It is funny how as a mother to 3 children, I still have moments when I feel like a brand-new parent. I think most parents can relate to this feeling every time their child enters into a new stage of development. Just as you finally get the hang of the baby stage, you have to face toddler tantrums. Before you know it, the time has come for preschool, and then you have to navigate the school years.
That’s when the real fun begins, the more seasoned parents will tell you with a scoff as they sip their coffee. This is the stage I find myself in—the final years of primary school, just before my daughter moves to high school and becomes…a teenager.
The preteen era has me flapping around like in those first days when I had a newborn on my hands, trying to navigate completely new issues without the handbook. This phase was notable for the discussions on how my daughter could express her individuality, for conversations on changing bodies and ways to protect ourselves from others. However, our most recent conversation really threw me for a loop.
Parental surprises never stop
The discussion began via text message when my daughter was spending the night at her father’s house. Out of the blue, with no introductory statement, my daughter texted me, ‘Well, since dad isn’t supportive, I’m not telling him, but I like girls and boys.”
So, my daughter says she’s bisexual. I remembered reading this message and thinking for a while before I replied. What exactly did she mean there? Likes them as friends or romantically? Does she even know what that statement means at her age?
Of all the things that could happen on my Friday night, I was least expecting my daughter to say she is bisexual. I know that the topic of teen sexuality will be coming up soon, but I’ve been banking on having a few more years before crossing that bridge. After all, at what age does a child know their sexuality? Obviously, I was thrust into this conversation much sooner than expected. There were two main things I was mentally trying to cover before responding to the message.
How to react when your child comes out
The first issue for me was whether my daughter intellectually understood this sexual orientation or was trying to say something else. Saying you like boys and girls as an 8-year-old who wants to have both as friends is something completely different from an 18-year-old coming out as bisexual. At that point, teaching my children about sexuality hadn’t really been a thought process because thus far, I was lucky to get them to play with the opposite gender in the first place. I often think parents automatically assume sexual orientation in children is based on gender norms or their own perceptions, and I doubt many consider bisexual kids.
The second issue for me was making sure that regardless of how I felt about this, her feelings were the most important thing. I had heard stories of how not to react when your child comes out, but I didn’t remember any stories about how you should react when they do. I knew this could be a big moment for an individual, and your parent’s reaction when you come out can permanently scar or change you for life. Additionally, I didn’t want to close down the lines of communication with her at this very early and important stage by reacting in a way she would perceive as judgmental.
I asked myself how I actually felt about this. Assuming she was indeed talking about sexual orientation, what would I feel if I find out that my child is bisexual? Honestly, the best way I can describe my reaction is as a sort of an internal shrug. Her liking boys or girls or both really made no difference to me or the way I felt about her.
I didn’t worry about her being bullied or succumb to other fears many of today’s parents have. I simply thought that as long as she was happy and felt comfortable expressing herself to me without judgment, I was happy, too. When I finally texted back, my brilliantly eloquent reply was, ‘And?’
She shared a few worries she had about telling me and her dad. When I simply asked her, “What made you decide that?” she said, “I don’t know. Because boys are starting to get a bit annoying.” Honestly, even as a woman in her 30s, I can’t disagree with that. I simply agreed with her and then told her, “Well, I love you no matter what, so if you like boys or girls, it doesn’t matter one bit to me.”
Opening the lines of communication
When she returned home the next day, we made dinner and discussed this a bit further. I questioned her a little about her understanding of what it meant to like boys and girls and our definitions of what a boyfriend or a girlfriend is. The whole conversation revolved more around an intellectual understanding and her curiosity, with no judgments passed regardless of her choices.
Right now, I think it isn’t so much a defined sexual orientation because she’s still young enough for these relationships to be more about who you like to hang out with than who you want to love. However, I deem this a defining moment in our relationship. It showed an openness between us, and my reaction has paved the way for her to come to me in the future. My daughter knows that whether she’s straight, gay, or bisexual, it really doesn’t matter because I love her for who she is, not for her sexual orientation.