I remember talking with my mom about this exact topic a few years ago. I asked her what kept her silent about me being gay; why didn’t we talk about it? She simply replied: I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to help. Sadly, my mom’s response resembles many other responses from parents. When a child comes out the entire family is shook-up: Where do we go from here? How will everyone else respond? What questions should I ask? What did I do wrong?
As youth workers, then, how do we help families through this particular situation? While the territory is often uncharted (each family situation will be different), the venture is surprisingly not that difficult. By this I mean, it does not take a trained counselor to walk beside a friend who is dealing with having a gay child. What matters more to the parent, over any advice that one could give, is a supporting presence in their life. This type of presence is highly needed for parents of a gay child, because it lets them know that when all seems lost, there is still one person who is willing to take the time to understand and listen. Nowhere is this presence needed more than within the Church. Unfortunately, not only has the Church been silent on how to minister to gays and lesbians, but they have also failed to show a supportive presence in the life of a family that has a gay son or daughter.
Below, I want to offer some sound advice to parents, youth workers, and others who are walking along side parents who find themselves on this new venture. Along with my own insights, I strongly encourage parents and youth workers to check out these other helpful resources.
Having the Conversation with Your Child
Once I came out to my parents, nothing more was asked or discussed about my sexuality. I know they had questions, and so did I, but no one really knew how to face the pink elephant that was in the room. In fact, I remember one night I had a fight with a guy I was seeing. I stormed into the house and ran upstairs, and my mom began calling after me, “What’s wrong?” I came down with some stuff to give back to my now ex-boyfriend, looked at her and asked, “Do you really want to know?” We both sort of looked at each other in silence. I walked away saying, “I didn’t think so.”
Now was this her fault. No, I don’t blame her – now. I did, for a long time. In fact I blamed all of my parents for never talking about my relationships or sexuality. However, looking back, they were really just confused as I was about the whole thing. They didn’t know what to say, how to say it, or when to say things. Almost all parents are just like my parents, they don’t know how to react when their child says, “I’m gay.” Christian parents really have a hard time with this discussion. How does one love their child unconditionally and still follow their God faithfully? Can both even be done? To simply put it, yes, in fact, this is exactly what must be done in every parent/child relationship, no matter the outcome or the journey taken.
Author Mike Haley advises parents that “nothing is unhealthier [for you and your child] than denial and avoidance” of the issue at hand. No matter how hard it may be to talk about it, you must talk about it. Saying something is better than not saying anything at all. Your child does not care so much if you understand 100% what they are experiencing as much as they desperately need you to re-affirm your love for them – the unconditional kind. This may be hard at first, especially for Christian parents, but understand this: God calls us to love, regardless, and to live truth through His grace. Above all else, they are your children – this is a no-brainer. In that, also know that affirming them does not mean that you have to affirm how they choose to live their life.
In the moments following your child coming out to you, they need to hear honest but positive affirmations. In your conversations with them, it’s important to let your child know two things: you love them and you’re here if they need you. Each situation will most likely play out differently than someone else’s, so respond accordingly with wisdom, grace, and love – this is the only “cookie-cutter” answer out there. Have no doubt your child is more scared than you are when this conversation starts. They have most likely been preparing for the worst: that you would throw them out of the house, and/or stop loving them.
Also know, that most gay teens have already come to terms with their sexuality, for the most part, by the time they tell their parents. For them, they are fine with being gay (having same-sex attractions). Therefore, when your child comes to you, they are coming having already dealt with most questions personally, and they are expecting you to be at the same place they are. This is an unrealistic expectation on their part, as no parent is fully prepared to hear their son or daughter tell them they are gay.
So what do you say, then, to them? Here are some suggestions: I love you. You’re still my child. I’ll be right by your side. How can I help you in this? What do you need from me? Responding to their comment holds a lot of weight to how future conversations go. Affirm them of your love and your presence. If you don’t understand what to say or do, tell them that you need time to process things. Assure them that you are not angry with them, or disappointed. Be honest, but be positive. They are extremely vulnerable right now. Lecturing them, questioning them, and quoting scripture at them is not what either one of you need at this moment. In fact, it would be good, for both you and your child, to spend some time processing everything before diving into deeper conversations concerning them being gay. Use your best judgment for how long you need, or how long your child needs, to process. In this time, start becoming informed about “homosexuality.” Talk to your spouse about how you both are going to handle this, or if you are single, talk to a trusted friend. At this point, it would be very beneficial to start connecting with trusted people to share thoughts and questions with about what’s going on.
