By Bobbi Palmer

How did you learn how to “be” with boys when you were young and maturing? Did your Mom sit you down as you were entering puberty and have “one of those talks” with you? Did she maintain an ongoing honest conversation about it advising and supporting you along the way? Or maybe, like me, did your Mom have little to do with your development in this area?

I never got much of an education from either of my parents about how to live in the world with boys. They were mostly focused on my safety. They made boys pick me up at the door (by bike and then by car); they gave me strict curfews; they demanded explanation when a guy showed up driving a van or wearing an open shirt, exposing his (probably hairless) chest.

After a bad or sad experience, which happened often in my teenage years, they would support me with the customary “it’s their loss, honey.” Those were just words and I never believed it.

Looking back with the perspective of a 50 year old, my early education about selecting a companion, dating, and falling in love came from my friends, movies, and magazines. From my Mom, I learned to “be careful.” Armed with this going into adulthood, I was ill equipped to face the challenges of building healthy intimate relationships.

As a Mother of this generation, you no doubt get more involved than my Mom, or probably yours. You talk to your daughter about her life and her loves, show her support, and build her self-esteem whenever possible.

The strongest lessons learned, though, are from observing the behavior of others, especially those you love and respect. If you’re married or have a partner, your daughter will learn innumerable lessons about communication, appreciation, compromise, and intimacy in a relationship.

If you’re a single mother who is dating, you have a wonderful opportunity to model even more behavior in a positive way. By bringing your daughter into your experience and sharing with her your plans, decisions, feelings…maybe even your disappointments, she could learn such important lessons. For instance:

Maintaining self esteem in knowing that we are not defined by whether a boy or man likes us.

Making choices based on thoughtful consideration and what’s good for you (with some emotion thrown in, of course).

“Pausing” when necessary to ensure good outcomes.

Setting clear boundaries in advance, and then adhering to them.

Honoring and respecting yourself, as well as the people you meet and spend time with.

Maintaining awareness for your safety; both physical and emotional.

Trusting your instincts.

Seeking support when needed.

There are absolute guidelines and limitations to what and how you share. I’m not suggesting that you divulge your most private feelings, what you do on dates, or any other intimacies. What I’m suggesting is letting your daughter learn by example that there are specific things we should do to ensure we are respected, make good choices, and stay safe. Talk to her before or after you go on a date. Maybe you can explain what boundaries or rules you have set, what you chose to communicate to your date, why you chose to get to know this man better, or if you were satisfied by the way he treated you and why. Let her know that you can have fun while focusing on what’s best for you.

For the most part the days of girls learning everything from her friends are over. Mothers are far more involved in their daughters’ lives and are talking and listening. Sharing your dating and relationship experiences may be uncomfortable, or seem unnecessary. But remember that your example has the strongest influence on your daughter. And what is more important than teaching your daughter how to build relationships that are healthy and safe?

This article first appeared in the Spring 2009 Issue of WE Magazine for Women