Advice from the Trenches: Panicky Parent

sleepoverDear C,

I’m wondering if I did the right thing. Last night, my 14-year-old daughter had a sleepover with her best friend, Kimmy, another 14-year-old girl.  When I went up to check on them and to say good night, Kimmy was not in the trundle bed I’d made up for her. They were both in my daughter’s bed. They were not doing anything inappropriate … in fact they seemed cute, like two kittens. However, I ordered Kimmy back in her own bed. It had been totally unexpected and startled me; I felt awkward. I know I acted pretty stern.

My daughter was upset and just kept asking me, “Why? Why? Why?” She said that Kimmy gets scared in the dark so she climbed in the bed to feel safe and my daughter was just giving her a hug to comfort her. Kimmy had tears in her eyes when I looked at her.

Did I do the right thing? What do I tell my daughter today?

Guilty Mom

Dear Mom,

From your question, I think you already know that answer to this one. But there’s more than one issue here – there’s what actually happened…then there’s what you thought might be going on.

First, let’s look at what you walked in on: two young girls sitting next to each other in bed, fully clothed and doing nothing inappropriate. In your own words, they seemed like innocent baby animals. My guess is that they probably were. Two kids who are doing something they don’t want you to see freak out when they’re caught. They don’t act hurt and perplexed. They get defensive and nervous.

So let’s address the elephant in the room: your knee jerk reaction. Your orders and sternness might have been appropriate if you’d caught the kids smoking crack or in S&M regalia with whips and staple guns, but not for something like this. Your anger probably put the idea in their heads that they were doing something wrong. Since they weren’t, it just confused them.

These are two teenage girls we are talking about. Friends that age comb each other’s hair, try on each other’s clothes, put their heads together and giggle. In many countries, it is not unusual to see young girls holding hands or walking with their arms around each other’s waist. In the US there is so much emphasis placed on sexuality in movies, in the media and in legislation, that I think we tend to see sexual overtones in any kind of touching, period. Rather than giving us healthier attitudes toward sex, it can make us suspicious that sensuality is lurking in gestures that used to be seen as simple affection.

So, what should you have done? Well. you could have trusted your first impression and taken them at their word. It would have been a natural, motherly act to sit on the bed, give Kimmy a little hug yourself and ask if she was okay. And yes, Kimmy should sleep in her own bed. She’s a big girl now. But you could have separated them in a gentle way by turning on a night light for Kimmy and suggesting the trundle bed be moved closer if she was still scared. All you’d have to say is, “Come on now, scoot. You two will talk all night if I don’t break you up.” Then tuck Kimmy in and say goodnight.

What if there had been something going on? That’s a whole other question, and such conversations are best left between mother and daughter. Kimmy is not yours.

So, what do you tell your daughter today? I would make a simple apology. You don’t have to give any explanation other than to say that you were tired and cranky and shouldn’t have yelled. If your daughter was, in fact, comforting Kimmy, that’s not something she should feel bad about. Next time, maybe count to 10 and think before reacting. Have a little faith, Mom.

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