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January 31, 2023

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 104

How Do I Support My LGBTQ+ Daughter?

Episode 104

A teen confides to her mother that she is gay but doesn’t want her dad to know. Her mother writes the Ask Lisa podcast with several questions: How can parents best support teens who identify as LGBTQ+? Is it right to hold information from the other parent? How should the family handle sleepovers with same-sex peers? Dr. Lisa explains how worried kids can be when they come out to their parents; Reena asks how parents should respond if they wonder if their child is going through a phase. Dr. Lisa addresses how sexual identities sometimes evolve over time, and Reena becomes emotional while processing how isolating it must be for parents who are raising kids in communities that might not be supportive of their child. Dr. Lisa offers guidance and resources.

January 31, 2023 | 32 min

Transcript | How Do I Support My LGBTQ+ Daughter?

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 104: How Do I Support My LGBTQ+ Daughter?

The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

The following transcript has been automatically generated by an AI system and should be used for informational purposes only. We cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided.

——

Reena Ninan
One of my favorite things about this podcast is that we talk about things that might not necessarily affect your own child, but it creates awareness for your community and how you can deal with things. But there’s a lot of people grappling with this about how to support a child who comes out as being gay.

Lisa Damour
You know, this is something that is part of family life for a lot of families. And it’s something that you want to do a really good job with. As a parent.

Reena Ninan
It’s such an important issue to talk about, because even if your child isn’t going through it, like I said, it really helps to know what other parents are dealing with and what works to support other families. So this is a letter we got Lisa, it says, my amazing 13 year old girl confided in me that she’s by may be lesbian and has a crush on a girl. I told her that of course, I support her 100% No matter what. And then I’m so glad she felt comfortable enough to tell me, she does not want to tell her father anyone else in the family yet. She’s not as close to her dad as she is with me. Though I’m completely confident he will be equally supportive. However, this is new territory for me. And I’m finding myself at a loss as I navigate things like talking to her about sex and making rules for sleepovers. For example, she’s always loved having sleepovers with her girlfriends. And now, I’m not sure if this changes anything. How do I talk to her about sex? If I know little about same sex relationships, or sexual intercourse, we also live in a rural, somewhat conservative community we’re coming out is a different kind of proposition than it is if we lived in the city. There aren’t a lot of local resources available for either of us. And I’m of course worried about the social and even safety implications for her. What advice can you give me as I do my best to support her? Thank you so much for your podcast and all the incredible advice you give. I feel so emotional reading this. It’s what this man is going through. I didn’t know I could be this emotional, but wow.

Lisa Damour
Well, and as I listen, I’m like, I can’t believe the letters we get like I actually like that people are so thoughtful and really, in some ways they make our jobs so easy because the thinking that goes into what they’re sharing with us is spectacular. So I just remarkable kudos

Reena Ninan
first off to this mom for writing because you realize how under resourced and this is why you started this podcast. Lisa, you wanted to democratize mental health. Yes. Okay. I’m gonna pull it together because this.

Lisa Damour
It’s important. You got it. We got it. We can do it. No,

Reena Ninan
thank you. Well, first off, I want to start with what is your advice from the get go for this mom, and she’s dealing with so many issues. Well, I

Lisa Damour
can tell from this letter, her instincts are fabulous. And she’s already done all the right things that I would recommend. You know, she has taken it in stride. She’s made it clear that she is supportive. She’s made it clear that she will work with her daughter to try to make sense of this. But she’s also seeking help, right? She is asking around. And actually one of the things I really love about our podcast and you’re right, like I really wanted to make mental health content more available to more people, but also me so people can ask questions they can ask their neighbor, right? I think of our friends. Yeah, the mom in this letter, you know, she’s telling us like, this isn’t something I can advertise in my community. So it means the world to me that she felt she could turn to us for some help. So what I would say is, when kids bring up questions like this, follow this mom’s lead in order, she seems like she’s been so kind and supportive, and really open to seeing this as a process and a journey and something that they’re going to sort through over time, she’s asking us questions about what that journey might look like,

Reena Ninan
that’s so good. Because whenever I have a problem, like, Let’s blow through this, let’s get this knocked out and move this behind us. But you’re saying, you’ve got to start with a mindset, this is a process, this is going to take a while, and it’s not going to get resolved quickly.

Lisa Damour
Absolutely. And one of the metaphors actually, that comes up in my new book around kids and sexual orientation and gender identity is they are in the driver’s seat, and you are along for the ride. You cannot tell your kid what their sexual orientation is going to be, you cannot tell your kid what their gender identity is going to be. But you want a nice spot in that passenger seat where you have an ongoing working relationship. As your child figures out where this orientation or gender car is headed. You are along for the ride, you want to be a great co pilot.

