I came home to find my school-going daughter in bed with a guy

I am really upset that she did not wait until she was older to have sex

PROBLEM: I am writing to you about a situation that happened with my daughter last week. She is an only child and is still in school. She is young for her age and has not been interested in going to any clubs or bars at all; she is very sporty and is on school teams in a number of sports.

We are very close, especially since my separation from her father three years ago, and I want to keep that close relationship going.

The problem is that I came home early from work and walked in to find her in my bed with a guy. I was so shocked that I walked out without really registering who the guy was and went to a coffee shop to calm down.

When I came back my daughter left for sports practice, and the only conversation we have had since was her telling me she did not want to talk about it and asked me not to tell her father.

The last week has been miserable, with lots of tension in the house and none of our usual comfort with each other. I am not a prude but I feel as though my little girl is now gone for good and I am really upset that she did not wait until she was older to have sex.

Also, I am worried that she was taken advantage of, as I do not know who this guy is.

I want to respect her wish not to tell her father, but I feel very alone and unsure of what to do. I know her father would ground her and be furious at this, as she is so young.

ADVICE: There is no straightforward answer to your question, as so much depends on the type and quality of the relationships involved: your daughter’s relationship with her father, your relationship with her father and your relationship with your daughter.

What seems clear is that a conversation needs to happen with your daughter, but as you rightly say, you want to respect her rights in this situation.

As a parent you want to protect your “little girl” and so you naturally want to make sure she is ready for the adult world, but if you think back to when you were that age yourself, you might find that you have a different perspective.

At her age it is likely that you wanted to keep things from your parents and that you were finding ways to assert your independence and have a life that was somewhat of your own making. No doubt your daughter wants this too.

Whether to tell her father about this situation very much depends on the quality of your relationships with him. Does your daughter have a good and trusting relationship with him? Are you co-parenting with him or is your break-up still raw and difficult? Before any of this is decided, a discussion must be had with your daughter.

Some suggestions for starting the conversation with her might be: “I want to respect your wish not to talk about your intimate life, but we need to talk about boundaries.” You might also say that you miss her as it is true that you miss the kind of ease you had together. This will allow her the right to a private life while taking on some responsibility for a shared existence.

Boundaries are very important here, as some of these have been broken: that is, you found your daughter in your bed and this is a line you do not want to be crossed again. Also, you might want to establish some house rules about who can be brought home and when.

It might be interesting to include your own social life in this discussion, as it might be that you also want to bring a partner home in future, and your daughter might find that difficult.

Her feelings about her father need to be part of the conversation, and you will have to exercise good judgment about the outcome.

You do not want to create a divide with you and her on one side and your ex-husband on the other. If he is to be told, could she find a way of doing it herself so that her adult self can be encouraged?

Some issues that could be part of an ongoing conversation include: safe sex, consent and the age of the guy.

It sounds as though your daughter has been a very easy child up to now; she is social and is playing lots of sport and she is now moving into a different stage of development.

This means that you have been plunged into a more removed stage of parenting, and you may need to allow yourself some time to mourn this loss while acknowledging that this progression is natural.