My parents and I have different ideas about sex and relationships - how can I still be honest with them?

purplenirvana
asks:
How do I tell my mom that I'm not virgin anymore? Our family is very religious and believe in waiting for marriage. Me and my mom are really close and it just kills me not to tell her! Please help!
Johanna Schorn replies:

I am really glad to hear that you have a close relationship with your mom. That can be tricky to maintain throughout the teen years, but for many people having a close relationship with parents is important, so it is awesome that you two seem to be doing great on that front.

A big part of the reason why it can be so tricky to maintain a good relationship with our parents as we go through adolescence and move towards adulthood is that this is often a time of big changes, and not seldom a time in which we discover that we have values, goals and interests that are different from those of our parents. We're different people, after all: we're not growing up in the same social environment that they did, we have different influences, different experienes and different peer groups. And that is absolutely, perfectly okay.

Now, if these changes and influences lead to you liking a different football team, or preferring a different style of music, then that's probably something that is easy enough to manage. But for some of us, those developments and changes can lead us to having a different faith, or a different approach to faith, to having different political ideas, to having different plans for how to live our lives - what to study, where to live, who to date. And in a perfect world, we can be honest with our parents and share our discoveries and ideas with them, and be able to count on their unconditional support and love. That is the job of parents as parents, after all, and the job they signed up for when they decided to have children.

However, we don't live in a perfect world, and parents are also people, and often it's difficult for them to adjust or to accept when we have these vastly different ideas about how to live our life. But that doesn't mean that these differences can't be bridged or that the relationship has to suffer, so let's see how we can help you figure out how to approach this.

I hear you expressing very clearly that you do want to share with your mom and that you want to continue the open and honest dialogue that you have had with her so far. That's really great - honesty usually is the best policy, and it's certainly your best bet for keeping up a good relationship with your parents, even if you're doing things they may not quite be on board with.

You haven't told us much about how you and your mom usually communicate and what history you have with talking about difficult things, so I am going to give you some questions to work with and you can think them through based on your own situation.

The first question to consider is why you want to tell your mom. What are you hoping for from that conversation? Do you just want her to know, so you don't have a secret from her? Do you want to be able to turn to her for advice and support? Are you maybe hoping to get her approval for what you've done? It's pretty important to figure that out, because it can help you decide how best to talk to her and what to say, but also, if you're clear on what you are hoping for, you can give yourself a reality check and figure out if that is a realistic expectation. You know your mom best, so you probably have some idea of how she'll react. If you know that you're expecting more than you're likely to get, you can dial your expectations down a little and start slower.

In connection with that, you might also find it helpful to think of different scenarios and see how they make you feel. What is your ideal response, the one you think would be absolutely awesome and most helpful for you? And, on the flipside, what is the worst scenario you can imagine? It is helpful to prepare yourself for potential outcomes, so you can think of ways that you would respond to that. You can also think about where you draw the line, what sort of reactions you could deal with and which would be too difficult for you to handle. It might help you to remember other conversations about tough topics that you have had with your mom. How did those go? How well were you both able to both express yourself but also listen to and respect the other? Maybe you can take some cues from those previous talks and use them to guide you.

Now, in your question it sounds to me like this is a pretty big deal to you right now, something you feel very strongly about and that has you worrying a great deal. And regardless of how that conversation turns out, you'll probably continue to worry as you plan the conversation and figure out when to do it and what to say. So one thing I want to be sure to check in with you about is that you have someone who is supporting you in this. Are there any relatives that you are close to that you feel more safe and confident confiding in? Maybe you can talk to them, first. Not only would that give you a chance to practice what you want to say and saying it out loud, but it will also ensure that you have an ally by your side, someone who can support you and who you can turn to. If you have no relatives who you feel comfortable confiding in, maybe you have a good friend you can tell? Or a trusted teacher or coach?

Another thing to consider is whether you have any starting points for gauging how your mom will react. You say she's religious and believes in waiting for marriage, but have you two ever had any conversations about this specifically? For example, has she asked you not to have sex before marriage? Or do you have any experiences where she's reacted to someone else? If you know how she feels about this topic and what exactly she has difficulties with or objects to, then you can already anticipate some of the points she is likely to make and can prepare your responses, or know what to avoid saying.

With all of that out of the way, let's talk about the talk. With conversations like this, it's always good to pick a time when you know that neither of you has any obligations coming up, and that you can sit and talk for as long as you need to. Maybe you want to ask her when would be a good time for her. That way, you can not only make sure that you both have the time and privacy for this conversation, but you can also give your mom a heads-up, let her know that you want to talk about something that is important to you.

If talking to her directly seems really difficult to you, another approach would be to write a letter or e-mail to her. How much or how little you want to tell her is up to you and what you're most comfortable with, of course. Maybe you just want to write a letter saying that you have something important to say to her, and can she please ask you about it? Or maybe you want to tell her in the letter and invite her to ask you questions about it. That all depends on what you think you'd feel best doing.

Now, I know this sucks to think about, but I do want to say a few words about the possibility of a negative outcome of this conversation. To start with, I want to say that it is hard for me to gauge from what you're written what kind of people your parents are, and what kind of fears you have about telling them. Do you think they'll be disappointed and upset? Do you think they'll be angry with you? Do you think they might be super angry and kick you out of the house? And where do your fears come from - are they based on experience? Have you clashed with your parents before, and have they reacted in the way you are scared about now? Because the thing is that most parents, even when they don't agree with something their child is doing, can carry on being supportive of them regardless. Only a very small minority actually behave in ways that aren't grounded in love, respect and support for their child.

So, while only you can know what the worst-case-scenario is likely to be, I want you to be honest with yourself and figure out what's really driving the car here - does your experience of your relationship with your mom give you reason to be scared, or are you just scared? Chances are, if you and your mom have had a good, close relationship so far, this talk might be tough and a little awkward, but it'll likely be alright in the end.

However, in the event that you do have a real reason to be worried about the outcome of your conversation, I also have some thoughts for you. Yes, it is important to be honest, but it is also important that you make the choice that is best for you. If disclosing your sexual experience to your mother is likely to lead to judgements or arguments, if it may even mean that your safety is compromised, then the best choice in the interest of sustaining that relationship may be to stay quiet for now.

The thing is that, as we move out into the world and become our own person, we also learn how to move in different social spheres. We interact with lots of different kinds and groups of people in a given day: we interact with our teachers, with our schoolmates, with relatives, with close friends, with bosses and co-workers. And all of those relationships are different from each other, and they are all about different parts of our personalities. We probably don't share the same parts of ourselves with our teachers that we share with our close friends, and we don't share the same thing with a boss that we would with a relative. That does not mean that we are lying to either of them. It just means that we recognize what is important and comfortable to share in each of those relationships, and what is not. Of course there is always some overlap, but by and large it is not only normal but completely okay to have different sides of yourself that come to the fore in different social contexts.

And you know, deciding that you cannot share with your mother right now doesn't mean that you can't ever tell her. If, after thinking this all through, you come to the conclusion that now isn't a time you can tell her safely, or without a real chance of it harming your relationship, that does not mean that that is the final verdict. We change and evolve all the time, as do our relationships. And as we grow older and our parents see us more and more as our own people, difficult topics can become easier to discuss again.

Obviously I hope that these last couple of paragraphs are not relevant to you at all, and that you are able to have an awesome and honest conversation with your mom and get the support from her that you're hoping for. A good relationship with your parents can be really beneficial and a great source of support, but they can also sometimes be tricky to navigate as we become our own people and discover that we have different values and interests from our parents. A strong relationship, however, can withstand that - it's all about communicating openly, being respectful, and finding common ground.