How does mom show support to a daughter, 8, who may be gay?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  December 5, 2013 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

I am a 33 year old parent with 3 kiddos, My main concern is my daughter, Mia (8yrs.) who is the middle child.

It started when she was in kindergarten, that she liked to wear boy clothes over girl clothes, and at the time I didn't mind because they were track suits, with her long curly hair, the outfit actually looked cute. Then as time went on Mia sort of pushed with wanting to cut her hair off. I entertained the idea because I was afraid of her cutting her hair herself. So that I could be part of the hair cutting extravaganza; we went to the children's hair cut place and it started out with an a-line cut to a complete boy hair cut. I was so sad about her hair being so short and that she was comfortable with this, but wanted to be supportive of what she liked and figured it would eventually grow back. To this day she still prefers boy clothes but now has her long hair back.

What threw me for a loop was that she told my husband (her dad) that she had a crush on a girl, and she had pretty blonde hair. My heart fell because this is not what we traditionally want for our daughter but, if anything at all, I feel like in the bigger picture of life, this is a rather small something to be worried about, but we have no idea on how to go about this or if we should be supportive of what she prefers, that what is "normal" for girls. It is soo hard because society displays the norms for girls and boys and Mia sees that and questions that and sometimes I don't have the answer because more than half the time Mia is right. Matthew and I just want what is best for Mia and what makes her happy.

I guess that when they are babies, we as parents have this fantasy life about our kids but as they grow and express what they like, it sort of takes us (parents) down a different road. Any tips, comments?

Thank you
Amy

Dear Amy,

I think you already have a good handle on this, Amy. Support your daughter, whatever that translates to, from the a so-called "boy" haircut to having a crush on a classmate who's a girl. Whether this turns out to be her life pattern or a stage, doesn't matter. Let her know you love her unconditionally (for who she is, not what she does) and be a role model for openness and tolerance. Since you have two other children, your family has built-in diversity of ways to exist in this world. What's more, it sounds as if Mia has the ability, even now, to be self-reflective. By all means, validate her judgment when it's appropriate and let her know that, yes, our culture has ideas about what it means to be male or female, but those ideas aren't always right and they certainly aren't for everyone.

I would also urge you to gather information about this possible path that Mia may travel. Here are two good resources: The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Educational Network works to create safe schools; PFLAG, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

In the (many!) years I've been writing about parenting, questions like yours have come up now and again. By far, my favorite response is what I wrote here two years ago. There were lots of folks who commented back then; I hope we hear from some of them again to see how they feel two years later and to offer you support.

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6 comments so far...
  1. "My heart fell because this is not what we traditionally want for our daughter"

    --
    Try not to let yourself be overcome by preconceived notions and sadness. She is exploring having good positive feelings about another person, a precursor to finding love. She felt comfortable enough to talk to you about it. These are both positive things. Don't let your notion of "tradition" get in the way of enjoying your child and the way she is experiencing the world.

    Posted by JD December 5, 13 08:19 PM
  1. Why are we even bringing up the question of whether this girl is gay? I mean, yes, she could turn out to be gay but I don't think anything about her current behavior suggests that. I'm a little upset that you wouldn't tell her she's overthinking this quite a bit. An 8-year-old middle child is going to want attention - and her wearing boy clothes and cutting her hair short most likely got her that. If her older sibling is a boy, she may just want to emulate her older brother. If her older sibling is a girl, she may be trying to differentiate herself from her. This is all normal behavior for a child, including having a 'crush' on another girl. It's not a sexual preference, it's just a little girl who loves her girl friend as a friend, as most do. RELAX.

    Posted by JohnCocktosten December 6, 13 07:11 PM
  1. A few things here: first, you could simply support the idea that she is attracted to girls. Then again, does an 8-year old really have a crush? Maybe she just really admires this other girl. 8-year olds tend not to be so self-aware and articulate that they can even identify these types of feelings. As far as the boyish look is concerned, I would not take that as an indicator of sexuality. I know when I was growing up in the '70s and '80s, even as a girl I hated the way women were perceived. I couldn't articulate it, but I just could not relate to traditional femaleness. I saw my own femaleness as a burden. I saw powerful male figures and I hated that females were objectified. I recoiled against anything feminine because I saw traditionally feminine articles as symbolic of something I could not relate to. I was smart and creative and had my own ideas and society didn't value this type of woman. In many ways, this remains true today. It could be that your daughter isn't so much attracted to girls in a sexual way but that she might not be able to relate to traditional women. Maybe your daughter needs to be aware of powerful female role models. For the record, I am heterosexual--not that it matters.

    Posted by Robin December 7, 13 01:16 AM
  1. "Matthew and I just want what is best for Mia and what makes her happy.'

    If that's true then why don't you and your husband just chill out and let the kid be a kid? Whether you realize it or not, all of your fretting over this nonsense sends little signals to your kid. In this case, what you are signaling is the idea that she is somehow "wrong" and/or "a disappointment".

    'I guess that when they are babies, we as parents have this fantasy life about our kids but as they grow and express what they like, it sort of takes us (parents) down a different road. Any tips, comments?'

    Stop projecting your fantasies onto an 8-year old. This might come as a bit of a surprise to you but your other children aren't going to follow along perfectly with your fantasies either. They're people. They have their own minds and make decisions for themselves. As they get older they'll make more and more of those decisions - and you aren't going to like all of those either. Learn to separate YOUR fantasies from your child's reality.

