Cathy Madavan shares ways in which we can navigate the emotional rollercoaster of supporting our daughters as they date


I’m not sure quite when it happened: one minute my daughters were at infant school, holding hands with little Adam or Robbie, and telling me they were going to get married. It was so cute. And then, suddenly, BAM! As junior school progressed into secondary school, I was launched into a world of sex education, online danger, the constant sexualisation of girls and suddenly Adam and Robbie asking for dates! Truth be told, I was simply not ready or prepared for it – or the rollercoaster of emotions that lay ahead. 

Watching my first daughter go out on her first date was a new level of ‘letting go’. Could any young man possibly look after her properly? What were their motives and their intentions? And how do you give any advice without being overbearing or prude, while preparing them for what might lie ahead – and would my daughters listen anyway? And then, inevitably, further down the line have been the breakups. Oh my, the breakups. I’ve cried through the night with the girls, as they have endured the kind of heartbreak that is hard to process during those sensitive teenage years. And of course, despite sympathising wholeheartedly, I had also grown fond of these young men who had become part of our family, hanging around our home and eating ridiculous amounts of food. After a breakup, they left a season of sadness for us all in their wake. 

Perhaps I thought parenting would get easier as they got older. But in reality, you love your children just as much but gradually have less control! In talking to other mums, it seems that we are all simply doing our best on this rather nerve-wracking romantic relationship ride, but often share similar convictions. Here are some tips for you – and your daughters.

Know yourself first

It’s a shame there is not a self-esteem app available to download onto the smartphone of every girl, giving instant self-worth and self-confidence. Instead, it remains the vital role of every parent to be an anchor of unconditional acceptance that will help their child to know they are valued, cherished and capable of greatness. Their worth should not be dependent on the approval of others. Looking at my daughters, their uniqueness is precious and somebody else should complement and celebrate who they are, not make them feel worse about themselves. After all, self-respect and then mutual respect is so key when dating and creating boundaries. Therefore, I have always encouraged my daughters to keep pursuing their hobbies, friendships, interests and now careers – because I long for them to flourish as young women first and foremost. Knowing and caring for yourself is a gift you bring into any significant relationship.    

It remains the vital role of every parent to be an anchor of unconditional acceptance

Keep communicating

Communication is not always easy, and I am sure I’ve said the wrong thing to my daughters a million times. Certainly, the eye-rolls, negative feedback and protestations that I simply don’t understand their lives have sometimes been hard to hear. It was also challenging to realise during the teenage years that the advice of 16-year-old friend Amelia held far more sway than anything I could possibly say. For many parents of teenagers, communicate may seem futile. But all the research states that parents are still the most significant influence in the lives of their teenage kids – despite any evidence to the contrary! It’s so important to keep communicating (even if it’s sending texts or writing cards), and any opportunity to talk, no matter how inconvenient, is worth taking. Even now, while my girls are in their 20s, I want them to know I am always here, supporting, cheering them on and available to talk about anything – and nothing gives me more joy than listening to them.

Take it slow

Wouldn’t it be great to fast forward time, so that you would know in advance whether this new guy is going to be great, or whether he is going to turn out to be unkind or even unfaithful? Wouldn’t we all like to know in advance that we are guaranteed a safe and wonderful relationship ahead of the game, before we get too invested? Back in the real world, my girls have had to learn what I have learned – in friendships and romantic relationships – it takes time to get to know somebody. It takes going through some tough conversations to discover how they will handle their emotions. It takes a long while to genuinely know anybody’s consistent character. So, no matter how hard that heart might flutter or how fast that pulse might race in those early days, I would just keep saying: “Take your time. Go slow. There is simply no substitute for time.” This advice may be highly hypocritical in my case, considering my husband and I met and married quickly, but that wasn’t an easy route and we have been pretty fortunate all things considered. Nevertheless, the truth remains: you cannot hurry getting to know anybody. 

Stay positive

It seems that worry is a disease mothers often suffer with. We worry about anything and everything. And perhaps that worry can even turn into fear, controlling behaviour or micromanaging in certain situations. And gosh, wouldn’t us mothers love to protect our kids from every difficult eventuality, every rejection, every harsh word and disappointment? But, while we might be prone to worry, it is better to be prepared than to be paranoid! In truth, dating and learning to communicate and to build healthy connections of all kinds will contribute to our children’s self-discovery and personal growth. Every experience will teach them something valuable, especially when it involves trusting others and knowing themselves. And when things are really challenging, when they are more secretive or when our worries escalate for whatever reason, I am personally encouraged to remember that God loves my children even more than I do. He created them and the most positive thing I can ever do as a mum is to pray for them as they navigate the many twists and turns on the rollercoaster of relationships.