As a parent, when your child discloses to you that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT), you may experience many feelings. These feelings can include shock, confusion, grief, sadness, fear and even happiness. You may have questions and concerns and are not sure what to do next. While some parents may have an easier time accepting and understanding their child’s sexual and gender issues, some may find this conversation very difficult. Parents should take certain steps to help maintain a strong and positive relationship when speaking about sexuality and gender with their child.
Your child’s revelation may be completely new to you. It is okay to ask questions. Ask them if there are things they want you to know about or understand. LGBT children deserve the same respect and support as non-LGBT children. When you ask questions, it is also important to listen, be empathic, share your feelings and be present to your child. Listen to what their world is like and what kind of experiences they have had in the world.
No one expects you to know all about the LGBT community, including your child. Take the time to seek information about the lives of LGBT individuals from parents of LGBT children. Join a support group such as PFLAG which stands for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Their website is pflag.org and they have local chapters across the country. Do some reading on LGBT issues and search the internet for reliable and accurate information to educate yourself. Most importantly, learn from your child in regards to their experience and knowledge.
You may or may not feel comfortable right away about talking to your extended family and friends about your child’s coming out. Moreover, your child may not be ready to share with others beyond his/her parents. Maybe the child wants to be the one to share with others. They may be prepared to tell others but you may not be. It is important to remember to talk with your child first. Be honest with your child in regards to how you and them feel about telling others. If you child needs time, give them all the time they need.
Regardless if your child is LGBT, talking about safe sex practices is critical. It is important that you educate yourself on all safe sex practices. Talking about sex is never an easy conversation to have with children. You cannot always rely on the school system to do this for you. Parents need to respect their child’s right to engage in loving relationships. You just want to ensure that they are safe and maintain excellent health.
Those three big words, “I love you,” go a long way when a child comes out to you. You can never say it enough. Even if your child minimizes it and walks away, they do hear you and it is so important for your child to hear it from you during the coming out process. When your child discloses their coming out, it may be difficult for you, but remember they are your child. They need you - your guidance, love and support. They still need you to be an active parent in their lives.
Coming out as LGBT is not the fault of the child, your parenting, or anything or anyone else. Sometimes when we don’t understand something, we look for answers that may be wrong and hurtful. Don’t blame your husband’s side of the family, the peer group your child associates with, your parenting style, etc.. Blaming is damaging to the relationship you have with your child. When we place blame, it suggests this part of your child is a bad thing or that something bad happened to them.
Understanding your child’s sexuality takes time. You need to understand what you are feeling, what your child may be feeling, and the LGBT community as a whole. Be patient with yourself as you discover a world that may be foreign for you. Don’t put pressure on yourself or your spouse to have it all figured out right away.
Some parents will quickly send their child to counseling to change their ways. The American Psychological Association (APA) has spoken out against this type of treatment questioning the ethics and actual effectiveness. This type of therapy is called reparative therapy. Only seek treatment if your child has verbalized or shown in their behavior that they may require a mental health professional. This may be exhibited in the form of depression, anxiety, acting-out behaviors such as drugs, alcohol use, decline in school functioning, bullying, and coping with their identity to name a few. Just because your child came out to you it doesn’t mean they need psychological treatment. There is nothing wrong with being LGBT.
You must be respectful of what your child wants to do about their coming out. Friends and family may have questions and want to know more. This is a personal issue for your child and you need to let them decide how to answer those questions. Talk to them about how you want to handle their coming out. They may be the one’s who want to share it.
Just because you child has come out as LGBT, this does not mean that their whole world is wrapped up in the LGBT identity. Sexuality and gender are a part of who a person is especially while they are figuring everything out. Encourage your child to maintain their well-roundedness in the forms of school, activities, friends, and jobs to name a few.
Parenting is a tough job. When your child comes out as LGBT, it can make parenting different and challenging in a unique way. You are dealing with issues and feelings that you have never dealt with or felt before. Coming out can be tricky. As parents move through their own education and process of accepting your child’s LGBT identity, they need to keep in mind that it is a process. Be mindful that it will take time, patience, love, listening, talking, and education. And remember, telling your child, “I love you” can go a long way.
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