Ben Moberg over at Registered Runaway recently wrote a really great post about how to respond when your child comes out. Ben’s writing is fabulous, as always, but it really got me thinking about what I would have appreciated from my parents when I came out. I thought I would offer a few thoughts here for conservative parents struggling to deal with their child’s disclosure. I’ve put it into a list of “do’s and don’ts” to make it easier (and less preachy).
I’d love to see thoughts on this from parents, as I’m still learning about how to deal with my own family situation and am not a parent myself.
Don’t make it about you.
You will probably have a lot of emotions when your child comes out. You may be angry or scared. You may feel hurt. You may worry that you were a bad parent or wonder what people will think. And in the heat of the moment, you may blame your child for all of these emotional conflicts. You may feel like his or her coming out is something that is being done to you.
- Do think about what your child needs.
Coming out is hard and scary, even when you know that the people on the receiving end of your disclosure are allies. It is exponentially more difficult and terrifying when you know that your news won’t be received well.
It is easy to see your child’s coming out as him or her drawing a line on the sand, standing against you. It is easy to see it as an act of defiance or rebellion. However, consider it from your child’s perspective. He or she is confiding in you, sharing an important part of his or her life. For the person coming out, it is an invitation to deeper intimacy and more honest relationship.
Your child doesn’t need to hear that he or she is ruining your life, destroying your reputation, or behaving rebelliously. She probably does need to be reassured that she is still loved, still welcomed, and still supported. He needs to know that the risk he has taken by letting you in will be respected, not repudiated.
- Do find someone to talk to about what you need.
The fact that your child doesn’t necessarily need to hear about all of your initial reactions doesn’t mean that they aren’t valid or that you don’t need to express them somewhere. Find a trusted friend, talk to your pastor, or see a counselor. Contact someone from the Marin Foundation’s list of parents or get in touch with your local PFLAG chapter. You aren’t alone in this, and it’s difficult for you, too. You deserve support and help.
If you have a conservative viewpoint on homosexuality, your kid probably already knows that. In fact, your child has probably been bracing herself for your impromptu sermon on Romans 1. But stop and think before you get out your Strong’s Concordance or your Giant Study Bible of Doom. Going immediately for the theological reasons that you cannot accept this news tells your child two things. First, it implies that your religious beliefs are more important than your relationship with your son or daughter. And maybe, in an abstract sense, that’s true, but it might be nice to give yourself some space to find a middle ground that both values your relationship with your child and remains faithful to your religious ideals. Maybe. I’m just saying that might be a thing you would be interested in.
Second, jumping straight into a sermon entrenches you in a particular position and shuts down the opportunity for dialogue. Your child likely did not come to this unprepared. Most people don’t come out on a whim. Most people don’t realize they’re gay and impulsively start telling people. This is likely something that your child has put a lot of thought into. He or she has probably considered the issue from all angles and has some well-researched, well thought-out ideas about what this means for his or her life and spirituality.
- Do listen to what your child is saying.
Your child has put a lot of thought and effort into this. Give him a chance to tell his story, and respect him as an honest and reliable narrator. Understand that her experiences and emotions are valid, and try to understand her point of view. Receiving this kind of disclosure may not be comfortable. Be willing to sit in that discomfort rather than reacting to or running from it.
- Do ask them for resources.
It’s likely that your child has at least done a Google search about being gay. It’s distinctly possible that she has joined discussion boards, read blogs and books, and generally done her homework about what it means to be gay and, if she is a person of faith, what it means to be gay and Christian. She may still be working through all of the information and deciding what she thinks, or she may have developed a firm, nuanced understanding of how her faith and sexuality interact. Regardless, asking what your child has been reading, listening to, and thinking about is another way of showing that you value his point of view and respect his ideas and opinions.
- Do look for resources yourself.
Your child probably won’t have all the answers, especially to the questions that are particularly concerning to you. Fortunately, the internet is full of resources for those struggling to understand this issue. I’m sure that some of your favorite authors, pastors, and preachers have done some writing about the topic, and that’s a place to start. However, I would encourage you to move outside of your comfort zone and read other ideas, even ones you disagree with. You never know where you will find something interesting or helpful. The Marin Foundation and the Gay Christian Network are both great places to start. Also, Slacktivist has a whole list of LGBTQ+ Christian bloggers, which can give you some valuable insight into how your child may be feeling. If you’re looking for blogs by parents, check out Linda Robertson or Susan Cottrell.
This is not the end of the world. This is not even the end of your relationship with your son or daughter. Coming out is difficult for everyone involved, but it can also be an opportunity for growth, both in your relationship with your child and in your walk with God.
- Do take hope in the diverse ways that Christians are finding to reconcile faith and sexuality.
There has never been a better time to be queer and Christian. The internet is humming with dialogue about this issue, and people from all sorts of faith traditions are talking about ways to live more genuinely into their sexual orientation or gender identity without compromising their relationship with God.
- Do realize you’re not alone.
You are not the first parent to hear their child say those words, and you won’t be the last. It can be tempting to hide from what is happening, but if you are willing to reach out, you will find yourself in the midst of a beautifully supportive community.