Care and Feeding

We Don’t Want Our 12-Year-Old to Tell Anyone She’s a Lesbian

We’ll support however she ends up identifying, but isn’t this too young?

A young girl holds a string of paper hearts.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter is 12 years old and has started talking about how she is a lesbian. This came about when she started asking questions about whether certain relatives were supportive of LGBT people. My wife and I are both supportive of whoever she’s going to be. However, she’s eager to tell friends, family, etc., and we also feel like 12 is too young to start defining and declaring a sexual identity. Part of it is that she’s had interest in boys previously, so we want to spare her from defining herself as a lesbian and then possibly walking that back later. Part of it is that, despite kids and society probably being more supportive these days, we think she’s a bit naïve and doesn’t understand some of the ugliness she might be exposed to (and for no purpose, since it’s not like she’s going to be dating right now). Part of it is just that we don’t think it’s anyone’s business how a 12-year-old is sexually identifying. The thing we’re having trouble with is how to communicate “you shouldn’t take this public now” and make sure it doesn’t come across as “this is something you should be ashamed of.” Do you have any tips? Are we completely off-base in our approach?

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—Supportive, but Questioning How to Be

Dear Questioning,

Yep, I do think you’re way off-base here. First, because 12 is not too young for your daughter to know she’s gay—plenty of queer people report self-awareness at that age or earlier. Second, because being out and proud (and supported in this) in middle school can be so good and affirming for kids, whereas forced heteronormativity is corrosive and does serious harm. You claim that your daughter is too young to “define” her sexuality, but I have to wonder if you’d be saying the same thing if she were telling you that she’s straight (not that kids generally have to tell anyone that, as it’s often just assumed, to the detriment of many). Past interest in boys—which you do seem to take seriously, despite questioning what she’s now telling you about her attraction to girls—doesn’t mean she’s not a lesbian, and she doesn’t have to wait and “prove” it’s true by dating girls at whatever point you allow dating generally in the future.

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Your daughter sounds like she’s figured out something important about herself, and she wants to tell the people she’s close to—I don’t think it’s your place to challenge or try to get in the way of that at all. (And for that matter, if her self-definition does change over time, that’s totally fine too!) As for whose “business” her sexuality is, does it bother you just as much to know that in the absence of other intel, plenty of people, including those she’s close to, probably wrongfully assume she’s straight? Also, she is talking about sharing this information with friends and family—aka people who know and love her, people whose business she may very well believe it is!

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You’re worried about her encountering homophobia, and I understand that, but I think you also need to consider the harm that could result from not being able to be open about who she is. I’m also concerned that you don’t see the problem with the approach of “fine that you’re a lesbian, but you shouldn’t tell anyone that you’re a lesbian!” I think you might need to ask yourself whether you’re really as supportive of your kid as you claim to be. If you truly want to be in her corner, believe what she’s telling you about who she is, make sure she knows that you are proud of her, and support her in sharing this with the people she loves in the way and on the timeline that she chooses.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My fiancée and I (both women) are getting married in November, and are planning on sending out invites soon. We’re both child-free, but several of my fiancée’s relatives and some of our friends have small children. I’m the youngest in my family, with a sizable age gap between me and my three older siblings, and my four nieces and nephews are all over 15 and are close friends. We don’t want to have babies and little kids running around or crying during the ceremony or the reception, and were thinking of writing that the wedding will be child-free on the invites. But we also agree that my teenage relatives (the only teens we would invite) are well-behaved and responsible enough that we’d be fine with them coming, and they’re all quite close, and would most likely spend the reception talking together or on their phones.

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What we’re worried about is: Would it be rude or unfair to parents of younger kids to say that the wedding is 15 and up? I know that most child-free weddings extend to everyone under 18, but honestly, we just don’t want babies crying or toddlers running around getting into everything, and 15-year-olds are not likely to do either of those things.

—Age Limit Awkwardness

Dear A.L.A.,

I think it’s fine to have a wedding that’s for teens and up, and I’m sure plenty of other people go this route. Just be clear about it with your relatives so no one is left wondering. Honestly, some people will probably have feelings about you not inviting younger kids regardless of what the age cutoff is—if they are going to be bothered by it, they aren’t going to feel better about 18 versus 15. Teenagers are young adults, and inviting them is very different from inviting babies and toddlers. It’s your wedding, and you should do what you want!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a question about how you are ever sure if you want or don’t want a child. I go back and forth depending on how my day is going. A bad day, when I feel like life is a monotonous trek through jobs you don’t want to do until you die, makes me think that having a baby would be a bad idea. On a nice, relaxing day, I often think, “I don’t want a baby to be here and take away my free time.” But then there are days when I think, “I want to have a baby right now!” My boyfriend and I are talking about marriage soon, and conversations about having kids usually amount to a shrug of the shoulders, with both of us still being unsure. Can we enter a marriage feeling unsure about something so important, or is that a recipe for disaster? How will we ever be sure? Is it really just a leap of faith?

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—Baby Bewildered in Buffalo

Dear Baby Bewildered,

I think it could be tough if one of you very much wanted to have a kid, and the other person felt just as strongly about not having one. And since you asked, yeah, I really think for a lot of us, parenting is a leap of faith—there are so many things you can’t control or predict, so it’s pretty much impossible to ever be fully prepared. Still, plenty of people can and do know that it’s not for them, and that’s real and understandable.

