When Your Child Comes Out: 3 Words of Advice For Parents
In my work both personally and professionally with families who are apart of the LGBTQ+ community, when a child shares a part of their gender or sexuality identity with parents, responses can often be surprising and varied for parents. Here I share three words (or phrases, really) of advice for parents during these times.
When your child shares something vulnerable with you, at times, as parents we have the tendency of wanting to either protect them, solve their problems, or even push on through life like nothing happened. Which is understandable, as so much of parenting requires us to help children solve their problems and the like. While the news of a child’s gender or sexuality identity may not feel difficult to adjust to, for others, it may come as a more of a struggle.
This is why it can be so important to slow the process down. Take note of how you’re feeling. If you have a partner, what is their response? More so, what was it like for your child to share? Have you asked them yet? Take time to slow down and identify everyone’s emotions who is impacted. Your child may be feeling a range of emotions such as fear, worry, anxiety, sadness, relief, joy, and a sense of peace or freedom. The same goes for you, as a parent. Try and identify some emotions that surface for you: relief, pride, fear, worry, grief. These emotions are expected and okay. It’s how you begin to work with these emotions that becomes important.
If you notice you are experiencing emotions which are surprising or painful for you, take time to get curious about why. There are many factors which impact and shape our understanding of the LGBTQ+ experience. For example, mainstream media has traditionally not featured many LGBTQ+ issues - or when it does, it often depicts stories of harm, violence, or fear. Another example might be your religious or political beliefs. In these moments, it is important to get curious about what has shaped your ideas and emotions about the LGBTQ+ experience.
Remembering can be so important during these times if you are parent struggling with a child who has shared part of their gender or sexuality identity with you.
First and foremost, Remember that they have let you in on a vulnerable part of their world. it is not always easy for children to share these parts of themselves with their parents or others. Often times, they are met with fear of judgement, not belonging, or losing relationships with people they care about most. Remember, no matter what your initial responses might be, that for your child to share something that is vulnerable with you, it requires courage.
Second, Remember why you became a parent and what motivates you to be the parent you are today. Parenting is a journey that is both beautiful and challenging at times. What made you decide to become a parent? What do you wish you had had more support/understanding/empathy for when you were a child? Also take time to reflect on, what are your strengths as a parent? What makes you amazing in the eyes of your child?
Third, Remember your support systems. Reach out to friends, family, counselors, teachers, whoever you trust to share these experiences with. You are not alone in this journey. Bridging support for yourself, your child, and family can be important if there is struggle or confusion present in your lives. It can be so helpful to have your emotions and experiences validated while being able to remain connected as a family.
I hope these 3 phrases may provide you and your family with gentle reminders of hope, compassion, and care.