My oldest child, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, was 16 when they told me they had something to share. We sat down, and I said, “Okay, what’s up?” After some silence and me asking and coaxing more, they scribbled on an index card: “I’m gay” and handed it to me with their face covered. While I was a bit taken aback when I read it, I simply said, “Okay, is that all you wanted to tell me? You know that I support and love you no matter what!” We shared a tight hug and continued the conversation more in-depth.
I remained positive and supportive through the course of our conversation, but on the inside, I must admit that I was freaking out a bit. I had instant doubts about my parenting—especially as a single mother. Questions started running through my head. Were they just going through a phase, and was this why they had seemed so uncomfortable recently?
I actively listened and empathized. I felt honored to be trusted so profoundly. Then I began to ask questions about aspects I didn’t understand, like how long they had felt that way and were they thinking about keeping an open mind?
When I became a mother, my goal was to let my children know they had the freedom to be who they were and that their mom would never turn her back on them.
I was raised in an emotionally and physically abusive environment. There were strict religious beliefs against homosexuality, and anything deemed ‘unclean.’ I never agreed with this method of thinking. Growing up and living in New York City, you are apt to encounter all types of personalities with different backgrounds in various circumstances. So when I broke away from my household at 16, I experienced interactions with all types of people. Acceptance was natural for me, and I could relate to each person as a human being.
When I became a mother, my goal was to let my children know they had the freedom to be who they were and that their mom would never turn her back on them. I realized that this was who they were unabashedly, and it genuinely had nothing to do with me. I needed my child to feel accepted, supported, and fully loved at that moment.
This isn’t just important to me, either. Doug Haldeman,Ph.D., an APA Council representative for Div. 44 (Society for the Psychology Study of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues), says: “People still need help with coming out—when, how, and to whom.”
This is so true. As parents, we want to be in tune with our children. We know when they aren’t themselves and when there’s something they aren’t telling us. I wasn’t completely blown away when my child came out. As I mentioned earlier, I realized there were some personal struggles at play and thoughts they kept to themself, although I kept asking. My children know that I hold space for their feelings, and they can come to talk to me about anything at any time. I remind them of that often. The best I could do in that scenario was to offer that opportunity to do so comfortably in their own time.
Since our first discussion, they came to me to tell me that they are transitioning and have picked a new name and pronouns. It was confusing at first, and I still slip up occasionally, but their siblings and I actively acknowledge them by their new name. They are loved, accepted, and supported.
If you think that your child may identify as LGBTQ+, but they haven’t shared that with you, it’s good to consider how you can make them feel comfortable enough to do so in preparation for that conversation. We live in a society that can be highly judgmental and lacking in empathy. Unfortunately, our children must venture into a world that may not accept them, from school to their careers and other environments. The last thing we want is vulnerable children to feel unaccepted at home or by their families.
So, how can you support your LGBTQ+ child or teen during their coming out process? While there is no actual recipe to success, I know the below tips would have been helpful for me. Just try and remember, it’s a personal journey for them, as well as for you. The best thing to do is to listen at first. That’s what helped me and allowed me to fully hear them and digest what they were saying while giving me some time to process before responding.
• Listen intently and let them speak without interruption
• Thank them for sharing with you
• Avoid invalidating their feelings
• Don’t express judgments against them
• Let your child know you love them and accept them unconditionally
• Ask questions so you can understand their perspective
If you’re feeling alone or lost about responding or communicating positively, you can seek out support groups of parents of LGBTQ+ youth. Share experiences, get advice, and ask for help in these groups. If you have friends with a gay child, reach out to them. I am blessed to have a circle of friends like family. One of them is gay, and he has been a fantastic confidante and helps me see things from a different perspective. I love that I can confide in them, get advice, or just vent.
While the coming-out conversation with your teen can be jolting and even a bit overwhelming, remember that it is our job as parents to be the emotionally safe harbor for our children. Do your best to never shut them out. After all, when they entrust you with their most significant and most challenging truth, it shows how much they love you! Feel proud!