My 6-Year-Old Has A Boyfriend ... And I'm OK With It

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Boy and girl holding hands
Puppy love can be complicated—for kids and their parents.

Valentines Day is here, and love is in the air. To be honest, these days it warrants little more than a mention for me and my husband. After 20 years and 2 children together, the over-priced bouquets and twinkling trinkets have lost their appeal. Him doing the laundry every Sunday morning? Now that's a major turn-on.

For our daughter, though, Valentines Day is a pretty big deal. She's just about 7 years old and, like a lot of little girls, is enamored with hearts and flowers and the idea of love.

"I'm not in love with anyone," she complained the other day from her carseat.

"That's okay," I told her. "You have lots of time to be in love."

"Well, I was going to get married to someone," she said, emphasizing the past tense. "But now I'm not."

She told me his name, this little boy from our neighborhood — my almost son-in-law. She detailed their courtship, which seemed to have lasted for about 2 hours. There was no hand-holding, no playground kisses, no grand declarations of love. There wasn't much of anything, from the sounds of it. He was funny, she said, though they barely even spoke. I'm glad she didn't settle.

Like most parents I know, I do worry about my daughter growing up too fast. I don't want her to be the 13-year-old teetering around the mall in enormous wedge heels and a mini-skirt, making out with her pimpled boyfriend while standing in line at Pinkberry. I see those girls and I want to throw my jacket over them. When did kids start acting so old?

When my daughter had her first brush with young love last year, in kindergarten, I freaked out. She came home after school one day and, over a peanut butter and jam sandwich, mentioned that she had a boyfriend. Um ... sorry, what? A boyfriend? At 6 years old? I panicked. Is this how it all starts? I peppered her with questions, trying to sound nonchalant.

By the time my head stopped spinning, the romance was over. They "broke up," she told me very matter-of-factly just a day or two later. I wondered how she suddenly knew what that meant, this little girl who still sneaks drawings of rainbows into the mailbox for me to find. It wasn't all that long ago that she wanted to marry her little sister.

Her "boyfriend," I later found out, had an older brother who had recently been through a breakup. It started to make sense. There are things I can shelter her from — Bratz dolls, Rihanna, Hannah Montana — but she's still going to get glimpses of the grown-up world. And as much as I sometimes want to (and believe me, sometimes I do), I can't make her stay little forever.

At nearly 7 years old, she's in so many ways still my baby girl, but she's also trying to figure out the sometimes complicated business of growing up. The difference between love and being in love; why some people seem to make her heart beat just a little bit faster. I want her to know that there's nothing wrong, nothing shameful or inappropriate about the way that she feels. I want her to know that she can always talk to me, whether she's 6 years old or 16. I'm not sure I can convince her of that if I always have one finger on the panic button. Keep reading ... 

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