My Child Has a Crush on an Adult

Yes. It’s true. My child does have a crush on an adult, his summer camp counselor. When he first confessed it, admittedly, I felt a little jealous. I mean, wasn’t I supposed to be his first and only crush, his first love until he grows up, falls in love and jilts me for another woman?Come on. Admit it. Wouldn’t you?

Then I remembered my own crushes on adults: the diving coach who convinced me to do a back dive off the medium-level diving board; Miss Carol, my Bunk One counselor at sleep-away camp; and, Mr. Waronsky, a swarthy, Russian-immigrant, a teacher at my Sunday school who came to our house for coffee because he liked my mother but pretended he really liked to listen to me play the piano.

This was different. This was MY little boy, the one who cried when he thought “what if you die?” The one who never ever wanted to leave home to marry and start his own family. The one who still begged me to cuddle with him at bedtime so he could fall asleep. He was now lying on the couch, moaning with heartache over this camp counselor with curly hair, brown flowing curly hair. Though I know that a camp crush or even a teacher crush, is perfectly normal, I still felt a little icky. I mean, how did he love her?

And then I did a Face Palm. What was the matter with me? I was imposing a sordid picture on an eight year old’s crush. His love and adoration was pure, without malice or manipulation. Intuitively I knew that. But then I worried. What if other people didn’t know that? What if other adults thought that MY baby was inappropriately pursuing his camp counselor.

See where I’m going? Society is like that. Remember that five-year-old kindergartener in a Waco, Texas school. He hugged his teacher assistant and she accused him of touching her inappropriately.

A bigger concern, as a parent, was my child’s welfare. Would he move through this crush, through these intense feelings unscathed? How long would it take? What could I do to mitigate his pain?

After too much obsessing and neurosis, I decided it was time to contact an expert. I went to one of the best–Carleton Kendrick, a licensed therapist and author of Take Your Nose Ring Out, Honey. We’re Going to Grandma’s. He’s also the expert who visits the homes of various families in a series called “Let’s Fix Dinner.” In the series, Carleton emphasizes the importance of the dinner table and the benefits to the family dynamics.

Carleton Kendrick is a veritable source of sage wisdom, balanced approaches, and deep-seated compassion. To talk with him is liking eating a slice of warm homemade bread slathered with butter at grandma’s kitchen table. It’s comforting and so easy to swallow. And his advice, thoughtful and pragmatic, is easy to integrate in any parenting style.

The first bit of advice he shared was this. Children, even those as young as four, can feel love as intensely as an adult. When my son told me he loved Kelly the camp counselor and wanted to marry her, he was showing love the only way he knew how. His feelings weren’t any less intense than adult love and shouldn’t be reduced to “puppy love.”

Secondly, a parent’s role is not to impose a sordid or adult view on a child’s expression of love. If a child says he loves a teacher or a counselor, he doesn’t mean in adult terms to include physical intimacy. Young children aren’t developmental programmed to think of love in those terms. While it’s easy to jump to that conclusion, especially in our explicit society, it would be an erroneous assumption.

A parent's role is to help a child understand and identify his feelings.
A parent’s role is to help a child understand and identify his feelings.

A parent’s job is to help a child identify feelings associated with a crush, what labels he can use to identify those emotions, and socially healthy ways to express those feelings. I’m lucky. My son, child number thirteen in a blended family is fairly in touch with his feelings and quite expressive. He knows what he thinks, knows how he feels, doesn’t always understand those feelings, but he can express himself. The difficulty for me was helping him to understand the boundaries between his world as a camper and the adult world where his counselor resided. Over a family dinner, I applied Carleton’s advice.

When my son asked me to research his camp counselor’s home address so he could drop in for a visit, I looked at him, smiled, and redirected the conversation. “You know, I can see how much you enjoyed having Kelly (names have been changed to protect the unknowing) as a counselor. From all the things you tell me about her, she seems like a terrific counselor. I can see why you loved being at camp with her.”

As if the therapist had a mike in my son’s ear, my son said on cue, “Yeahhhhhh.” And then I added, “You know, I bet she loved being your counselor at camp too.” He nodded, forked some food into his mouth, and talked to his father about something completely unrelated. Needless to say, I was stunned!

Since that dinner, nearly a month ago, the subject of Kelly the camp counselor has come up only sporadically. My son’s requests for a play date or a video chat have also diminished. Occasionally, when talk of summer comes up, my son asks to return to the same summer camp. I get it. He hopes and prays to see her.

And I hope and pray he doesn’t have another crush on an adult or fall in love until he’s a little bit older. I’d like to enjoy and protect his childhood just a little bit longer.

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