Reena Ninan
So start from the beginning, Lisa, your child comes forward? And finally has the courage to tell you, Mom, I might be gay or bi. How should a parent respond?

Lisa Damour
Well, I love that you in that question reminded us of something that I think parents can readily forget that it may be terrifying for a kid to share this information. And one thing that I know from the research on this right now, that is counterintuitive, but makes sense when you hear it is that when we look at kids who struggle to tell their parents about a non traditional sexual orientation, or gender identity, it’s in fact often harder for kids who feel really close with their parent, because they have a lot to lose. Kids who feel pretty disengaged from their parent not that connected, don’t get as stressed about sharing the information because they don’t feel like there’s a lot of cost to it. Whereas you get the sense from this letter that there’s real closeness between this mom and daughter, which, ironically, or strangely, may have made it even harder for this girl, her mom no. And so I think all the more reason that if we can in these moments when kids come forward with these things, to just say, I’m so glad you’re letting me know, that’s a great place to start. Oh my gosh, I

Reena Ninan
hadn’t even thought of that. But, you know, I think some parents think we’re so close. We’re so close. It took them so long. But you’re actually saying the child is processing this? Like, what if they don’t like this, and I lose this connection, which is huge.

Lisa Damour
Exactly. Like the cost is high. Because we are so close. If this doesn’t go the way I’m hoping it’ll go.

Reena Ninan
Okay, so step one, acknowledging the courage that it took is big.

Lisa Damour
Yeah, saying I’m so glad you told me. I think I’m so glad you told me and like, I hope you weren’t worried about how I would react, right might be a way to sort of say or like maybe that that was really brave of you to tell me but I want you to know, you have nothing to be worried about something like that.

Reena Ninan
That’s awesome. So you’re talking about the relationship there and how important it is. And the mom acknowledges that they’re very close, but not as close with the dad. Do you think this should continue to be a secret from the father?

Lisa Damour
Okay, so this is an interesting thing that comes up in family life. And I don’t know if it’s come up in your family yet. But it’s come up in mine, where a kid will tell you something like I’m telling you this, but don’t tell that right? Or Don’t tell mom. And in general, I’m not a huge fan of secret keeping within families. You know, in general, one of the rules I learned in my training is if there are teams in a family, parents are on one team, kids are on another team, like those teams can have their private conversations, but there shouldn’t be private conversations that happen across team. That said, I can tell you as a parent, kids can be very kind of squidgy about romantic stuff and only want to share it with one parent. And I have felt like, there’s real value in keeping that line of communication open and your kid feeling like they can come to you. And if it’s not about harm, and if it’s not about damage, and if you feel like you can handle it really well on your own. I think it’s one of those moments. And we come across this so much in our podcast, where you’re trading off one thing against another. So ideally, I don’t love the idea of secret keeping between married couples or you know, partnered spouses. On the other hand, we really want kids to feel like they can come to us with stuff that’s very closely held and delicate. And if there’s not some huge reason that it has to be shared, I would sort of allow that possibility that the open channel of communication is worth it. Even if it means keeping something private for a while.

Reena Ninan
So so if I hear you correctly, you’re saying, work through the relationship first, this this moment before telling dad,

Lisa Damour
I think what I would do is I would say something like, I’m willing to keep this from your dad, because I really hear you that you’re anxious about how he’s going to react. And I also love that this parent has told us that she knows that he’ll be okay with it, you know that that’s something that is a huge, right in all of this. But I, I think that probably over time, I don’t think it has to happen right away, it might be worth saying, at some point, we’re gonna get your dad in as part of this conversation. But it doesn’t have to be today. And again, that idea of like process process process, like goes slowly take one step at a time. I think it’s okay, for now, given what else we know about the situation, to honor this girl’s request. She’s just figuring out how to be this person in the world to talk about a more freely, I don’t think we have to force her to tell everybody all at once, or certainly the whole family.

Reena Ninan
When do you know that it’s time to tell your partner or the other parent?

Lisa Damour
I don’t know. I mean, maybe if there was an issue raised or something where you’re like, now this is getting kind of delicate. I think a lot of that comes down to the nature of that marriage, the nature of that relationship.

Reena Ninan
But ultimately, you see value in waiting a second pausing for a beat to work through with the child with the parent to they really trust and have a little bit of extra maybe credit built in the banquet.

