sidelong glances at the other moms around me and their rules and regulations for the stuff. And for some reason I still can’t fully explain, I did a 180.
“Knock yourself out,” I told Madison, in a dramatic mascara wand handoff. And she did. Inked up with two blackly fringed eyes.
For about five or six days.
And then the magic was gone.
And has stayed gone. For about sixteen more years. As in, now, I don’t know if she really even owns mascara. Or lipstick. Or blush.
I learned something. Something really important. There are some things, if we’ll just let them run it full out, will then run out of steam. Far faster than if we made a mascara mountain out of it.
Molehills. That’s what I want to know. What should just be a molehill on the parenting terrain.
And save the mountain climbing for when it really counts.
Of our eight kids, four are now young adults. They all got their licenses at different ages, started dating at different ages, moved out at different ages. It’s great. It’s all happened when they were ready, when the challenge and the responsibility was the right size for their shoulders. That readiness was never based on punishment or a retributive approach, but, thank the Lord, remained a very positive and exciting transition. They were all integrally involved in those decisions.
And we’ve got four more kids to get ready for launch.
So I’ll keep you posted. Because this parenting gig, it is ever evolving.
But our one right of passage remains.
When can they drive?
When can they date?
When is the curfew?
When they’re ready.
But they can have some mascara right now.