I Caught Myself Shaming My 5-Year-Old

My daughter doesn’t play hard to get. She’ll tell anyone who will listen that she has five boyfriends, and she’s quite obviously looking for more.

It was only recently that I started feeling weird about her long list of paramours. After all, her relationships have all started innocently enough.

She hit it off with a little boy in her 3-year-old class at school a couple of years ago, and when her dad and I fell equally hard for his parents (a couple of friends are not easy to find, you guys!), we encouraged their cute pairing.

Soon enough, she was two-timing him with another adorable little boy from the same class, and two years later, they’re both still on her boyfriend list, though I’m not sure either realizes it.

Those boys have been joined by my best friend from high school’s son, whose geographic undesirability (he lives in Seattle; we’re in the Chicago area) doesn’t seem to phase my gal at all. They’ve met exactly once, but so strong was their connection that he asked her to be his girlfriend at the end of our pool date. Of course, she immediately accepted.

Just a few weeks later, she added another of my high school friend’s 5-year-old son to her list. His mom and I signed the two up as trail mate buddies at camp. He started bringing her a piece of gum to the flagpole every morning. She was a goner and begged him to be hers.

The final boyfriend on her list has been there the longest. He’s also 30 years her senior (he’s one of my closest friends), but once she realized this older man came with an unlimited gummy bear budget and a puppy, he was in for life.

She’s proudly confessed to kissing two of her boyfriends on the lips (don’t worry, the 35-year-old wasn’t one of them), and she’s gone streaking with the same two, gleefully running around our house naked as a jaybird while her father cringed and I tried not to laugh. It was time, we decided, to shut down the love train.

While the concept of speaking to my daughter about what was and was not appropriate in terms of her boyfriends (not boyfriends, I wanted to explain) seemed straightforward enough, the actual words were harder to find.
Why were we upset about her five boyfriends, she asked, but not her many girlfriends? What was really the difference between a friend who was a boy and a boyfriend? Why was one fine and the other not? Why shouldn’t girls ask boys to be their boyfriends when they like them? Was it okay for boys to ask girls the same thing?

I found myself struggling to come up with answers, while also feeling a little like I was shaming my daughter.
She’s 5, after all, not 15, and the same actions I found adorable at 3 haven’t become any more illicit in her mind, only in mine. Yet, there were boundaries I knew I had to start setting.

Here are the rules my husband and I came up with for our little flirt. First, clothes need to stay on all the time. This one seemed pretty obvious. Next, she can have as many boyfriends as she wants, but she should call them friends, not “boyfriends.” Hugs are fine; lip kisses are not, even if the kid brings you gum every morning for a year. And when she’s old enough to date, I told her, it’s absolutely fine to ask a boy she likes out. Maybe just not five at the same time.

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