Lisa Damour
I do. And I think the reason I say that is like, well, let’s consider the alternative, right? Let’s consider the alternative of the parents like No, no, I do not keep secrets into my marriage. Like, we got to tell your dad and the kids like, Darn, like, I wish I hadn’t told you. And now I’m not telling you anything else, right? That’s a really high cost outcome. I would rather avoid that high cost outcome with a lower cost imperfect solution, which is, for now, I’m willing to keep this between us. But at some point, your dad is going to need to be part of this conversation.

Reena Ninan
So I want to ask you a little bit about the sleepover rules, I thought was a great question that mom asks, what do you do when you’ve had sleepovers with the same sex growing up, obviously, and then you just don’t kind of understand? What’s your advice for that?

Lisa Damour
I have dealt with this in my practice. It is such an interesting conversation to have with parents are like, What am I supposed to do? Right? This kid that I always thought was just like her good buddy is now coming over. They’re going in their room or room, they’re closing the door. Like, I wouldn’t want to do this with a guy like is this okay with a girl? It’s a real dilemma for same sex, romance in families when kids are bringing friends home. Here’s my advice. involved, this is always my advice, involve the kid in a conversation about what to do. Right. So I would have the parents say, Okay, I’m not quite sure what to make of sleepovers. I don’t know, you know, what the romantic landscape is? I want to be mindful that I probably at 13 wouldn’t have you have boys over for a sleepover. So because of the kind of romantic possibilities or physical possibilities? Yeah, what about having girls over for a sleepover? Here’s what a kid is very likely to say, oh, man, what are you talking about? Like, these are my friends. There’s no romantic charge there. There’s nothing happening there. And the kids probably right. It’s probably telling the truth. Absolutely. And I would say, unless you have a reason not to, again, you probably want to go with a lower cost option, which is saying, all right, I trust you. And I trust that there is no, you know, physical stuff gonna happen at the sleepover. I also trust that if you do get to a place where you, there might be a physical possibility that you’re going to be straightforward with me that this is a crush, or this is a potential romance. And we’ll take that when it comes. So I’m not going to make it weird. You can still have girlfriends over for sleepovers. But you’re also going to keep an open line of communication with me about when it’s not just a friend. I think, again, it’s so interesting, as we talk it through, there are no perfect solutions. There are higher and low cost responses. You know, I think the higher cost option is if the parent says, Well, if you might be lesbian, or bi, we can have girls sleeping over anymore. End of story. Again, that’s a pretty severe reaction that will almost certainly do a lot more harm than good.

Reena Ninan
Wow. So at least what if it is someone more than just a friend coming over? How do you deal with that?

Lisa Damour
Okay, this is a really interesting one. I think that the same rules apply for heterosexual as they would for kids who are not heterosexual. What are your family rules about when there is, you know, a possibility of physicality and it’s happening in your house under your roof? There are a lot of parents who are like, you’re not going in your room with your bedroom and closing in your bedroom with your boyfriend and closing the door. Right? And you can make the same rules. If you have those rules for heterosexual kids. You should make the same rules for kids who are not straight, which is like, that’s fine, but like our house is not where you’re going to work out your physical life. that may be where some parents stand. And I think they should make it clear. We’re not making those rules, because it’s two girls, we’re making those rules, because we wouldn’t let you do that with anybody. There are other parents who are like, I don’t know, should I allow it? Should I, you know, be okay with it, regardless of the, you know, sex or gender of the person who they’re with? And I think that’s something parents need to sort out. But the question I would want them to be weighing as they sort that out is, how would I feel if my kid went to somebody else’s house, and that parent knowingly allowed them to engage in all sorts of physical behavior while the parent was home, you’ve got to interrogate that and yourself, when making the decision about how much you’re going to allow in your own home, because now you have somebody else’s kid in your house, somebody else is involved in this. And if you’re thinking, You know what, they’re gonna do it anyway, they might as well do it here. That can be your reasoning, but then you have to wonder how the other parents gonna feel about that too. And sort that piece out for yourself. And maybe I don’t know, with the other parent, hard to know.

Reena Ninan
I think sometimes it’s really hard when parents just don’t know much about same sex relationships, the physicality of it and how it works. So this is great advice to help us understand how to protect.

Lisa Damour
Yeah, and I think again, doing this one, Rena, same sex, opposite sex, it gets two big questions about where we are when our kids are getting physical, and what we tacitly allow in our homes. And also the reality that like, if kids want to make out with each other, they can find a place to do it, the parent doesn’t have to actually provide the space for it.

Reena Ninan
This is very true. You know, Lisa, you were talking a little bit about sex, right? How do you talk to sex? The mom is asking in this letter, she’s just not familiar with same sex relationships. If you’re not familiar with how it works, how do you talk to your kids about sex?

