Sorry, Billy, but I WAS right to let our 16-year-old daughter sleep with her boyfriend
00:09 GMT, 25 June 2012
It's a dilemma familiar to million – and last week Billy Connolly
said it caused one of the worst rows of his marriage. Here, his defiant
wife has her say.
Different views: Billy and Pamela disagree when it comes to their daughters sex lives
Trying to deal with family matters on your own when your husband’s away – getting killed on the battlefield with Tom Cruise, having sex with Sharon Stone, being murdered by Michelle Pfeiffer or whatever movie madness mine was involved in back then – is never easy.
Especially when all of a sudden your 16-year-old daughter pops a tricky question: ‘Mum, can Jimmy sleep over’
Now, Jimmy, then 18, happened to be my daughter’s steady boyfriend of almost a year and, in my opinion, he was a very nice young man.
Almost too nice, in fact; Billy and I had often mused about Amy’s choice.
Given who her father is, we had imagined that in order to rebel in true teenage style, she would have to find an even hairier, crazier type of animal – probably with face jewellery, a pet bat and a penchant for wearing miniskirts.
But no. Cleverly, she had rebelled against her father by finding a straight-as-a-die, high-flying boy from an excellent school, who wanted to become a lawyer.
He was polite, charming and always brought Amy home on time.
Billy used to shake his head: ‘Where did we go wrong’
So when Amy asked that question in her most innocent, wide-eyed way, I was a little torn.
It is one of the great dilemmas of modern parenting — when should you allow your teenage children to sleep over with boyfriends and girlfriends
It’s tricky, isn’t it, because for a start there’s no guarantee that both parents will reach a consensus — and when one of them is away, that’s even more unlikely.
I found that out to my cost — when Billy returned a month later to discover I had taken the more liberal approach. Well, let’s just say he wasn’t too happy.
In fact, the resulting row was so epic that it’s the one he referred to last week — a whole ten years later — when he said one of our biggest arguments was over whether our daughters should be allowed to spend the night with their boyfriends.
Besides Billy’s two children from his previous marriage, Cara and Jamie, we have three daughters —
Daisy, now 28, Amy, 26, and Scarlett, 23, but it was Amy who first requested a boyfriend stay over.
Billy Connolly with his daughter Amy, now 23 and the cause of the family fight
Billy is of the opinion that when it comes to letting your daughters sleep with their lovers at home or elsewhere, women are more likely to be for it while most men are against it.
He may be right about the gender discrepancy. Fathers do tend to growl at any young man standing on the doorstep — with or without a bunch of flowers in his hand.
But I stand by my decision. It certainly isn’t one I made lightly.
Now, I’m not advocating that all 16-year-olds should be allowed to sleep at home with their boyfriends. It wouldn’t be right for many teenagers, many families.
And when Amy first posed that question there was much to consider.
'I knew my daughter was already sexually active. I could tell from the pair’s body language that they were comfortably intimate with each other.'
Firstly, I knew my daughter well enough to be sure that she was already sexually active. We had broadly discussed it (sex was far from a taboo subject in our house) and, as a psychologist, I could tell from the pair’s body language that they were comfortably intimate with each other.
I was also pretty certain that whatever kind of sex she was having with Jimmy, it was most likely to be safe and consensual. But then there’s always that tiny grain of doubt.
‘Where exactly are you suggesting he sleep’ I asked, buying time. ‘In my room, of course.’
‘Are you being safe’
‘Mum! I practically ran Glove Affair!’
We were living in Los Angeles at the time, and my daughters’ school was a fairly liberal one. Glove
Affair was a school ball that promoted condom use and awareness about sexually transmitted diseases.
The school also provided sex education based on research showing that teaching abstinence does not work.
Billy Connolly with daughters Amy and Scarlett at a film premiere in Los Angeles in 2003
and her classmates were given full information about how to have safe
sex. Generally — unlike the situation at many other American schools —
there were responsible attitudes among her peers, and teen pregnancy was
practically unheard of.
My next question was: ‘Has Jimmy asked his parents’
had assumed they would have no objection. I was well aware of the
double standards that exist regarding sexual freedom for teenagers — one
rule for girls and another for boys. But I was wrong. Amy avoided my
‘They, um, they
make us leave the door open when we’re in their house. But Mum, that’s
just because they don’t want the responsibility. Because I’m a bit
younger than him. If you allow it here they’d be OK with that…’ As a
realist, it was clear to me that Amy and Jimmy were going to continue
having sex no matter what.
my own values told me I had no reason to object — provided she was
being well-treated and safe, and was able to focus on her school work.
without parental consent and a comfortable place to get it on, it would
probably be in a car, in a park, at a friend’s place when the parents
were away — not such safe choices.