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I can also think of several marriages in which both people went in feeling unsure about parenting, which I also think is deeply understandable. In that case, I think one important question is: How flexible are both of you willing to be? How much space are you willing to make for your partner to change, to decide that they either very much want or don’t want to be a parent? As someone I know put it, shortly before their marriage: “My partner is a little more enthusiastic about the idea of having kids than I am, but neither of us feels totally sure either way, and we both agree the most important thing to us is to be together—not whether or not we have a kid.” In other words, this person was very willing to consider and eventually embark on parenting if that was what their partner ended up wanting; while their partner knew they were interested in having kids, they were not dead-set on it, and also open to having the family remain just the two of them. These seem like eminently compatible views to me.

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Of course, what we want can and does often change, and no one can ever guarantee that a particular issue won’t lead to hard times or deep conflicts within a relationship. I do think it’s ideal if both people are in a similar place on this question, which you and your boyfriend seem to be? If you’re both unsure now, but genuinely willing to remain open and flexible and weigh the decision together, come what may, to me that seems like one way of being on the same page.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m very lucky in many ways to live close to my family, including my mother and stepfather and one of my stepbrothers and his family. But I keep running into a problem with my stepbrother. I’m a single parent and sole earner (my child’s father contributes almost nothing in child support), whereas my stepbrother and his wife make a lot of money. They have two children, K and A; one is 18 months older than my son, and the other is three months younger. My stepbrother and his wife relish their privilege. They recently bought a second house for vacations. All of our children go to public schools in the same system, but my son’s school is bigger and poorer than where K and A go. My stepbrother has talked about how great it is that his children can go to a school where no one ever asks for assistance to pay the school activity fee, whereas at my kid’s school it is more common for families to need help. K is about to go to another rich, primarily white high school (even though our city is very diverse). A is looking at an elite high school with a bit more diversity; she is also involved in a ton of after-school activities. My son, who still has two years before high school, has pretty much already decided to go to the local high school and not apply to others.

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In addition to the general sense of privilege I know all this is fostering in my nephew and niece, I have noticed that my son will go to their house and they will, though not on purpose, rub it in by talking about all the gadgets they have. Both of them have brand-new MacBooks, while my son used to have a Chromebook and now has a PC. K and A got a Nintendo Switch when it first came out; my son got one last year, etc. Every interaction has ended with my son coming home and bugging me about getting the latest thing. While I’m by no means poor, I can’t afford to get him new laptops every other year. I don’t feel comfortable giving him a phone yet, even if K and A have had one since third grade. He is annoyed we don’t have a house, because all of his cousins have one (my other two siblings both also have houses, while my son and I live in an apartment). Also, even at 14 years old, K is one of the whiniest children I know when he doesn’t get what he wants.

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How do I deal with everything going forward? My son understands that not everyone can afford everything, but I don’t know how to get that point across to my niece and nephew, or how to make sure that they understand how lucky they are.

—Not Privileged, Just Normal

Dear Normal,

Economic privilege can be a hard thing to get kids to see and appreciate when they have never known anything different. Since you’re not their parent, I don’t think there’s an easy way for you to step in and teach your niece and nephew this lesson, or get them to recognize just how lucky they are. It’s something their parents should be teaching them, and it sounds like they could be making more of an effort to do so—in your position, I’m sure I’d be frustrated and annoyed by some of your stepbrother’s remarks, as well as K’s apparently spoiled nature. But you can’t control how other people parent, or how their kids may be influenced or shaped by that parenting.

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The aspects of this situation you have a little more immediate control over are your conversations with your son. You say he understands that you can’t afford all the same things his cousins have, but he’s still coming home and “bugging” you about living in an apartment instead of a house and not getting new electronics, so perhaps that discussion isn’t quite over. It’s natural for him to notice and feel a way about the disparity, and at the same time, I think it makes sense to remind him that he has what he needs. Not because his feelings should be invalidated—on the contrary, I think it’s important to listen to and try to support him, however he’s feeling—but because I know sometimes kids do worry about the family finances, and it’s possible that he could benefit from some reassurance that the two of you are fine.

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If you think any of this is getting out of hand and it’s really impacting your relationship with your stepbrother and his family, you could also try talking to him about it. But I hesitate to recommend this, as I am not sure how close you two are, and it will likely be awkward and/or require a vulnerability that you may not want to display with him. And it’s difficult to know what to ask that won’t involve more labor on your part, if he is unaware of his own privilege or just unwilling to acknowledge it—what I really don’t want is for you to be the one who has to teach him to see it!

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Even if your stepbrother understood perfectly and actually started a family conversation about privilege and the importance of not bragging about one’s nice new things, there’s no guarantee his kids would listen. So for now, in your place, I think I would probably just focus on your son, the kid you have more influence over—teaching him to recognize privilege (his and others’) and value the things you really want him to value.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

One of my wife’s friends has hated me since the day she met me. While early on, her hatred was tolerable, lately it’s become annoying and more than a little creepy. I work in research and development, the same industry as her. I often have lunch with colleagues, both male and female, while we discuss work. She has spotted me a few times having lunch with a female colleague and without even talking to me, she’s reported to my wife that she thinks I’m having an affair (even though it’s been a different woman each time—apparently I really get around). My wife was suspicious at first but is not so worried now. This woman ran into me last week and told me, “I’m going to destroy you” and walked away. What do you think I should do?

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