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The most important conversation I'll ever have with my daughter

This mother shares the moment she knew her reaction to what her daughter was telling her would mean Everything to their future relationship. And, oh, how how she handled “Don’t tell Dad”…

Parenting is a hard slog. At least I have found that trying to do a good job of it has been hard work all the way. All too soon they hit the teenage years, and nothing anyone has ever said can prepare you for the parenting tests that are to come.

As the mother of a rather beautiful and intelligent teenage girl reaching the end of her high school education, I thought I had just about made it through – slightly dishevelled and having developed a rather tight grip on wine o’clock in the process, but coming out on the other side just the same.

Oh, there had been tests along the way, like the all too dark eyeliner, the trying to put makeup on for school, the slightly creative wearing of the school uniform, and much more seriously, self-harm. Because apparently my beautiful, articulate, intelligent daughter didn’t see herself the way others did, and never quite felt like she fitted in.

But, together with the help of some wonderful professionals we worked through the self-harm. As sick to the stomach as I felt when I discovered the extent of her hurt, I managed overcome my own feelings of failure and get her the help she needed.

After a couple of years of counselling, she is a different person. A joy to be around (although she always was), and much more comfortable in her own skin.

She had a few boys circling, a couple in particular that she seemed to spend a bit more time, energy and texting on. The stock standard comment from friends when they would see her again after a few months was ‘She’s going to break a few hearts, that one’. Or ‘Her father will be beating the boys away with a stick’.

So together, her father and I had devised a set of rules that we would stick by when the moment came that the ‘serious boyfriend’ arrived. We didn’t want her to grow up too quickly, and hoped that she would wait until she found someone special until she took things to another level – when she was 35, or at least an adult!

I was not looking forward to the sleep-over-with-the-boyfriend conversation, but was prepared for it to come one day, and knew her father would back me up on the ground rules.

So I really didn’t see it coming when driving through traffic one day that she told me that her best friend was actually her girlfriend, and had been for quite some time.

I would be lying if I said I casually kept on driving and said ‘That’s nice!’. Because I didn’t. I keep my eyes on the road, tightened my grip on the steering wheel and instinctively knew that EVERYTHING lay in my response. “You are my daughter and I love you whatever you choices”, I told her. And she visibly relaxed. Then started chatting about how she doesn’t want to be ‘labelled’ and perhaps down the track she’ll like a boy, and did I know that one of the Veronicas was gay but she actually has a boyfriend now…..and ‘lalalalalala’. I stopped hearing what she was saying.

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I stopped hearing what she was saying because inside I was churning up. I wanted to cry. I wanted to tell her that she was too young to know what she really wanted, and that she was confusing close friendship and compassion from a lovely girl as love.

Eyes on the road.

Deep breath.

You see, a lot of what was bouncing around in my head was completely contradictory to the values that I hold. I am not homophobic. I have many gay friends, and I don’t judge their personal choices.

So why then was I feeling so blindsided by my daughter’s revelation?

I had raised her to be an independent thinker, to try to live the life she wanted and not be influenced or worry about what those around her where doing. In retrospect, this is exactly what she is doing.

And yet….

Finally I couldn’t help myself… ‘So all those sleepovers?’ ‘Yes’, she said.

‘Please don’t tell Dad’, she said. And here it where is all came unravelled for me.

Because by effectively removing her father from the equation, I no-longer had the backup I needed for ground rules. And I had no-one to talk to about what the ground rules should be since the goal post had just considerably moved. Also, if I started saying she couldn’t do all the things she wanted to with her ‘best friend’, her father would think I was being unnecessarily strict and take me to task on it.

Not to mention that in our marriage we have always been open and honest with each other, so I was really put in a position where I felt that I was compromising the relationship I had with my husband.

‘You know that if you had a boyfriend there would be certain boundaries, don’t you?’

‘Yes’

‘Well, what do you suggest I do about that?’

‘Trust me?’

If it was only that simple. She is still a child. I am still responsible for her emotionally and physically. And I didn’t know what to do.

We arrived home 30 minutes later, got out of the car, and I gave her a really big hug. And she hugged me back. Really tight. ‘I just don’t want you to be disappointed in me’, she said. ‘Disappointed? I love you. That should be enough’.

It’s a few months down the track now, and I am writing the rules as I go along.

How do you handle the most delicate moments of parenting? And should you, in fact, ‘tell Dad’?