Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. This week we introduce our new Wednesday columnist, Jamilah Lemieux. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
What are parents of bisexual teens supposed to do about sleepovers? For my heterosexual kid, the rule is “no opposite-sex sleepovers,” and if I had a gay child, the rule would be “no same-sex sleepovers.” It seems very unfair to prohibit my bisexual teen from having sleepovers just because they happen to be attracted to both genders, but it also doesn’t seem fair that my other teens have to abide by these “no sleepovers with people whom you might want to have sex with” rules while the bisexual teen doesn’t. Help!
—Proud Parent of Bi Teen
I want to first affirm your desire to support your child’s identity and your desire to be equitable in how household rules are created and enforced. Alas, equity is often elusive in a world that will present challenges to your bisexual teen that their siblings simply won’t have to face. This may be the rare occasion that this particular child experiences what seems like an advantage on the basis of their sexual orientation, but ultimately, it’s simply a heightened expectation of responsible behavior and honesty.
Sleepovers for kids and teens are typically same-gendered. I wouldn’t recommend denying this experience to a bisexual or gay young person just because they are known to be attracted to members of their own gender. These gatherings are typically more about bonding over gossip, games, junk food, and Netflix than they are about getting physical. And anyway, hetero kids and queer/bi ones that haven’t come out to their families are also quite capable of engaging in sexual activity with peers of their own gender when the door is closed and the adults have gone to bed for the evening. (Gender non-conforming kids also deserve sleepover invites, by the way.)
The most reasonable thing to do would be to either hold all of your kids to the single-gendered sleepover rule or allow them all to attend multi-gendered sleepovers. As it is (understandably) important to you that they aren’t engaging in sexual activity during these festivities, they should only be able to sleep over in homes when you are clear that the adults present are capable of and invested in preventing any fooling around. Also, you may also want to prohibit them from attending sleepovers where their boyfriend or girlfriend is present.
There is a lot of other stuff to be fearful of when teens are under close quarters with potentially limited supervision—drug use, drinking, bullying, listening to really shitty music, etc.—and as is the case with messing around, they find opportunities to do these things during the schoolday, when you drop them off at the YMCA on Saturdays for “basketball,” and whenever they aren’t being closely watched. The only way to truly ensure that a sleepover is sex-free is to have them at your own house and watch those little horndogs like a hawk.
Ultimately, if you are letting teens go to sleepovers, there’s a risk that they’ll do some shit you don’t like while they’re there. But there’s a good chance your kids would prefer not to risk humiliation by getting it on while someone’s parents are home anyway. Talk to your not-so-little ones and explain to them what your expectations are for when they spend the night out—and make sure they are clear on how to practice safe sex regardless of the gender of their partners, and that they won’t allow an STD to remain dormant out of fear of disappointing you for breaking a sleepover rule.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My fifth grader has social issues with kids her own age. Recently, I was horrified watching as members of her Girl Scout troop completely ignored her at an event—literally “ghosting” her face to face.
She has always played well with a younger girl in the third grade who lives across the street from us and has begun to integrate herself into her friend group, all of whom are at least two years her junior. I am happy to see her spending time with other kids but am concerned that playing with 8-year-olds will not make it any easier for her with kids her own age, especially when she gets to middle school next fall.
My wife and I do what we can to encourage her to find friends her age who treat her kindly and with respect, but feel conflicted about dissuading her from hanging out with the third graders. We don’t want her to be alone. What to do?
First off, to be clear: Those Girl Scouts sound like brats. Sorry, not sorry. That sort of behavior violates the spirit of Samoas and sisterhood, and you should speak to the troop leader about how they have treated your daughter—not just to hold these mean girls accountable, but also to identify anything you may be unaware of that could have triggered their contempt for her (i.e., an argument, a misunderstanding, a rivalry of some sort). Does she enjoy being a Girl Scout? It’s entirely possible that membership simply doesn’t provide the sort of environment she needs to be happy and social, and that she’d be better off either trying a new troop or leaving the organization altogether.
I’d be curious to know what your daughter says about her interactions with kids her age, both in the Scouts and beyond. Is it that her interests are more in alignment with younger girls (say, preferring Barbie dolls and unboxing videos to K-pop and boys)?
Considering that middle school is right around the corner, I’d say summer is a good time to seek the services of a counselor or therapist. Middle school can be a frightening transition even for kids who’ve had great relationships with their peers, and you won’t be able to adequately equip her with the skills she needs to make friends her own age until you truly understand why she hasn’t done so thus far. Be sure to speak to teachers and other adults who’ve spent time with her to gather observations about her behavior in preparation for your first session.
I hope those girls sell zero boxes of cookies.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughters, who are in grade 4 and grade 6, are both being given standardized assessment tests this year. The message from their school seems to be that the school doesn’t make decisions based on the results of these tests, and only administers them because of state requirements. My daughters both want to see the results of their scores. One of them hasn’t even taken the tests yet, but she asks me every couple of days whether I’m going to let them see their results. Should I let them?
A complicating factor is that I’m fairly sure one of my daughters will score higher than the other, and she’s definitely not going to remain tactfully silent on the subject. (She will do better because she’s better at test-taking; they actually get equivalent grades in school because their teachers take participation, attention, projects, etc., into account.) They are both high-achieving students in general, and I’m not worried that either of them will do poorly on these tests.