I reasoned that if I allowed Amy to
be with Jimmy at home, she would be under our roof more often, and less
likely to be out being exposed to things such as drugs and alcohol — of
which I disapproved.
thought about their level of maturity, sense of responsibility and
relationship in general, and decided they were as solid and sensible as
one could ever expect from teenagers.
And to be honest, I wanted to support their relationship as much as possible, because Jimmy really looked after Amy.
I considered the effect on Amy’s siblings — studies had shown that
younger sisters especially would be more likely to be sexual if an older
sister was doing it in the house.
14-year-old Scarlett had shown little interest in ‘sleepovers’, and
Amy’s older sister Daisy, then 18, had recently told a young man: ‘I’m
not ready to go steady.’
Different kids have different needs.
can give it a try,’ I said to Amy at last. ‘But not on a school night.
And it’s house rules for both of you — no alcohol or drugs …’
You know Jimmy — his idea of substance abuse is hot cocoa and a
chocolate chip cookie! But thanks! We’ll be good, I promise!’
Doting parents: Billy and Pamela with Aimy, Daisy in Scarlett back in 1997
So Jimmy started sleeping over occasionally on weekends. We never had any problems with this, and I do not regret my decision to allow it.
I was glad to have my daughter at home where I could keep an eye on both her and Jimmy. I was able to observe their interaction at breakfast, and knew if I needed to quietly check in with Amy (‘Everything OK, honey’ ‘Yeah, Mum. Chill.’).
But I do regret one thing. When Amy first asked me about it, I committed a terrible sin, namely I gave my consent without consulting Billy because he was away filming.
When he returned a month later, the rest of the family was already accustomed to seeing Jimmy in the morning but for Billy it was a shock.
‘Pamela! When did all this start, and why wasn’t I told’
Quite rightly, he was angry with me, because he would have liked to have a discussion about it. A major parental decision like that definitely required joint input.
We had such a huge row.
At first I got defensive: ‘You want me to take care of things when you’re away for months at a time — but that sometimes includes making these kinds of decisions rather fast. You can’t just walk in the front door after six weeks and start trying to micromanage the family …’ Yada, yada, yada. But I conceded he was right in the end, and apologised.
Naturally, Billy had some feelings about knowing his daughter was sexually active downstairs, but actually he got used to the idea pretty quickly.
I think both of us were remembering the challenges we’d faced in our youth — for me, ‘making out’ occurred in the backseat of cars, while in Billy’s case, it was dark doorways and graveyards — and we were rather envious.
Far from being accepted, our budding sexuality was punished.
Poor Billy was also having difficulty dealing with the fact that Amy was becoming a woman; that’s never easy for fathers. He came to terms with it eventually, although his understandable wariness of Jimmy came out from time to time in the form of misplaced humour.
The line: ‘You get her pregnant, you marry her — have a nice evening!’ was delivered with a twinkle in the eye and a threat in the voice.
Amy would be mortified: ‘Oh Dad!’ But Jimmy just laughed uncomfortably and continued to sleep over for the next year or so. And when he was included in a family holiday, he and Amy were even allowed to share a hotel room.
'The line: “You get her pregnant, you
marry her — have a nice evening!” was delivered with a twinkle in the
eye and a threat in the voice.'
Meanwhile, my youngest daughter Scarlett never made such a request until well after she’d left school.
The way I see it, age of maturation and sexual interest — as well as the issue of finding a suitable boyfriend/girlfriend — varies from person to person.
When last night I asked Amy, now 23, what she thought about it all in retrospect, she was right behind me.
‘You made the right decision, Mum,’ she said.
‘And it was actually pretty innocent. Some of my school friends who were not given the same privilege had horrible experiences with guys.’
Then she said, frankly: ‘I think a big advantage of allowing sleepovers is that if a boy knows he has lots of time to spend with the girl, he’s not going to be so anxious about doing everything as fast as possible, ticking everything off the list before curfew time.
‘If they’re more relaxed, they’re more respectful. I think boys who sleep in the girls’ homes behave better. Well, they have to. And the parents can check them out.
‘You wouldn’t have let a creepy guy stay over, would you’
Later, Amy phoned again from New York, where she has been living for the past four years. It was only 5am over there but something else was on her mind. ‘Mum, the UK is so different from California … I mean, culturally. What will they make of this over there Will they think I was, like, some kind of teen slut’
‘They’re more likely to burn me at the stake,’ I said. ‘People all over the world prefer to pretend teenage sex doesn’t exist; they think that if they ignore it, punish it or ban it, it’ll just go away.’
She cackled: ‘Tell ’em: “Good luck with that…!’”
Like I said, it’s never easy.
Pamela’s memoirs The Varnished Untruth will be published by Simon & Schuster on September 13.