Home >Magazine >When You Think You Know Your Grown Child . . .

When You Think You Know Your Grown Child . . .

It wasn't the news itself that bothered Alice Scovell after she heard her daughter's "big news;" it was never having suspected.

“Hi, Mom. I’m calling with big news.”

It’s early on an autumn Sunday morning.  An unusual time for my daughter Elizabeth—a junior in college—to call.

“I like big news,” I say, assuming she’s gotten back a paper or received a much-wanted study grant. “What’s up?”

“I’ve started seeing someone!!!” she says with three exclamation points in her voice.

This was, indeed, big news. And, as viewed through maternal bias, vastly overdue news. Two years earlier, Elizabeth had arrived as a freshman with a long distance boyfriend–a dashing athlete-scholar–but had severed the tie within a few months. In the intervening time, I had not once gotten a call about a serious romantic attachment. Make that, about any romantic attachment.

Read More: Hey, Over-Invested Moms: Your Grown Child’s Romance Is None of Your Business

Tell Me More

I had chalked up her solitary status to her demanding schedule, which included performing improv and editing the school newspaper. And being a dedicated student. And having a circle of friends so wide that, when walking through the campus, she would be stopped every few steps to receive enthusiastic hugs.

“Tell me more! I want details!”  I demand.

“All the good stuff. Attractive. Intelligent. Pre-med.”

Because the sentence started that way, I don’t quite hear the end of it.

I’m thinking how nice it would be to have a doctor in our family, which teems with writers. Writers are useful if you’re debating the merits of a comma versus a semi-colon. Not useful if you have a stomachache or a broken nose. My grandmother, who had wanted some home-grown medical expertise, used to give us career advice, “You can be a doctor or a lawyer…or even a doctor!”

My daughter continues, “From New York City. A really nice family.”  I’m thinking how easy it will be for the parents to meet, since I live in Manhattan as does my ex.

I ask, “And does this person, who might possibly be worthy of you, have a name?”

She takes a deep breath. I don’t realize she did this until I think back on the conversation.

“Her name is….” And because the sentence started that way, I don’t quite hear the end of it.

Freezing Up

Why, you might ask, did my mind freeze up? Was I suddenly unaccepting of same-sex love? Was I a hypocrite who could easily accept such love in the abstract, but not in the concrete, when it came to my own child?

To not quite quote Tolstoy, all accepting families are alike, but each unaccepting family is unaccepting in its own way. Accepting families think some variant of “We love our family member. (S)he may love differently from us, but who cares?”

After I got off the phone with Elizabeth, I thought through my initial reaction, and I realized that acceptance was not the issue.

Unaccepting families hit roadblocks, such as buying into societal gender stereotypes. Or blindly embracing religious beliefs where their devotion to god(s) takes precedence over the love of their loved ones.

And there are political roadblocks, which often are the intersection of hardcore religious belief and power. In this country not so long ago, members of the Republican party were calling for a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. Fortunately, their unacceptance didn’t prevail. As Martin Luther King, Jr. sort of said, “The arc—the attractive rainbow-colored one—of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (Sadly, those same political voices are now calling for the Supreme Court to overturn the right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell, but that’s a different discussion for a different day.)

I hit none of those roadblocks, so why had I been, at least momentarily, paralyzed? After I got off the phone with Elizabeth, I thought through my initial reaction, and I realized that acceptance was not the issue. People in my world know that, as Lin Manuel so accurately and repetitively said, “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love.”

Knowing and Not Knowing

After some contemplation, I realized I had frozen up because my child had called to tell me something fundamental to her being that I had been oblivious to.  I had known her for twenty years (twenty-one if you count her residency in utero) and I had never even had an inkling that her heart—her large, generous, enthusiastic, open heart—might be given to a woman.

If you’re a good parent, you think you have a pretty good measure of who your child is.

If you’re a good parent, you think you have a pretty good measure of who your child is. There’s a time, in the first couple of years, when you know everything. What Lambie likes to eat (bananas, not squash), when Lambie likes to sleep (almost never, and certainly not in the wee hours), what Lambie likes to watch (her older siblings at play, not TV). Sometimes your little one cries, and you don’t know why, but you can usually figure it out (hunger, exhaustion, dropped toys, gas).

Knowing everything is not the goal; knowing the important things is. When your child starts having independent adventures, you have to accept some mystery. You’ve created a separate human being with her own thoughts, feelings, style, interests. You’ll have some influence on how those develop (which explains why my kids like oatmeal and Jane Austen), but only some. And that’s how it should be, from generation to generation. Independent individuals emerge from the family unit.

No Suspicions

My younger sister had known that her son was gay…even before he did. When he told her that he had joined his high school’s Straight-Gay-Alliance as a “straight” member, she had nodded in response, ever the supportive mother. But as soon as he left the room, she indulged in a knowing chuckle. Yet I had not had any suspicions, let alone certainty, about my child. Was I a failure as a mother?

Was I a failure as a mother?

It turns out that Elizabeth’s preference came as something of a revelation to her, too. Although I’m sure she must have experienced stirrings earlier, she hadn’t fully recognized their import.  Reading Alison Bechdel’s wonderful Fun Home had helped clarify her feelings. Sadly, she was so nervous about her feelings that she didn’t buy the book to read openly but, instead, devoured it in a secluded nook at the bookstore. I guess we owe Ms. Bechdel more than a thank-you…we owe her royalties.

When I discovered that Elizabeth’s feelings were newly discovered, I felt relieved. It’s hard to fully know another person, even if that person is your flesh-and-blood. Heck, the story reveals that it’s hard to know oneself.

For me, Elizabeth’s call was “big news.” Not because any acceptance was in question, but because it gave me new, greater understanding of my child, as she had of herself. And it was good news, because I learned that someone I love—deeply and abidingly—was in love.

Read More: I Want to Be Excited for My Transgender Daughter, But…


Based in Manhattan, Alice Scovell is the author of two children’s novels (Engraved in Stone, The Spirit of Chatsworth Mansion) and the upcoming stage comedy The Rewards of Being Frank(Off-Broadway, March 2023). She, with no bias whatsoever, asserts that she has the three best kids and cutest granddaughter in the universe.

By Alice Scovell


Related Articles

Find your tribe

Connect and join a community of women over 45 who are dedicated to traveling and exploring the world.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This