“I’m a mom to two wonderful girls. Tonight my husband thinks that my 14-year old told him that she was gay—I say “thinks” because they were talking about an awesome story she’s writing where there are gay characters, and it just sort of got smashed into the conversation and he didn’t ask for clarification. Now I’m not sure if I should ask her. Would that be prying? Should I wait for her to bring it up again? Both my husband and I are supportive, regardless of the answer. Thank you.”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Carmella Van Vleet
First of all, thank you for being the kind of caring parents who are asking questions and who are open to your daughter’s answers! I’d also like to commend you on the fact your daughter is willing to share her writing with you and your husband. As someone who began writing at a young age, I know how scary sharing your work can be. Especially if you’re doing so because you’re hoping to start a conversation about a potentially difficult subject.
Obviously, there’s no way for me to know if your daughter was actually trying to come out. But since you think she was because it “got smashed into the conversation,” let’s assume this was your daughter’s intent. Now what?
You know your daughter best, but as a mother of three mostly grown children (the youngest of which is gay) and a former teacher, I can tell you that kids often tell us things— sometimes even really important things—a little bit a time. It takes courage to tell a loved one something big about ourselves, and this is true regardless of how we think they’re going to react. Because, let’s face it, being vulnerable is scary for all of us. Some of us are “rip the Band-Aid off” kinds of people and some of us prefer to slowly remove the bandage.
My daughter, for instance, opted to ease into her newly discovered identity as gay. When she was around your daughter’s age, she was assigned a report in her social studies class in which she was asked to write about a cause she was passionate about. She chose gay rights. She shared her research with me along the way and then read me the final report. This was a year before she decided to come out to her friends at school and two years before she confessed to me that she liked girls. Unlike you and your husband, I missed her trying to find a way into the conversation. (Then again, I also saw her routinely kiss one of her friends on the cheek and never put two and two together!)
But if I was in your shoes and had noticed what she was trying to say, or thought she might be trying to tell me something, I think I would have done a little careful leading to let her know where I stood. For instance, you might try causally bringing up her story. (I find that having conversations during a car ride or while cooking or otherwise busy works well for me and my kids; being able to avoid eye contact makes them more comfortable.) Tell her how much you liked it. Or you could mention an LGBT news story you heard or read about. Make sure your openness to the issue is clear. Maybe that tiny open door will be all she needs to share more. Follow her lead. If she says something that might suggest she identifies as gay, then take this new opportunity to ask for clarification. This isn’t prying; it’s just creating an open space for conversation.
It’s possible your daughter was working her way up to making an announcement. Then again, it’s also entirely possible that she thinks she already did! After all, you suspect that as well. So you could also take the direct approach. (For what it’s worth, this is what my own daughter suggested you do when I asked for her advice.) Just ask her. What’s the worse that could happen—she could roll her eyes at you? Big deal. I’m guessing that’s nothing new. And if she’s offended, apologize or use some humor by playing the Parent Card. I’ve successfully used the line, “Sorry! I have to be noisy. It’s in the Parental Contract I signed when you were born,” many times.
Whatever you decide, I don’t think you can really go wrong. In the end, it’s better for our kids to think we care too much than to believe we don’t care at all.
Carmella Van Vleet is a wife, former teacher, and the mother of three young people (ages 22, 20 and 18) who she thinks are pretty cool despite the fact they insisted on growing up. Carmella is also a full-time children’s author who’s committed to including LGBTQ families in her work whenever possible. You can visit her at www.carmellavanvleet.com.
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