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#askalyson: my kid feels the need to tell grandma about her sexuality

you may need a different level of privacy than your child, but it's important that they know you are not embarrassed or ashamed of them.

parenting: what to do when your child insists on coming out publicly
making your child feel loved and safe through a sexual orientation change is a priority. getty
dear alyson,
my daughter is 15 and last year she told me and her dad that she liked girls, which we were completely fine with. she seemed happy about the decision to ‘go public.’ but this summer, she announced at a family gathering that she is in fact attracted to both sexes. also fine, except i am wondering how to (or if i should) have a conversation with her about the fact that she shouldn’t feel that she has to ‘announce’ her sexuality. quite a few of her friends have also come out as different labels, and i worry that (a) it’s not real, but more of a peer pressure thing, (b) that maybe girls feel safer declaring that they don’t like boys because it allows them to negotiate these difficult relationships with less fear and (c) that i am not engaging her properly in these discussions, hence she feels the need to tell grandma that she likes to kiss girls. help!
 
i am glad your daughter has a supportive family and feels she can come out publicly. the process of coming out is different for each person and is in keeping with their own personality and feelings of safety. it’s the individual’s journey and decision to make, not their parents or anyone else for that matter. it’s a process that is ongoing because they keep meeting new people and that means there is also an extra step of deciding with whom and when to disclose their sexual orientation.

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there are also individual differences about how open and transparent people are about themselves on any personal matter. some people are just more private and less disclosing about themselves than others. perhaps you have a higher need for privacy than your daughter? perhaps you have a different boundary about what is private and what is public information? this can complicate matters that impact you both. she may be ready to come out to everyone, but you may not want to tell everyone your daughter is bisexual.
it’s important that parents put their children first. she could easily perceive your hesitancy in sharing as an indication that you are embarrassed or ashamed of her.
now to address your specific worries:

it’s not real, but more of a peer pressure thing. imagine declaring something as important as your sexual orientation and your parents didn’t believe you. since you don’t care one way or the other, back her up. if she is fluid and changes up what she is reporting to you — just go with the flow and let her know that you love her no matter what and thank her for the update.

that maybe girls feel safer declaring that they don’t like boys because it allows them to negotiate these difficult relationships with less fear. there has been a lot of research on this topic that i suggest you dig into. there are certainly unchangeable biological factors, as well as social factors in understanding and expressing our sexual orientation. different people have different journeys, but none should be dismissed as “you were just going through a phase,” or you are “just feeling safer with women.” this still carries an implied message that is belittling to their reality. keep talking to adults in the lgbtq2+ community and hear their stories. find parenting groups online and in social media and keep learning and supporting one another together.

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that i am not engaging her properly in these discussions, hence she feels the need to tell grandma that she likes to kiss girls. i wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that you’re not doing a good job of being her confidante just because she is talking to grandma. many teens talk to other trusted adults in their lives. in fact, they often will talk to anyone other than their parents — that doesn’t mean you’re not close or not doing a good job. in fact, teens often want their parents to hold them in high regard so they prefer to do their dumping and sorting of their inner world with someone else so they can present the resolved or polished version of themselves to their most important attachment figures.

 
alyson schafer is one of canada’s leading parenting experts. have a parenting questions? she can be reached at hello@alysonschafer.com or on social media @alysonschafer.
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