Q: How do you recommend handling same-sex sleepovers when your 13-year-old daughter identifies as gay? She and her best friend might be more than friends (she’s implied such when I’ve gently asked), so I don’t know how to handle them hanging out alone, either after school when no adults are home or during sleepovers when the adults are asleep.
A: When I first read this, I began to go down an LGBTQ+ rabbit hole and found information you could learn from (and I will still provide you with resources), but that isn’t what is needed here. This isn’t a matter of “gay” or “straight” sleepovers. This is about two main issues: your family values and communication with your young teen.
I am going to guess that you didn’t grow up with many examples of how to parent gay youth; I know I certainly didn’t. I also don’t think I would have gotten a question like this eight years ago, let alone two. The landscape of considerations for parents when it comes to sleepovers and romance is changing, but don’t overcomplicate it. Your young teen, gay or straight, still needs to know what values are important in your family, and the responsibility is on you to communicate them.
First, sit down with yourself and/or your partner or spouse and take a beat. Acknowledge that you need to reassess your parenting while you head into these teen years, and understand that there is nothing wrong with that. You are not expected to be ahead of the curve on parenting, because that’s impossible.
Let’s instead consider your family values, so you can be a better communicator with your young teen. There are many ways to assess your values, which will change over time. I recommend using the downloadable guide “Living Into Our Values” by Brené Brown (brenebrown.com). (She also has a podcast episode to teach you how to use the guide.)
You should also search “list of values” online, then choose your top five. You and your partner don’t need to have matching choices, but seeing them allows you to discuss where you overlap when it comes to your children. For instance, I value independence, and my spouse values community, so we would discuss how to bring those together. How are we living these values, and how are we transmitting them? To dive deeper into this, check out the Center for Parenting Education for more exercises (centerforparentingeducation.org). If you are a single parent, this activity is just as important.
The point of clarifying your values is this: Teens can smell nonsense a mile away. If you are operating from a place of fear, uncertainty, bias, misinformation or generalized worry, you won’t be able to communicate with your teen. Without solid values, you will shoot from the hip, make threats, shut down or give up, and that is not parenting from a place of power. Your goal is to raise a healthy young adult who values her body and sexuality and who has healthy boundaries, so you want to promote conversation that is clear and collaborative. You therefore have to do your best to kick (some of) your fear to the curb.
As for how you handle this, that’s up to you. You can be 100 percent supportive of her identity while also saying: “I’m uncomfortable with romantic interests spending the night. But I am supportive with a sleep-under, and we can make that fun.” Or say: “I’m okay with this sleepover, but I would like her to stay in the guest room.” This issue isn’t about your daughter being gay, per se; it’s about her maturity and the appropriateness of thrusting her into emotional and physical situations that she may not be ready for.
Whether you are talking about having overnights or hanging out after school, I would suggest having an honest conversation with your daughter. You can outline your concerns, then take a moment to listen to her. The great news is that she trusts you enough to have come out, so keep that connection going. There is no reason for you to make this decision unilaterally. Please see your daughter as a collaborator.
Finally, continue discussing puberty and sexuality. Again, you already have a connection with her based on trust (I hope), so check in with information, but lead by listening. Our culture is largely based on sex education and anecdotes for those who are cisgender, so consider reaching out for support from people such as Uchenna Umeh, a.k.a. Dr. Lulu, a retired pediatrician who specializes in helping parents of LGBTQ+ youth; listening to podcasts; and picking up books to help you. Good luck.
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