If you’re a parent, chances are you spend a lot of time trying to do right by your child. Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world, and everyone has a different opinion on how to do it. Although more and more folks are becoming accepting of LGBTQ people, it can still be an emotionally intense experience to have your child come out to you. If your child has come out to you, or if you’re a parent of a child, it’s good to have an idea in the back of your mind of how you will respond if this is a conversation you have with your child.
There are a few reasons why a child coming out can be emotional for parents. First, we are conditioned in our culture to think of being LGBTQ as “other” or the less preferable option. We assume our children will be heterosexual until we hear otherwise. Because of the way our culture expects heterosexuality, it can be seen as a surprise to be anything but straight. This is something we need to work on unlearning. Some people also think that children are too young to know for sure if they’re gay or straight, but that’s another example of our homophobic culture. Some people don’t know they’re LGBTQ until later in life, but many folks have known for as long as they can remember. We spend a lot of time assuming young kids are straight (saying a smiling baby boy is “flirting”, for example), so it’s important to believe someone when they come out to you.
Another reason parents often struggle when their child comes out is that they don’t want their child to have to suffer. In our culture, being LGBTQ is still seen as abnormal or shameful, so parents often are concerned that their child will have a harder life as an out LGBTQ person. This is another fear that can be put to rest with some education on the topic.
These are some common concerns that parents have when their child comes out:
- That their child will be bullied or socially punished for being LGBTQ
- Their child won’t be able to have a family
- Their child will face discrimination socially and politically
- That they won’t be able to have grandchildren or walk their child down the aisle
- That being LGBTQ means they can’t participate in religion
It’s so hard to be a parent and see your child choose a life different from the one you wanted for them. However, part of raising your child means raising them to be true to themselves, and coming out can often go a long way to making them feel comfortable in their own skin.
Of course, many of these fears are based on the way that our society treats LGBTQ people, and not based on the reality of being LGBTQ. Queer people can and do have weddings, families, and children. LGBTQ people can be religious. Queer folks do often face a disproportionate amount of hate in the world, so if you’re concerned about this do your best to educate yourself and others around you. People fear what they don’t understand, so use this as an opportunity to call people in when they do or say something homophobic in front of you.
Coming out is not a decision that is made lightly. If your child comes out to you, know that it was a decision they likely struggled with for a long time. They have likely weighed the pros and cons for a long time, and found that they want to tell you who they are, even if they risk losing the relationship they have with you. If your child comes out to you, here are some things you can do to support them:
Don’t tell them it’s just a phase
This is something that a lot of LGBTQ people hear when they come out, particularly bisexual and pansexual folks. Some people think that bisexuality is a phase that people go through on their way to being gay, but that’s not the case (and it’s also biphobic). If someone tells you they’re LGBTQ, believe them. Their labels may change, but that doesn’t mean that they were wrong for identifying a certain way.
Tell them you love them and thank them for telling you
When your child shares something vulnerable with you, what they want to hear is that you love them no matter what. Even if you think they already know, tell them that you love them and thank them for sharing this part of themselves with you. It’s an honor to have someone come out to you – someone trusts you enough to share their true self with you. Let’s treat it as such!
Find support on your own
If you’re having a hard time with the information that your child is LGBTQ, you’re not alone. However, it’s not okay to put your emotional response on your child. If you need help working through your feelings on this, reach out to a therapist or counselor to give yourself whatever space you need. If you’re not able to work with a therapist, try to get support from your own social circles, but make sure not to out your child to anyone who they haven’t come out to yet.
Ask how they can best be supported
You’re not a mind reader, so when your child comes out to you it’s okay to ask them how they’d like to be supported. If they’re using a new set of pronouns, support them by using them as well (with permission). Advocate for LGBTQ causes locally and nationally. Educate yourself on LGBTQ history. Ask if they need help advocating for themselves at school.
Never ever out someone under any circumstance
Outing someone without permission is an act of violence. LGBTQ people can face discrimination and violence if they are outed in a setting that’s dangerous. It is never, ever your place to out someone, even if that person is your child. If your child comes out to you, make sure to ask who else knows so you know for sure.
Remember that labels can shift over time
As LGBTQ people grow and evolve, the label they prefer to use may shift as well. This doesn’t mean that they are confused about who they are or that their sexuality is just a phase. It just means that as they learn more about themselves, they find a better label that fits their experience.
Help them find a therapist
Coming out can be an intensely emotional experience, and it can always help to have as much support as possible. If your child is interested in finding the support of a therapist, do your best to help them find someone to talk to about this momentous occasion. Coming out can be tricky, but it can also be a celebration of someone being their true self. If your child has come out to you and you’re looking for ways to support them, our clinicians can help guide you through this process.
About The Author
Noreen Iqbal, LCSW is the owner and director of the Olive Branch Therapy Group. Noreen works with adolescents, young adults, adults, families and couples. If you are interested in working with Noreen, contact us via email, phone or chat on our website.