Are you unsure how to react to your child coming out to you?
I have had parents ask me this a few times now, so I thought it’s time to share some quick and easy guidelines about how to handle your child’s coming out. What is most important is your relationship with your child. How you react to something that they hold fear or uncertainty around can greatly influence that relationship. You might be nervous about how to handle this for fear of pushing your child away. They have entrusted you with a part of their identity that they may hold anxiety or fear around. They are looking for you to be a safe space, to continue to accept and love them, and to not treat them any differently.
Here are my guidelines on how to do that:
- If they haven’t asked for a therapist, don’t put them into counseling right now.
This will only shame them and they will feel like you don’t understand. They will not feel supported. At this time, kids often start closing up and not sharing their sexuality with their family because they feel like they are seen as if something medically is wrong with them.
- Let them lead the way.
This is their process. They are discovering themselves, or gaining the courage to show others who they are. Later, see if counseling could help them feel more confident in who they are and learn how to handle coming out to others.
- Tell them you love them and are proud of them for opening up.
It takes courage for teens to open up around their sexuality to their family. Typically, there is TONS of fear around not being accepted or loved.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about it in a curious way.
Ask questions. Have a conversation. But you will also need to watch how they are responding. If they get quiet or defensive, it is too much and they are not ready to talk about it.
- Make the conversation safe.
Take away any type of critical, judgmental comments. Be open.
- Being Gay, Bi-Sexual, or Transgender shouldn’t be a big issue.
Treat it just the same way you would if they were to like someone of the opposite sex. It should NEVER be a big issue or the topic of the year type of thing. Once it becomes the focal point, it sends your child a message that something is wrong/abnormal with them. Shame and feelings of inadequacy will come up and they may decrease the amount of information they discloses with you. Their relationship with you is what you need to protect to make sure you can be part of their life and help guide them through their life.
- If you (the parent) is struggling with what your child has disclosed to you, then it is your job to seek out therapy to address how you are handling it.
If you are struggling with it, you ned to find a way to protect your relationship. They will need your support and it is difficult to support your child when you are struggling with their sexuality.
- Religion and LGBTQ is typically a tough one to blend for some families.
As a parent, your job is to protect your relationship with your child and you may be feeling a lot of fear around the spiritual/religious part. Again, seek out guidance and support from your community.
- Do not try to “change their mind” or think “it is a phase.”
Your child is looking to connect with you and to feel safe with you. Learning about yourself and sharing that with others can be daunting, especially during adolescence. It is important to validate how your child is feeling, while also offering support. Your relationship with them is what matters, and how they feel should be the priority.
About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653