When is it okay to have feelings that seem bad, wrong, or incompatible with the person we want to be, or think we are? This is not a trick question! The answer is, it’s always okay to have these feelings. We’re all human, subject to thoughts, impulses and desires that may not be good for us, or even what we want. It’s what we do with our feelings that matters.
Case on point. Sara, age 15, recently broke up with her boyfriend after six months of being together. Yesterday she came home and excitedly told her mom, Julie, that she’s seeing someone new–a girl named Olivia. Outwardly, Julie expressed happiness, but, she confesses, inwardly she felt confused, concerned and a little bit disappointed. Julie has a gay brother whom she loves dearly, and she is not opposed to her daughter dating a girl. And yet, she feels thrown off base by this information, and that makes her feel guilty that she’s not a good mom. What’s going on here?
I told Julie I thought her feelings were normal and understandable, and they do not mean she’s letting her daughter down. In this particular situation, Julie needs time to re-envision her daughter, and what she may have expected or dreamed for her. Her expectations for Sara were rather traditional, especially given that Sara’s first love was a boy. Julie assumed Sara would marry a man someday, just like Julie married Sara’s dad. Julie’s feelings–whatever they are–surprise, shock, discomfort, disappointment–are not bad. They just are. I encouraged Julie to be curious about her feelings, and to talk about them with her spouse or a trusted friend. Over time, she will come to understand why she has these feelings and, I’m pretty sure, those feelings will evolve into new feelings about Sara and her girlfriend that are more comfortable for Julie, and more consistent with the loving and supportive mom she knows herself to be.