Lisa Damour
Great question. Right. So one question is How much are kids talking to us about sex in general wanting our input wanting or advice. Often they’re not they’re often getting their information elsewhere. But what I would say is that there are such good resources here that this mom has teed up so beautifully that she can share with her daughter. So you know, I love shafa looms work. She wrote sex teens and everything in between. It is wildly inclusive. It’s a terrific book. So I would be probably probably the first thing I would do as this mom is I would get that book, read it myself, and then share with it, share it with my daughter, whatever parts I thought were most relevant right now. Also, I notify AOL. And she has recommended for kids who actually for all teenagers, there’s an incredible website called Scarlet teen.com. And it’s so it’s Scarlet, the word Scarlet SC, AR Le t with EAN at the end. And it is a terrific searchable website with real world sex education, but appropriate and thoughtful and fun. And what’s good is mum could go to that website and search, same sex, lesbian, bisexual, and all sorts of content will come up there that is good and reliable. So they can educate themselves together, mom can learn mom can share. There’s so many good resources available that it doesn’t have to happen alone.

Reena Ninan
That’s great. So what’s that website again?

Lisa Damour
Scarlet, teen.com, Sc, AR Le t e n.com.

Reena Ninan
Great. We’re gonna put all this information in the show notes so parents can grab that later. So I’m going to ask you a little bit Lisa, how do you know if your child is gay? Or if maybe this is just a phase they’re going through? You know,

Lisa Damour
I think you’re asking a question that a lot of parents would have in this moment, right? This child’s 13 I think a lot of times parents feel like surprised to hear their child say I think I’m lesbian or I think I’m gay or I might be by I think The parent may even be working with information where they’re like, but you had a huge crush on that other little boy in kindergarten, like, what is this? And and so I’m glad you’re asking because I think parents don’t always feel comfortable voicing that question, but I think they often have that question. So the truth is, you probably don’t know, you probably don’t know, though I will say there are plenty of families where by the time their kit comes out to them, they’re like, Finally, you’re telling us like we’ve known for years, right? And we’ve just been waiting for you to be the one to say it. So there are a lot of families where their kid comes out, and they’re like, We’re so glad you let us know. And there really aren’t a lot of questions.

Reena Ninan
Certainly, I had no idea that was a parent’s response, either, right? Yeah. Like you may have been, like

Lisa Damour
pleasantly surprised, or hopefully your family handled it well. But I think that there certainly are questions, and especially when kids come out at younger ages, where parents are like, really like is this gonna last. So here’s how I think a parent can respond to this, is to remember that sexual identities evolve over time. And again, back to that car metaphor, your kids drive in the car, of their sexual orientation and where it’s headed. And you want to make sure that they never want to push you out of the passenger seat that they want you alongside through that process. So probably the best thing in the moment for the parent to say is I am so glad you’re letting me know, we are here for you and who you love, really, we don’t care. All we want is that you have warm, kind, equitable relationships, the genitalia on whoever you’re into is like the least of our concerns, right? I mean, I think that that’s basically where the parent wants to start. Now, people will say, you know, my friend, she was kissing girls in college, and now she’s married to a man. So she was never gay. No, no, no, no, I think that we wait, the way we want to think about it is sexual orientation evolves. And say that friend who was kissing girl in college and is now married to a man, being attracted to people of the same sex was part of is part of her evolving sexual identity. It doesn’t mean she was never gay, it means that there was a chapter. And there may yet be another chapter, where that’s part of her sexual identity. But I think our general attitude is, we’re much more interested in how you’re treated than who you’re hanging out with.

Reena Ninan
So that should be the focus. Yeah.

Lisa Damour
Here’s what you don’t want to say. You don’t want to say, Okay, well, let’s see. We’ll see. Like, that may be what the parent is thinking, like you’re saying this today? We’ll see.

Reena Ninan
Which is a typical parenting response when you don’t want to go there with your child. Exactly. Like I’ll

Lisa Damour
talk about this later. Right. Like, that’s, that’s always been my thing, when I don’t like what’s going on, like, I will talk about it later. Totally, because there’s no way for that not to be received as invalid data, right? There’s no way so you may be thinking that, that’s fine. Don’t say it. Leave the door open, that they can always come back and talk with you about this. And you know, just it’s really important that you put your ongoing working relationship front and center and protect that and trust that your child is going to sort this out over time.

