So if you are reading this, I will assume that you have a child that has either come out or you suspect being LBGTQ+. Wow…it’s a lot to process and I can also assume your emotions are doing calisthenics. Breathe it is going to be okay. Here are some terms you probably need to know: LGTBQ+ terms
So you didn’t anticipate parenting a LBGTQ+ child. Fact: none of us do but many of us did (and still do). We lived to love a bright new beautiful understanding of ourselves and our child(ren). Don’t get me wrong there was plenty of fear and tears along the way.
You are a normal person, reacting to a new situation for which you were not prepared. To put it mildly, it’s like showing up to class and forgetting it is test day.
Let’s Rewind Time
Most of us were raised by parents and a society that largely ignored, shunned and cast out anyone that did not fit the hetero-centric view. We were told of deviant people and deviant behavior. Some of us never knew a single LBGTQ+ person in our midst. I certainly heard rumors in my smallish southern hometown. Even if we suspected, we would have likely said nothing lest we be identified with that person. So we ostracized that person (physically and/or emotionally) from our place of ignorance and prejudice. Scarier still, we may have had some of ‘those LBGTQ+ thoughts’ ourselves and found no one safe to discuss them. We perpetuated our parents and society’s perspectives, joined the mainstream, stuffed our feelings and cast them aside. Sometimes, we are forced to question our own sexuality.
We never considered our child(ren) might grow up LBGTQ+. Outside of a fleeting thought, we assumed as parents we would raise them ‘correctly’ (judgment) and their gender orientation would be heterosexual. But the cats out of the bag! Our children are experiencing more that we ever did and more than we ever thought they would have to about sexuality. Society has changed radically and we have been dragged into the progressive era. You will survive, I promise.
It’s None of Your Business
Your child’s personal orientation is none of your business. Probably didn’t like that comment but here’s another. Their orientation has absolutely nothing to do with you. You need to really understand those two facts. Not doing so is going to cause significant damage to your relationship with your child. Specifically, parental alienation, peer alienation, depression, shame, risky behaviors and substance use. Teens struggling with gender identity issues have significantly higher risks of depression, non-suicidal self-injury (i.e. cutting), addiction and have the highest risk for suicidal thinking and attempts.
It’s none of your business because we (rightly so) have raised our kids to be open-minded, use information and make choices. Gender role and gender identities are two hallmark traits teenagers have to decide upon in their journey from adolescence to adult. It part of the adulting process as are many other things teens face. We cannot assert ourselves into their decision-making process lest we de-rail more of their adulting process. You knew raising kids was watching them be successful and watching them faulter…but no intervening in every situation. Parenting requires being a tough spectator in our kids lives. Our kids are becoming autonomous, flexing and choosing their adult personas. We cannot grasp the realities of being a teenager today based on our experiences as a teen. If we intervene with our prejudices we will lose our kids.
What you do need to know is that you child, affirming their LBGTQ+ feelings, is trying to survive. It is not about sex. Coming out is a huge emotional risk. It’s not something you can take back. It’s about facing rejection and ridicule. But they have to do it. Living a secret is self-destructive. It is about their survival.
What Can You Do?
Start from the place of love you have for your child today. No matter what, you will always love your child. Do not try to be their friend. They are still our kids and they still need boundaries. Do not think you can help them be LBGTQ+ or not LBGTQ+. Don’t make their coming out your new crusade. You don’t have their perspective nor their feelings to understand how your child came to their orientation decision. They are not going to be able to change who they feel attracted to just as you would not be likely to have same-sex feelings of attraction (assuming you are heterosexual). Truth is your child may not be able to even explain their LBGTQ+ feelings at all. That is normal!
Your job is to be supportive and affirming. That is what they need most. You child still has to deal with judgment from peers and segments of society that are not supportive and not affirming. The good news is that today things are more progressive and their peers, schools and other institutions are more accepting towards LBGTQ+s. They are going to be okay as long as they have a supportive and affirming environment in which to become their authentic selves.
Remember, teenage exploration is about them finding who they are. It is not about the mistakes you made that turned them LBGTQ+. Do not relive that past in order to find your mistake(s) that led you child to be LBGTQ+. That’s self-centered thinking. You are wasting energy on yourself that could be better spent loving and affirming your child’s experience. There is really no work for you but to be a loving and accepting parent. Your child will need you as they traverse in and out of relationships…LBGTQ+ relationships.
You can harbor all hope that maybe this is a fad or once they grow up they will not be LBGTQ+. I cannot stop what you may think. You need to understand how vicious that thinking will be to your child if it comes out or if they suspect you of holding them. It is a betrayal to them.
Our job as a parent is to raise our kids to be full-functioning adults ready to assume their role in society as they choose. Be loving, supportive and affirming parents is the ticket for our LBGTQ+ kids.
Human Right’s Campaign (HRC)
A study by the HRC shows many LGBTQ+ youth report they feel disconnected from their community. It also showed they have the capacity to be very resilient in facing personal challenges in life, as well as, in their LGBTQ+ experiences. Coming out is important to their personal well-being, sense of self, sense of safety and in personal relationships with family, friends, school, etc.
If there is one thing for me to encourage you to read it is the latest National Coming Out Day Youth Report: NCOD-Youth Report. This report has easy to comprehend graphics and statistics.
You’ve probably seen this graphic on cars. It is the logo for HRC’s Equal Rights Campaign. In time, you may want to put one on your car. But when you do, you will be outing yourself as a parent of an LGBTQ+ family. Are you ready?
Getting Help for Yourself
In counseling, I have encountered parents deeply shamed by their failure to raise a heterosexual child. Often times, they are transferring their feelings back to their child. It’s too intense and too obvious to hide their shame from their child. Everybody is being damaged. Remember this: You are not a bad parent. And your child is not bad. The negativity generated by these feelings will always be a source of alienation between you and your child. Deal with these quickly else you will stand to lose your LGBTQ+ child.
If you are struggling to come to terms with their orientation, you need to seek out counseling support or seeking out a support group. Although both are the best prescription. You perceived a completely different path for your child. Being LBGTQ+ was not fathomed. Your whole future is in upheaval. Yep, your future as you envisioned as a parent is going to be very different.
You are grieving the loss of innocence.
What once was thought will be no more…or significantly different
You will fear for your child in ways you are not prepared for.
How will you help your child survive this; how will you survive this?
What did you do wrong? Did you miss the ‘signals’?
It is hard to see the future. There are a lot of unknowns. You are fearful for yourself and the rest of the family.
First thing…take the burden and the focus off of your self. You have not lost your loving parental heart. You love your LGBTQ+ kid. You want to make sure they feel safe and supported both inside and outside your home. We can help. We’ve been where you are.