Q: I've just learned that my 12-year-old daughter has experienced sex with a classmate. We're both hurt by this. Three years ago her dad and I went through a divorce. Then he remarried and moved 18 hours away. All of this was pretty devastating to our daughter and I don't know what to do now.
Juli: My heart goes out to you and your daughter. Your heart as a mom must be broken as you think of her purity taken away at such a young age!
At 12, your daughter is just beginning the emotional challenges of adolescence. She's in the midst of trying to figure out who she is and what she believes. Losing her virginity at this age can be even more devastating if she begins building the foundation of her identity upon this one mistake. For this reason, you need to work hard to combat the messages she may believe about herself -- "I'm unworthy; I'm bad," etc.
It's also important that you reaffirm how much you love and value her. In the midst of spending time together, you'll need to have some difficult conversations about what she's feeling and the choices she has made. Because these topics are so sensitive, reading a book or watching a movie together that raises some of these issues can be a good way to open up the conversation.
Also, find a counselor, pastor or mentor who can help your daughter work through the painful rejection she probably feels from her dad's absence. Research overwhelmingly indicates that girls whose parents have gone through a divorce are far more likely to get involved sexually at an early age. It's very possible that your daughter's sexual activity is an attempt to replace the affection she once received from her dad.
Finally, don't neglect your own feelings in all of this. You need to be emotionally available for your daughter. That's tough when you're in the middle of your own grief process. Connect with a good friend or counselor who can be a support for you as you support your daughter.
Q: Our 22-year-old daughter is pregnant and living at home. She's currently working and attending college. She and the father are "in love" but don't feel ready to marry. She doesn't feel like she should marry just because she is pregnant. What advice can you give me about helping her?
Jim: First, I would praise her for choosing to have the baby. Abortion is often presented as a "solution" for unmarried mothers, but it only results in more pain for everyone involved. She needs your unwavering support and affirmation as she prepares to welcome this precious new life into the world.
That said, she can't stay with you forever. It's good that she's got a job and is attending college, although those things will need to be set aside, at least temporarily, after the baby arrives. Even though it's not an ideal situation, you and your husband (and the baby's father) need to be prepared to help her financially during this period.
And speaking of the father, I hope that he and your daughter will, sooner rather than later, consider getting married -- assuming he would be a good husband. They may not feel "ready," but if they're truly committed to one another, getting married and creating a stable home will be in the best interests of both them and their child. Don't pressure them into it, though -- it's a decision they'll need to reach on their own. Pray that the impending birth of their baby will help move them in that direction!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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