Boundaries In Action

I had a former congregant call a while back about her teenage daughter, coming out as bisexual. There was none of the usual upset, no “I’m not going to have grandchildren,” or “Will my daughter still be able to go to heaven?” She and her husband were happy that their daughter felt free to tell them, and they were supportive and understanding.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that it struck her—instead of being worried about the boundaries her daughter must have around boys, she was worried about those boundaries with girls, too. Her daughter being bisexual made sleepovers seem very different.

And while she was comfortable with her daughter being bi, she was not comfortable with her daughter (who was 13) being sexual. That’s why she called.

“I want my daughter to feel accepted, and yet I don’t want her to have sex yet.” She felt like her daughter wasn’t emotionally mature enough to handle a sexual relationship. But how could she communicate acceptance and keep her from having sex?

We had the boundaries discussion. But first, we had to separate the two issues: sexuality and bisexuality. I said, “Think about it this way: one way is what she does, the other is how she is. You can celebrate the way she is and set boundaries around the things she does.”

I asked, “What were her boundaries about boys, before you found out that she was bisexual?”

Her mom answered, “She could go out with boys in group situations, but no ‘dates,’ and any boys who visited the house had to stay in the common areas.” I asked how the rules were different from girls. “Girls had full access—bedroom, sleepovers, time at the mall, no boundaries.”

Next, it was important to discern whether there was a difference between friend-boys and boyfriends. “None. I look at boys and see the possibilities for coercive relationships, for pressure, and for sexual relationships.”

And now, with girls? “I see those same possibilities.”

So my congregant built the new boundaries for her daughter. Unfortunately, sleepovers, for the time, are over. And private time with girls or boys is not permitted—the door to her teen’s bedroom remains open, no matter who the visitor is.

But with these decisions, there was also a renewed commitment to communicate with her daughter. To express to the daughter her parents’ pride in her. They’ve decided that if her daughter is very clear about not having romantic or sexual feelings about a girl, then they may negotiate different boundaries. But for now, they are all comfortable with the rules.

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