—Mother of Test Scores
You should let them see the test scores. They may well be competitive; you can make it clear to them that the tests are not a contest but an outdated method of measuring student aptitude that has been devalued by their own school, but you can’t prevent them from having any sort of reaction to a disparity in their test scores. Nevertheless, unless there is a situation in which one or both of them will experience sustained anguish or hurt as a result of doing so (i.e., one of them scores very high while the other fails to meet the standards for her grade level), it’s fine for them to see the results.
In addition to being clear about the problems with these tests, be sure to explain to both of them—which I am sure you already have—how the daughter who does not typically score as well on exams demonstrates her own academic strengths in other ways. Caution them that their response to this round of results will determine if you allow them to view their results in the future, and that taunting or gloating will not be tolerated. You may be surprised—there’s a good chance they’ll score higher on this test of their maturity than the exam itself.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a 25-year-old man, and having a family is a huge life goal of mine. I’ve always loved kids, and I can’t imagine growing old without having one of my own. I know parenthood isn’t for everyone, but it’s for me. I’ve prayed about it, thought about it, and researched enough to want to take the first steps to become a foster parent.
I’m a single gay man living in Appalachia. I can’t foresee myself having biological children, but I don’t see this as a problem toward achieving my goal of having a big happy family. I have a very stable income, I have a strong network of family and friends, and I’m heavily involved in my local Episcopal church. I see my situation as an opportunity to be a great foster dad (and possibly adopt later on, since so many foster care children will ultimately need forever families). My only concern is, well, the optics of the whole thing.
I know that the world is so different in 2019, but I still live in a Bible Belt state that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. My sexuality might make things awkward when dealing with a social worker. As I enter into this process, how should I broach the subject of my personal life and sexuality in a way that doesn’t make me seem like some creep? Should I even bring it up? Or is it creepier not to bring it up and leave the social worker wondering?
(I hope Nicole answers this question because, objectively, she is the best human.)
I agree with you that Nicole is the best; for that reason, she and I agreed that I should take this question because I am what you are thinking about becoming: a single parent. We hope you understand and aren’t too disappointed!
The circumstances of my own single parenting are much different than what you are attempting to do: I broke up with my ex right before finding out I was pregnant, and we’ve existed as highly functional co-parents ever since the birth of our daughter six years ago. I want you to understand that single parenting is incredibly difficult even when you’re dividing the job with another person. Though I probably shouldn’t admit this, I feel faint at the idea of having my child in my home seven days a week with no breaks, no nights to myself, no days where I wake up and only have to get myself out of the door.
Parenting is lots and lots and lots and lots more work. A lot of people truly suck at it or get thrown into it without the desire, resources, or skill to perform well, which is why we desperately need foster parents in the first place. You’ve thought long and hard about your decision to become a parent and I don’t mean to undermine your grasp of what it takes to have a child, but only to ensure that you know just how challenging it is to be a solo parent. Yes, you have friends and community members that may step up and assist you, but you will be doing the majority of your work as a parent alone with no partnership and no place to run and hide when you’re overwhelmed … at 25, which is still really, really young.
Are you interested in being in a serious relationship some day? Dating is certainly possible as a single parent, but you have to vet partners with a different kind of rigor when you become a parent and may find that you are less patient, or willing, to work with someone who has some growing up to do. You’re also eliminating most men who deeply wish to father their husband or life partner’s first child from the dating pool. Again, this can be fine, but it is a thing to consider.
Legally, a single potential foster or adoptive parent cannot be disqualified on the basis of his sexuality (Mississippi, however, prohibits same-sex couples from adopting), but as you mentioned, the “optics” of a young gay man wanting to foster a child may leave you open to bias that can be coded in other ways on an official document. Though you are not required to disclose your sexual orientation, a guide from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Children’s Bureau agrees with me that it’s unwise to lie about it, as dishonesty may be considered a red flag for the persons reviewing your application. Also, “Why did he lie? Can we trust someone who keeps something like that from us?” would be a very easy way for a bigot to make a case against you without citing your sexuality as the reason for denying you a child. If you choose to take this journey, you will have to be hypervigilant about ensuring that you are treated fairly and that any decisions made about your ability to care for a foster youth reflect how you performed in interviews and presented yourself as a candidate.
All that said, there is absolutely a need for more foster parents to step up and into the lives of vulnerable children—particularly those who are queer and trans. Though there is limited data available about the issue, it is understood that LGBT youth are overrepresented among the 400,000 kids currently in the foster care system. According to the Human Rights Campaign, these young people—many of whom ran away or were forced out of their homes because of their identities—are at increased risk for being mistreated in foster care, or placed with families that are unable or unwilling to adequately address their unique needs, and also are more likely than other kids to find themselves in group homes and other temporary housing situations.
If you are truly ready for the crazy and beautiful ride that is solo parenting, please identify the members of your village that are really about that life when it comes to babysitting, spending time with you and your new child together, or supporting your new family in other ways. Look to organizations and resources for LGBT people who wish to foster/adopt. And speak to both experts and gay single parents about navigating both the application process and what life looks like after your little (or big) bundle of joy comes home.
More than anything else, children require love—and it sounds like you have a lot of it to give. Whenever you choose to embark upon this journey, a young person will be very lucky to call you “Dad.” Nicole and I wish you all the best!
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