    Posted by Jim December 9, 13 08:48 AM
  1. I agree with the others. Sure, maybe this means she is gay, but the examples point more to the LW overreacting. Plenty of girls and women have short hair, or wear "boy" clothes (which is what, exactly?) because that's what they prefer. Has nothing to do with being gay, some people just don't like long hair. And plenty of girls say they have crushes on boys and girls at that age, but it does not mean the same thing as an adult saying that.

    Did you ask her what it is she likes about this other girl?

    Posted by mk December 9, 13 12:35 PM
  1. I wrote the letter to which Barbara references, when my daughter was in 4th grade. I completely relate to your letter. It wasn't until I stopped focusing on seeing or finding signs that I started to relax and realize that as long as my daughter was happy and content, we were all going to be OK. Just be there for her, no matter what and continue to be a source of support. Are the siblings supportive and open minded about each others differences? Just continue to foster an environment that is accepting, supportive and understanding. Barbara's advice was spot on and very helpful - your daughter will give you clues to follow. We did eventually talk about people who are gay and lesbian and what that means. When she was in 6th grade, while we were discussing joining the Gay/Straight Alliance club at school, I asked her straight out if she was gay and got my answer so there was no more questioning. All the best!

    Posted by J from Reading December 10, 13 07:10 AM
 
6 comments so far...
  1. "My heart fell because this is not what we traditionally want for our daughter"

    --
    Try not to let yourself be overcome by preconceived notions and sadness. She is exploring having good positive feelings about another person, a precursor to finding love. She felt comfortable enough to talk to you about it. These are both positive things. Don't let your notion of "tradition" get in the way of enjoying your child and the way she is experiencing the world.

    Posted by JD December 5, 13 08:19 PM
  1. Why are we even bringing up the question of whether this girl is gay? I mean, yes, she could turn out to be gay but I don't think anything about her current behavior suggests that. I'm a little upset that you wouldn't tell her she's overthinking this quite a bit. An 8-year-old middle child is going to want attention - and her wearing boy clothes and cutting her hair short most likely got her that. If her older sibling is a boy, she may just want to emulate her older brother. If her older sibling is a girl, she may be trying to differentiate herself from her. This is all normal behavior for a child, including having a 'crush' on another girl. It's not a sexual preference, it's just a little girl who loves her girl friend as a friend, as most do. RELAX.

    Posted by JohnCocktosten December 6, 13 07:11 PM
  1. A few things here: first, you could simply support the idea that she is attracted to girls. Then again, does an 8-year old really have a crush? Maybe she just really admires this other girl. 8-year olds tend not to be so self-aware and articulate that they can even identify these types of feelings. As far as the boyish look is concerned, I would not take that as an indicator of sexuality. I know when I was growing up in the '70s and '80s, even as a girl I hated the way women were perceived. I couldn't articulate it, but I just could not relate to traditional femaleness. I saw my own femaleness as a burden. I saw powerful male figures and I hated that females were objectified. I recoiled against anything feminine because I saw traditionally feminine articles as symbolic of something I could not relate to. I was smart and creative and had my own ideas and society didn't value this type of woman. In many ways, this remains true today. It could be that your daughter isn't so much attracted to girls in a sexual way but that she might not be able to relate to traditional women. Maybe your daughter needs to be aware of powerful female role models. For the record, I am heterosexual--not that it matters.

    Posted by Robin December 7, 13 01:16 AM
  1. "Matthew and I just want what is best for Mia and what makes her happy.'

    If that's true then why don't you and your husband just chill out and let the kid be a kid? Whether you realize it or not, all of your fretting over this nonsense sends little signals to your kid. In this case, what you are signaling is the idea that she is somehow "wrong" and/or "a disappointment".

    'I guess that when they are babies, we as parents have this fantasy life about our kids but as they grow and express what they like, it sort of takes us (parents) down a different road. Any tips, comments?'

    Stop projecting your fantasies onto an 8-year old. This might come as a bit of a surprise to you but your other children aren't going to follow along perfectly with your fantasies either. They're people. They have their own minds and make decisions for themselves. As they get older they'll make more and more of those decisions - and you aren't going to like all of those either. Learn to separate YOUR fantasies from your child's reality.

    Posted by Jim December 9, 13 08:48 AM
  1. I agree with the others. Sure, maybe this means she is gay, but the examples point more to the LW overreacting. Plenty of girls and women have short hair, or wear "boy" clothes (which is what, exactly?) because that's what they prefer. Has nothing to do with being gay, some people just don't like long hair. And plenty of girls say they have crushes on boys and girls at that age, but it does not mean the same thing as an adult saying that.

    Did you ask her what it is she likes about this other girl?

    Posted by mk December 9, 13 12:35 PM
  1. I wrote the letter to which Barbara references, when my daughter was in 4th grade. I completely relate to your letter. It wasn't until I stopped focusing on seeing or finding signs that I started to relax and realize that as long as my daughter was happy and content, we were all going to be OK. Just be there for her, no matter what and continue to be a source of support. Are the siblings supportive and open minded about each others differences? Just continue to foster an environment that is accepting, supportive and understanding. Barbara's advice was spot on and very helpful - your daughter will give you clues to follow. We did eventually talk about people who are gay and lesbian and what that means. When she was in 6th grade, while we were discussing joining the Gay/Straight Alliance club at school, I asked her straight out if she was gay and got my answer so there was no more questioning. All the best!

    Posted by J from Reading December 10, 13 07:10 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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