It was just an innocent slumber party -two 16-year-old girls eating pizza, dancing to Beyonce and giggling over boys, the same way I did with my friends at that age, except back then we were dancing to Fleetwood Mac. But I soon realised I'd unwittingly put my daughter in bed with the object of her affection when her sleepover buddy came out to me in a series of text messages.
"I hope you don't care I like girls. . . .I'm not going to tell my mom. . . .She thinks it's a choice. . . ."
Oh, to be the trusted confidante of a teenage girl! My heart and, let's face it, my ego were thrilled.
But then I thought: Hadn't she and my daughter just double dated to homecoming with boys? Then she texted that it would be different if she didn't have a girlfriend. I pondered that text for a moment before the light bulb went off. That girlfriend was my daughter and they just had a sleepover.
I guess I should have figured it out. Two years earlier, I'd walked in on my daughter with another girl. Her bedroom door was shut, the room was dark, and the two of them looked sheepish when I peeked in. That friend was a known troublemaker and I didn't trust her. Unexpectedly and unbidden, she'd blurted out, "I'm not gay or anything!"
"Okay. . ." I said, as I turned to leave my daughter's room, making a point of leaving the door wide open and turning on the lights in the hallway. That girl came and went a few times throughout high school, usually leaving some kind of upheaval in her wake. I'm fairly certain that at some point she broke my daughter's heart at least a little bit, but at the time, I didn't understand what I was walking into. Whether it was denial or cluelessness on my part, I didn't know it was significant.
Now that I was putting the pieces together I felt deflated. My kid was being outed. I wasn't going to freak out like the other mum, but I was hurt that my daughter hadn't told me herself.
Now that I was putting the pieces together I felt deflated. My kid was being outed. I wasn't going to freak out like the other mum, but I was hurt that my daughter hadn't told me herself. I guess I wasn't such a trusted confidante after all.
"Are you her girlfriend?" I took a deep breath and asked my daughter after school the next day.
"Yes," she answered, coyly.
"Why didn't you tell me, honey? Were you scared?"
"Not really scared," she said. "Just trying to find the right time."
So what changes when your teenage daughter has a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend? I had no precedent for this, no decree set down by my own parents or anyone else I knew. I'd had gay high school classmates, but they weren't really "out" and no one was paired up publicly. I wouldn't have dared bring a boy into my room while I was in high school. Do the same house rules apply to same-sex relationships? If two teenage girls want to be treated like any other couple, doesn't that mean we should leave the bedroom door open and demand that all four feet remain on the floor? Otherwise, aren't we guilty of fostering a double standard?
There were parents in our community who allowed co-ed slumber parties and bought beer for their kids - I wasn't one of them. I wasn't a super strict parent, but I never would have given permission for my daughter to have a sleepover with a 16-year-old boy. Why would I be okay with her having a girlfriend stay? I thought about the differences. The most obvious is the potential for pregnancy, which, besides potential unfortunate social stigma, leads to life-altering decisions about abortion, adoption and teen parenthood.
I never would have given permission for my daughter to have a sleepover with a 16-year-old boy. Why would I be okay with her having a girlfriend stay?
With the likelihood of babies off the table, what else mattered? Hormones are hormones and the heart wants what the heart wants, and that's where her relationship with this girl was just like any other. But what remained the same was the maturity level and broken hearts. I talked with my daughter (well, it was probably more of a lecture) about how, early in relationships, it's easy to confuse desire for love; and that, just because our bodies feel like they're ready for sex, it doesn't mean our heads and our hearts are prepared. It was the same talk I'd had with her older brother, the same one I'd have if she were dating a boy - except with her I didn't talk about condoms.
"If you get physically close to someone when you're not emotionally mature enough to handle it, you can get hurt," I said.
"It's not like that, Mum," my daughter said. And maybe it wasn't like that yet, but one day, with someone, it would be. Just like any mother, I want to protect my kids from heartbreak. But, of course, we can't and probably shouldn't even if we could. First forays into love and sex, gay or straight, are painful but necessary teachers. How else do we learn about boundaries, trust and resilience?
Also like other teen relationships, regardless of sexuality, teen trysts tend to flame out quickly. So while the smoldering embers of that romance burned my daughter without discrimination, I got a reprieve on figuring out my house rules for same sex relationships.
After my daughter turned 18, I let her next girlfriend spend the night. I wouldn't have been so hospitable to a young man in her bed, so I'm definitely guilty of having a double standard. It's one I can live with though, because I don't want her to be sneaky and secretive. And, more than anything, I don't want my daughter to ever be ashamed of whom she loves.
Mary Novaria writes about family, friendship and everyday life on her blog, A Work in Progress, and recently completed a memoir about life in the sandwich generation. She tweets @marynovaria.
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