This is part two in our “Coming Out of the Closet” series for teens, parents, and youth workers. Click here for part one.
One morning, out of the blue, your child leaves you a note in the car. You think it’s odd, cause they’ve never done this before, but your happy to receive it nonetheless. You begin your busy day at work and forget about the note until your lunch break. Reaching for it, you’re excited to see what your child wrote you. As you begin to read the letter, though, your heart begins to sink a bit more with each line. You’re child tells you that their gay. By the end of their note, you feel like a million years have passed and you’re not sure if what you’ve just read is real or a joke. You sit and stare at the wall, and the questions start to flood in: what did I do wrong, how did this happen, what do we do now?
This scenario is based on what my mom went through when I told her I was gay – through a letter. Maybe you’re a parent who’s already been down this road, or maybe you’re just starting out. Either way, you’re on a journey you didn’t plan for. So … how are you doing? How has the journey been for you, your spouse, your other kids, your family? I’m willing to bet that it’s been rough, for all of you. My goal, then, today is to give you some sound advice in responding to and processing through your child’s “new” sexuality. Some of what I offer below is based upon my own coming out experience, while other things are from a friend whose daughter is gay.
1 > LISTENING. When your child approaches you about their sexuality, they are coming with certain expectations already in place. They’re expecting you to over react, to yell, to argue with them, and maybe even throw them out. Your child is hoping these things don’t happen, but they are prepared for them nonetheless. My prayer for you, is that you respond differently.
As your child begins to tell you what they’ve been holding in for a long time, be sure to let them speak openly and honestly. This is not a time to argue with them, or a time to “fix” things; it’s a time for you to listen to what they are saying (and not saying) about what they are dealing with. Whether you agree with their conclusions or not, you need to hear them out.
After they’ve finished talking, your child doesn’t need to hear, “This is just a phase”, “You’re not really gay, you’re just really confused”, “You can change these feelings”, and the like. Rather, what they need to hear are things like, “I still love you”, “I don’t understand but I’m going to try”, “We’ll get through this.”
2 > RESPONDING. How you respond to your child now, determines how the rest of this journey goes forth. They will remember your words for the rest of their lives. So in responding to your child, it’s okay to ask questions, but watch that the questions don’t cause your child to put up a wall. Two good questions would be, How can I help you through this?, What do you need from me and your father (mother)? As mentioned above, you want to reaffirm your love for them – this is what they are longing to hear from you. With that, reaffirm to them that things will be alright. Remember, even though your kid may be telling you things with ease, inside they are a mess. They’re expecting the worse to happen.
My parents never talked to me about my sexuality, so I was left to assume what they were thinking. Don’t leave your child hanging out like this. They want to hear what you’re thinking; they want to know that you’re still going to be there for them and that your love for them has not changed. So it’s important that you tell them. Remember, what you say holds tremendous weight, so use tons of discernment and compassion
3 > PROCESSING. After the initial talk has ended, it would be good to allow some time to process things. This is not going to be a quick fix or an easy road to encounter. Things are going to be rough, and relationships will most likely be tested, but through it all remember a few things.
First, things will eventually get better and easier. It’s going to take time, so hang in there. Second, it’s important to connect with others in order to ask questions, get things off your chest, and to receive guidance. Find a couple either in your group of friends or through church to confide in. Most often, another person’s perspective on things helps you make the right decisions. Third, get educated about homosexuality. The more you know and understand, the better talks you will be able to have with your child. You can find some great resources here (books and articles). Forth, connect with a ministry in your area that deals with families and homosexuality. Sometimes, Christian counselors deal with this, and other times there are specific ministries that will – either nonprofit, or church related. Feel free to contact me for help in this area. (NOTE: When contacting Christian counseling, please understand that you are not looking for them to “fix” your child. Only God and your child can do that. Rather, a counselor should help you with communication issues, and help with deeper issues that have gone ignored – i.e. relational, emotional, etc.)
My friend Bill, whose daughter is gay, runs a ministry at his church that offers support to family members of gays and lesbians. The ministry is called Harmony. When talking about processing things, Bill offers this advice to you. Now is the time to get back to the basics: get closer to God, get closer to each other, and be faithful in prayer. Be sure that you’re connecting with God in honest conversation. It’s okay to get angry with Him, but watch that you don’t blame Him for your child being gay. As you get closer to God, pull closer to your spouse as well (or a best friend if you’re single). You need each other for support and sanity. Nows not the time to play the blame-game with each other. In growing closer with God and each other, spend adequate time in prayer. Have people pray for you, and pray over you; pray individually, and with each other. In prayer there is power – God moves mountains through it. Also it’s through prayer that we find our strength and guidance from the Spirit. Praying also helps us to remember the blessings we have.
Through the power of God and through the counsel of trusted friends, you’ll get through this. I know you will. Some final thoughts and reminders are: talk with your child, listen to them without arguing, love them unconditionally, don’t treat them differently than your other kids, find support, and don’t give up hope. You’re child telling you that they are gay is not the end of the world. It may feel like it, but it’s not. Feel free to contact me with any questions, or connect with Bill from Harmony. We’re both here to help you through the journey – no matter where you’re at with things. Our prayers go with you.