Discipline Without Driving Away


Discipline Without Driving Away

by Julie Tarney

My 14-year-old daughter came out to me right after her freshman year of high school ended. It was shocking to my husband and me, and we’ve been giving her space. She’s been hanging out with “friends” a lot this summer, and it’s starting to feel like she’s home less and less and I don’t know where she is, who she’s with, or what she’s doing. I’m worried if I try to be a stern parent and keep her home, I’ll scare her away. How can I be a good parent while also giving her freedom?
— Anonymous

Julie Says:

I can understand you and your husband being shocked by your daughter’s news. Many parents have a similar reaction when their child comes out to them – whether that child is in grade school, in high school, or is an adult. It can take time to process and adjust to unexpected news, especially if it’s a development you never even considered. In fact, I wonder if that “space” you’ve been giving her isn’t what you and your husband needed versus what you think she needed. 

I’m not sure how her coming out unfolded. Ideally you embraced her, told her you loved her no matter what, and thanked her for sharing her true self with you. But if you were too stunned, there’s a chance she’s been questioning your reaction. Now that some time has passed and you and your husband have had a chance to sort out your feelings, you want her closer and around home more, and you want to be part of her active, everyday life again. So you need to tell her that. 

Two-way communication is key to any healthy parent-child relationship. It’s especially important during the teen years, because that’s when boundaries widen to encompass dating, driving, and curfews. And you don’t have to be stern to be concerned and loving parents.

Your daughter is still your daughter. You’ve just learned something about her that you didn’t know before. I think she’ll welcome some renewed and heartfelt dialogue. I’d encourage you to start by being honest, admitting that her news took you by surprise and that you needed some time to process it. She needs to know that you will always love her for who she is. 

I noticed you put quote marks around the word friends. It makes me wonder if maybe you’re not accepting of the friends she’s hanging out with this summer because you think they might be gay. Let me assure you that your daughter is going to have a mix of friends, some who may be gay and some who may be straight.  And as society’s homophobic fears continue to subside, that will be the experience a lot of kids have.

Please keep in mind also that her coming out to you was an act of love and trust. She wanted you to know who she is. And that’s not an easy thing for a teenager to do. In fact, she probably had to work up to it, wondering whether you’d accept her or reject her, afraid you might not love her anymore. You may not know that 40% of all homeless youth are gay, because their parents didn’t want them after they came out. 

Any parent who’s concerned with giving her 14-year-old daughter her freedom deserves some praise. The summer after freshman year is not always an easy time for parents. But for your daughter, finishing the first year of high school is a big deal. She knows the ropes, she has friends, and she’s come out to her parents. 

Ideally, your daughter will find your conversation with her about keeping communication open and understanding your responsibilities as parents to be reasonable. Here are some suggested talking points for you:

1. While it’s taken some time to process her news, you love her for who she is, and you always will. You appreciate her honesty with you. You respect her individuality. You’re proud of her accomplishments. And you want her to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life.

2. You’ve missed spending time with her: family meals, outings, going to the movies—whatever you all enjoy doing together, and you want to make some plans to see each other more. And you’d like to get to know her friends, too. You want them to feel welcome in your home.

3. You trust her to have common sense and good judgment when out with her friends, but she is still 14 and you’re still responsible for her safety. It’s reasonable as her parents to want to know where she is, whom she’s with and what she’s doing. If she’s going to a party at a friend’s house, it’s logical to ask if a parent or adult will be there. And it’s okay for you to talk to the parents of her friends. 

4. If she has friends who drive, remind her that she should not get into a car with someone who’s been drinking. She can always call you for a ride, no questions asked.

5. Agree on a curfew of when she needs to be home. And if she’s not home by that time, or decides she’s going to sleep at a friend’s house, she needs to text or call you with where she is.

6. You will always love her for who she is. (Because you really can’t say that too often.)

Julie Tarney is an advocate for LGBTQIA youth, speaker and author. Her award-winning memoir, My Son Wears Heels: One Mom’s Journey from Clueless to Kickass (University of Wisconsin Press 2016) and blog of the same name are about her experiences raising a gender nonconforming child in the Midwest in the 1990s and what she learned from him along the way about gender identity, gender expression and self-acceptance. Julie is a board member for the It Gets Better Project, blogs for HuffPost Queer Voices and is an active member of PFLAG NYC’s Safe Schools program. Her book won Bronze in the 2016 INDIES Book of the Year Awards. A longtime resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Julie now lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she can often be found cheering in the audience at her creative director and sometimes-drag-artist son Harry’s performances.

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