How to Teach Your Children to Lie (or, How Your Children Can Teach You Love)
I heard footsteps running up our driveway as the day was fading into twilight. It was Bella, my daughter’s good friend, come out of nowhere. My daughter answered the door, delighted, as Bella panted out, “I’m staying over at Judy’s house tonight, and I just wanted to come say hi.” She gave my daughter a tight hug and disappeared as quickly as she came.
Bella is incredibly bright, animated, and full of life. She also identifies as lesbian. She said that when she told her mother this, she replied, “I don’t want to discuss this now.” I suspect her mother won’t be comfortable discussing this…ever.
We are a two-mom, lesbian household with two wonderful children. We are happy to discuss literally anything with them, with the result that they know more about sex and sexuality (accurately) than most of their peers. We love to host Bella because we understand that this is a safe haven for her, and her late-night appearance, by herself, at our door did not surprise us.
Bella has struggled with feelings of despair and thoughts of suicide in the past year, as many LGBTQ teens do. She gets bullied at school, her estranged father was abusive, and her mother is avoiding the elephant in the room, which is, quite simply, “I’m not sure I can accept you as you are.”
Communication between parents and teens break down in no small part because of a parent’s unwillingness to accept differences in their children, and not just “big” differences like, “I’m a lesbian/gay/trans.” A different worldview, different politics, or a change in spiritual beliefs can create a wall if the parent is unwilling to bend. Gone are the days when toddlers could more or less be “ordered” to do as they’re told. Teenagers are in the process of becoming adults, and that comes with many mental and emotional changes that may spur the apple to roll far from the tree.
Parents who cannot accept their child’s thought processes or engage with them thoughtfully often give up and resort to punitive measures. Bella, who needs her support network of friends, is without her phone most of the time, because that is her mother’s punishment of choice. The result can only make Bella feel more alone and isolated. Parents who engage in angry demands only ensure that their child will learn to hide the truth from them at all costs. The moment this occurs, the relationship is lost, because the child knows that only a facade will bring about parental approval. Everything becomes a lie.
Children come through us, but they are not ours. We do not own them. They do not owe us anything. They are, hopefully, our loves, and they are definitely our challenges. They offer us a master class in what love means, and they will test us constantly. Do you love me now? How about now? If I do this, do you still love me? If I am this, do you still love me?
My father once told me, “There is nothing you can do, say, or think to make me not love you.” I tested him on that a little more than a decade ago, and sadly, he was not telling the truth. Marrying a woman was a bridge too far. But I still say those words to my own children, with a difference: I mean them.