Reena Ninan
You know what maybe so emote there are many things that made me so emotional, the top of this podcast, but I think what really broke my heart was the community piece that this mom is living in a rural area coming out in her community, her her group of friends, this is not going to be it’s not normalized, obviously, it probably she’s sounds like alone in this. So what do you do about the community response? How should a mom guide her daughter on that? How do you especially if you know your community might not be supportive?

Lisa Damour
Ya know, it’s a tough one. And on this one, I’m gonna take this moment her word that she knows her community, she knows the landscape that we’re in. And this may be a really tricky thing. Before we get there, I’m gonna tell you something I’ve seen over time, where parents have brought this to my practice, and they’re concerned about the community response, and I happen to know our community or another community, their kid in question is in. And most of the time, I get to say to them, that her classmates won’t care. Right? Like I think so often, just because of generational changes. Parents are much more anxious about how a kids non traditional sexual orientation or gender identity is going to fly with peers, than is warranted, given where kids are with this. Kids are, by and large, like whatever you like, or you like, we’re not gonna make a big deal of it, we don’t really care. That is pretty common. Not everywhere, for sure. And I trust this mom, not in her community. But I just want parents to know in general, I often find myself saying, I have a feeling her peers is going to be much more at ease with it than you think they are. Okay, but these peers may not. So here’s what’s interesting. You’ve got a 13 year old. And one of the things that pops up in my mind whenever I think about the age 13 Is that their thinking is still pretty concrete. They can be really, really smart. But they’re not always able yet. They’re usually not able yet to see things from multiple perspectives to understand another person his view on things. And so the mom needs to actually be pretty clear, I think about what her concerns are and what she wants her daughter to do. So in this case, I would say that it might sound something like the mom saying to the kid, I am so glad you let me know. I will also honor your wish to me, for me to not share it with your dad right now. And maybe in another conversation, not all at once, come back and say, What have you thought about sharing this with peers? Or other people, you know, like, start by asking the girl where she’s at with it. Because if the girl says, you know where we live, I am not going to talk about this right now. That’s one conversation. If the girl says, yeah, no, no, I’m thinking about, you know, I’m gonna announce it in my class, or I think I’m gonna, that’s another conversation. So you know, with a 13 year old, who shares that they have questions about their sexual orientation in a community that you know, is not safe, I think a reasonable thing for a parent to say is, I’m so glad you’re letting me know, there’s nothing to be ashamed of here. There’s no reason for you to not share this, except for the fact that our community may not handle it well. So as you think about sharing it more broadly, I am here to think with you about how or when that might go best. That’s great. So

Reena Ninan
you keep safety in mind, let them know why you’re hitting a pause and telling the rest of the world. But explaining why that’s important because nothing matters more than keeping them safe. And I think a lot of parents I’ve spoken to who had children come out in their teens worry about their safety, you know, is it a possibility that they could be attacked or demonized and how painful that could be? So thank you for highlighting that safety issue. I think it’s so important for everybody in the community to understand and to get, wow, this was an amazing episode, and one that I think personally, I will be listening to, again, because there were so many nuggets whether your child is gay or straight to pick up on this. But what do you have for us, Lisa, for parenting to go?

Lisa Damour
I think for parenting to go, we want to remember that our kids know us really well. And when they tell us things, they’re watching our face, they can sense our mood, they can, you know, read our reaction, probably more than we realize, and far more than we are even aware that we’re transmitting. And so if the parent finds themselves in a position where they didn’t take it well, or didn’t handle themselves in a way they felt really good about were caught off guard. And their kid says, you know, I think I may be lesbian or I think I may be by and depends like what, right? I mean, even something, you could go far more egregious than that. It’s really important, however subtle, it may have been, if the parent feels like I wasn’t 100%. There, it’s really important to go back and say, you know, I owe you an apology, you shared something really important and really personal with me. And it caught me off guard. And you probably noticed that there was a part of me that was surprised or worried. And I want you to know you have done nothing wrong. There is nothing wrong here. I adore you, you are mine. Really what was happening in that moment is I was not expecting what you shared. And I apologize if there’s any part of my reaction that felt like it was not supportive of you.

Reena Ninan
I love that three themes that I feel like constantly weaved throughout this podcast, safety first. Kids are in the driver’s seat, and apologize when you know you’ve screwed up, that you can win a great deal of credit with your kid for doing that and set a good example. Absolutely. And I want to remind everyone that we’ll have the book Lisa mentioned in our show notes. And Lisa’s book is called the emotional lives of teenagers, which we mentioned earlier in the podcast. You can find all of that in our show notes. And next week, we’re going to talk about how do you deal with a kid who complains constantly. How do you get them to stop? It’s a great topic. We’ll see you next week.

Lisa Damour
I’ll see you next week.

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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