I have co-parented my 15 y/o daughter with her mother for over 9 years. My daughter and I have always been close and got along well. Recently, I discovered she was having oral sex with a boy. After many weeks of thought and planning, I discussed this with her, calmly delving into subjects such as planned parenthood, why she felt it necessary to engage in such behaviors, etc. I then asked her to discontinue her relationship with the boy. She agreed, but then failed to do so. Before I had a chance to develop and process for dealing with her refusal to comply with my wishes, she told her mother she would commit suicide if she had to come back to my house because, according to her, she doesn’t feel "safe" there. Her mother immediately suspended our regular time-share arrangement and filed a motion for full custody. My response was to insist that my daughter see a mental health counselor. Since then (over a month ago), my daughter has refused to come home, and her mental health counsel is supporting this contending my daughter feels "unsafe." I’ve tried to explain to the therapist that my daughter’s reaction to what I believe was nothing more than good parenting is not a rational response. We all agree she needs counseling, but the therapist, my daughter, and my ex-wife seem to believe the main component is keeping us apart. I have not seen may daughter for 5 weeks now. Should I walk away and let my daughter come to her senses on her own? Should I continue to insist that my daughter and I be reunited to work our way through this? My feelings of concern for her mental health are conflicting mightily with my hurt and anger at my daughter for basically convincing other adults that I’m some sort of threat to her — which is not true (and has never been true). Should I communicate with her my anger, or shield her from it?
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Dear Co Parent,
It is possible that you have made some serious errors with your daughter that have had disastrous but not hopeless consequences. What I mean is that this might be reparable if it’s not too late:
First, you report that you became aware that you daughter is having oral sex with a boy and you thought about and planned approaching her about this. Yet, you do not indicate that you spoke with your former wife about the issue of the boy and your daughter having oral sex with him. Was your ex wife aware of your daughter having a sexual relationship? If she did know, did she approve or disapprove and did she or did she not talk to her about it?
By the way, how did you become aware of this sexual activity? Did you hear a rumor, or did you read her diary or over hear her in a conversation or did you learn of this in some other way? If you spied on her or if she believes that you spied on her she will have a difficult time trusting you again.
In addition and generally speaking, fathers need to be very cautious about speaking with their adolescent daughters about sexual issues. Girls who are at that age are extremely self conscious about their bodies and about sexual activity. Most commonly, they will go to their mother about such issues but only if they feel really comfortable with and trusting of that parent. In other words, your daughter may have experienced your discussion with her as an intrusion into areas that are too sensitive for her to handle with you because you are her father. It would have been wiser for you to talk with your ex wife and plan a strategy with her for her to talk to this young teenager.
Second, having approached your daughter with a discussion about this boy and their sexual relationship you then prohibited her from continuing with him. Your question to her about "why it was necessary for her to engage in such behaviors" was probably perceived by her as being judgmental. In addition, it is fairly unrealistic to ask a fifteen year old who has begun a sexual relationship to now end that relationship. At that age teens will do behind the backs of their parents what they are told they are not allowed to do. This is especially true with regard to the opposite sex and sexual issues. The most realistic approach is to teach them and provide birth control as well as protection against sexually transmitted diseases. However, given that she is a girl, it was her mother who should have and should now provide that type of support and information. Again, you should have consulted with, even had long talks with her mother about this issue and then allowed her to handle the situation.
Third, there are a couple of reasons why your daughter now feels unsafe with you. 1 (I am quite certain that she is angry with you as well as embarrassed and ashamed. You crossed barriers that have to do with her age, sexuality and dignity. The conversation never should have happened nor should you have tried to stop her from seeing the boy. 2) Girls at that age can get quite emotional and melodramatic without much provocation. In this case you provided extreme provocation.
Fourth, why does your daughter need to see a mental health counselor? Her wanting to flee from you because of her feelings of shame, embarrassment and anger are not abnormal. In fact, whether you approve or not her having sex with a boy is not abnormal.
There are things you need to do to repair the situation and your relationship with your daughter.
1. I would advise, strongly, that you apologize to her, explaining that you worries as her father overcame your common sense and that you now know what you did was well meaning because you love her but was clearly a mistake. You should tell her that you now understand that you both hurt and embarrassed her. Then, explain that no one is perfect and you are trying your best.
2. You need to stop thinking about your hurt and anger and put yourself in her place so that you try to understand her emotions.
3. You should not communicate your anger at all. Instead, you should communicate your love for her.
4. Your ex wife: You need to talk to her and admit how badly you handled the situation. The two of you need to talk about you daughter, plan to consult with one another, stay in touch with one another over what your daughter is doing and going through.
It is really essential that you understand how sensitive, vulnerable, shy fifteen year old girls are about themselves, their body, their appearance and whether or not they are like. It is also important to understand how emotional teen girls can be and quickly they can erupt into sadness, anger, tears, joy, happiness and suicidal depression.
I wish you well.