Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Q. Bad neighbors: Our teen daughter has gotten close to our lesbian neighbors, and it’s impacting her attitude and behavior in a big way.
My daughter met these neighbors during lockdown last summer, when she would ride her bike to get out of the house. Being outgoing and polite, she commented on the garden one of the women was working in, and they started talking daily. At the time we didn’t think much of it—everyone was lonely, and it was especially hard on our daughter to not see her school friends—but she started spending more and more time out of the house, and then her attitude and style changed overnight. She’s always worn dresses and makeup, and suddenly she’d bought an entire wardrobe of jeans, flannel, and loose clothes, and has long and angry rants about the beauty industry whenever we bring up makeup. She also said she was going to cut her hair short, which we obviously forbade since her hair has always been long and it was too drastic a change. She became surly and stopped talking to us, and she keeps her hair tied up in a bun instead of styling it like she always has.
The first thing she shared with us in quite some time was that one of the lesbians had a woodworking shop and she now wanted to try woodworking class at school. We forbid her from going to the neighbors’ house, and she threw a fit, which is completely unlike her. We’ve tried to set up activities with friends from school, but she was so rude and stubborn that we had to ground her instead. The night we grounded her, the doorbell rang, and our daughter was standing there with one of the neighbors—our daughter had snuck out to see the couple! And the neighbor had the same rude and defensive attitude our daughter’s been showing when we laid into her about her and her wife’s damaging influence.
The more my husband and I (also a man) try to help our daughter stay true to herself and set boundaries, the more we’re the “bad guys,” which I guess is part of parenting, but it’s concerning to have to change the way we parent because of this influence. We just don’t recognize our daughter anymore. How do we deal with her, and what the hell do we do about the neighbors?
A: One of the things I think is most important in life is building relationships with queer elders. So much history, culture, wisdom, and humor can get lost as LGBTQ+ people get older, and society so often isolates them. So it’s truly wonderful that your daughter has made this intergenerational relationship work. The events in your letter read like the plot of a heartwarming movie, complete with some hackneyed tropes that I’d edit out in a second pass. But of course you don’t see it as heartwarming and I struggle to understand why. I get that, as a parent, you have a set idea of who your daughter is, but I regret to inform you that literally every child is going to change, grow, rebel, discover, experiment, and blossom.
Think of it this way: Your daughter met these two cool women who garden and do woodworking and see the beauty-industrial complex for what it is. And are willing to hang out with her. People pay for this kind of mentorship. Of course she’s going to want to be like them! And, as is the case with so many teens, one of the biggest marks in their favor is that they’re not her parents. This part will wane, but you’re probably going to be the enemy or at least the no-fun brigade for a while.
This “while” will last a very long time, however, if you keep making ridiculous trouble about things as innocuous as woodworking and baggy pants. Come on now. Our foreparents rioted at Stonewall so that you could keep Rapunzel’s hair long? Get serious. I think you need to practice some acceptance of your daughter’s personhood. I think you need to interrogate the anti-lesbian prejudice you have and fix it. I think you need to appreciate and thank your daughter for being inquisitive and friendly. And I think you need to thank your neighbors for befriending your daughter and putting up with their own bad neighbors.
A friend has lost a lot of weight and with it—her mind. She has moved her husband and their two kids into a house with another couple and their two kids. Supposedly, they are friends. Supposedly, everyone should mind their own business. But the thing is: When she posts her whole life on social media for the world to see, we are left wondering. Is she gay? Will she leave him? Are they swingers? What about the kids? Are they seeing this? Are they being made to believe this is normal? Any attempt to tell her to stop posting about her life or that we are worried about the kids gets an unfriend on social media. To be honest we don’t care if she is gay or whether they are swinging, at this point we are concerned for the well-being of the kids. What would Prudie do?