When you and your child begin discussing things on a deeper level, asking questions is good, however you must be open and accepting of their answers. Some answers may hurt, but remember, their answers are based on their perspective and mindset. The more open communication you have, the better your conversations will be with your child about his/her “new identity.” While it is important to be honest with one another, sometimes being too honest can do more harm than good. Examples: I wish you would just get over this phase and go out with (opposite sex name); why don’t you just snap out of it; just choose not to be gay, etc.
If your child could choose to be straight, they would. If they could just date someone of the opposite sex, or just snap out of it, they would. Chances are your child has already tried these things, and nothing worked. Forcing them to do things will not produce positive results. This is going to be a journey – maybe even a long one. They need your guidance, understanding, and compassion, more than you telling them how wrong and evil they are. So, if you have this type of attitude about your child, then reserve these comments for your spouse, your friend, a pastor, or even a journal. It is highly advisable not to express these sentiments towards your child.
Tending Your Heart
As you are processing things, I urge you to be cautious of a few things. First, do not blame yourself. Almost all parents think it is their fault that their child is gay. While we all could be better parents in areas, your child’s sexuality is not your fault. As I stated in the beginning of this book, homosexuality is deep and complex. Putting blame on yourself puts unwarranted guilt and shame upon you, which causes this journey to be that much more cumbersome to walk. Stop blaming yourself.
Second, don’t give up on God. He has not forsaken you, nor has He forsaken your child – His child. In Romans 8:38-39, Paul tells us that for those who are in Christ, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Your child’s sexuality change did not catch God off guard, nor does it stop Him from pouring His love into them. Likewise, God isn’t about to stop loving you either because you love your gay son or daughter. If we are in Christ, we are secure in Christ. For everything, God offers forgiveness; His grace is limitless. Three stories of Christ that I love, and use in ministry to parents and gay teens, are the Woman at the Well (John 4), the Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8), and the Prodigal Son (Luke 18). These stories exemplify greatly what I’m sharing here.
Third, make sure you grieve healthy. It’s ok to get mad and it’s ok to cry. Going through a grieving process is healthy, because in all honesty, no parent raises their kids hoping that they would one day come out and confess that they are gay. In your grieving, there is a loss of what you had hoped your child would eventually become: married with kids. Every parent will go through their own stages of guilt, shame, anger, loss, and acceptance, and on their terms. Don’t force your spouse, however make sure they are getting out their emotions in some healthy venue. In going through these stages, it is important that you have someone (a person or a group) to walk along side of you. If you have a church family, let them in on what is going on, as you feel safe and ready. You cannot journey this sort of venture a lone. As your kids need support, so do you. I cannot stress enough the importance of finding people to talk with, either face to face or through technology (email, social media, phone, etc). The more you bottle things up, the harder things are going to be for everyone.
Fourth, be sure to examine your expectations. A huge caution: forced counseling will not work. While homosexuality is not the root issue of what’s going on, and while some counseling would be good for family/relationship reasons, forcing your child to see a counselor in order to make them straight is pointless and harmful. Studies have proven this. What does work is healthy same-sex relationships, mentoring, prayer, and personal spiritual growth. As I’ve said earlier in this book, the entire point of “change” is to become like Christ – nothing more and nothing less. As we grow closer to the heart of God the Father, He begins transforming us into who He desires us to be.
Your job, as a parent, is to not convict, condemn, or change your child. Conviction and change comes from the Spirit. While there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1), God does desire to transform us with His grace and truth. For me, change happened only when I stopped trying to achieve my own expectations, and I began to desire God’s will for my life – no matter what that looked like. All in Christ undergo transformation. However, it will happen in God’s timing, it will happen as long as your child allows it, and it will not happen by force, or seeking after your own expectations.
The more you give God the entire situation, the stronger you will become in walking through it. As for your son or daughter, God’s kindness will lead them back to Him (Romans 2:4); and as for you, God’s grace is sufficient, for His power is made perfect in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Rest in these truths. Do not give up or lose hope, keep loving your child and keep trusting in your Savior.
 Haley, M. (2004). 101 Frequently asked questions about homosexuality (pg. 42). Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers.
© 2009-2012 Shawn Harrison, Six:11 Ministries