Q: I saw your column last fall on same sex relationships. I’ve reached a peace about this with my daughter, but the other’s girl’s family doesn’t know. My daughter says I can’t tell them because this will cause all kinds of problems for the girl. I am torn as to what my responsibility is here. I know how to enforce the rules at home about sexual contact, but doesn’t the other parent have a right to know?
Samantha: I can see why you want to make sure your daughter is well supervised, but, unfortunately, it’s really not your place to drag your daughter’s girlfriend out of the closet and certainly not to her parents. Coming out to one’s family is a huge step for anyone, and, if this girl is not ready yet, you don’t have the right to do it for her. Doing so could cause permanent damage to your relationship with your daughter, with your daughter’s girlfriend, and even with the girlfriend’s parents. You may be accepting of your daughter’s sexual preference, but not all parents respond well to this kind of news.
Here’s what you can do. Encourage the girl to come out to her parents. Be a sounding board for both of them. Be especially generous and offer to let the girlfriend rehearse coming out to you. You can also find out more about her parents so you can gauge how difficult it will be for the girl. Help strategize the right time and place to talk to her parents about her sexuality. Advise her to come out to a close aunt or family friend first if she thinks she might need an ally. Though you offer to serve as her ally by mediating that discussion, that choice would be risky. If her parents are going to react badly to the news, they probably won’t want to listen to her new girlfriend’s parents. Just be supportive, and, if the opportunity presents itself, let your daughter’s girlfriend know that her parents will love her no matter what and will eventually realize that the personal qualities they love have not changed just because she is a lesbian.
You will need to set guidelines with your daughter and her girlfriend about where and when they can hang out, especially given the other parents don’t know. Parents have the right to limit time spent alone in the house with girl- or boyfriends. Her parents, won’t set those limits because they’re still in the dark. Let your daughter and her girlfriend know that, until both sets of parents know, you would prefer that they spend most of their time at your house, where you will welcome the girlfriend. If you are like most parents and would not let your daughter have sleepovers with a boyfriend, you can make the same rule for her girlfriend.
Finally, I’d like to commend you for accepting your daughter for who she is and trying to meet her needs. I’m sure your daughter appreciates your support.
Wes: I’m a big believer that teen dating is a team effort. Unless a dating partner is downright dangerous (and some are), parents should try and welcome their children’s romantic interests into the home. This works for two reasons. First, it’s simply the right thing to do to maintain influence over your child. At this age influence is everything. Second, saying “no” is the quickest way to fascinate your kid with the very people you despise. “No” is a necessary and powerful word in parenting. Choose wisely when and how you use it. As you’ve already figured out, this is not one of those times. If the girlfriend is a good person, cares about your daughter and has her best interests at heart — as much can any teenager — your support of the relationship is well founded.
However, just as Samantha suggests, teamwork explicitly does not extend to your daughter’s girlfriend’s family. I realize this is one heck of a dilemma creating a host of issues you’ve never even considered before, but stop and think for a moment how much more complicated it is for this girl. I cannot stress enough how bad an idea it is to rat this girl out to her folks. If she were at imminent risk of harm, using hard drugs, drinking and driving, having unprotected intercourse, I’d tell you to drop a dime on her. But the decision to reveal her sexual orientation is hers alone, and based on considerable experience, the outcome is far from predictable. The one demographic of teens that is actually at a higher than average risk of suicide is gay teens. Many homeless teens are gay, having been thrown out of their family homes for no other reason than that. Even serious estrangement is catastrophic for a youth at this juncture in her life. Even if you knew for a fact that her parents wouldn’t go down one of those roads, you are not in a position to accept responsibility for that choice.
I realize certain religious persuasions see homosexuality as constituting imminent risk, but that debate extends beyond the scope of this column. For our purposes, you do not have sufficient cause to out this girl, and I hope you will choose not to. Sam’s advice on how to handle the relationship in your home is wise. The kindness you show your daughter and her girlfriend now will come back to you as she ages and comes to realize how fortunate she is to have parents who took this time in her life seriously and sensitively.
Next week: If someone says they have suicidal thoughts but are smart enough to know its not the right thing to do, what should I do?
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a senior at Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.