The moment your child comes out to you is a huge moment. It is a moment that you both will remember forever, and that is a tough thing because not every parent who experiences that moment is ready or equipped for it. New data shows that roughly 8% of high school students report that they are LGBTQ+, so chances are you know and love a gay kid either in your own family or within your child’s friend group. LGBTQ+ youth face an array of hardships that straight teens do not have to contend, including increased suicide rates, with and it is so important that these kids have the support and love of their families, friends, and community. So just in case you ever need this information, I put together a short list of things to do if you find yourself in this pivotal moment.
Take a deep breath. Slow yourself down. Center yourself on your love for your child and remember they have not changed at all from the moment before they spoke that sentence. The baby you rocked to sleep, the preschooler whose skinned knees you lovingly tended to, the kindergartener you cried over at “graduation”; that child has not changed at all and holds their heart in their hands in front of you expectantly.
Affirm your love.
Your child has been who they are for their whole life. They have finally worked up the strength and courage to invite you into the truth of who they’ve already known themselves to be and the response they need is love, the same persistent love you have given them every day of their lives so far. They need to know that you see them as the same person they’ve always been, and you are not going anywhere. This is the moment for the loudest, clearest, “I love you!” that you have ever spoken, with zero caveats or qualifications. Love, love, love.
If you are not already involved in the LGBTQ+ community, then you likely have some learning to do. While you and your child have many conversations ahead in which you learn more about how they identify and experience the world from their unique perspective, it is really important and helpful that you have a basic knowledge of LGBTQ+ terminology and have spent time listening to or reading other people’s stories before you really dive into all of that. Stories are powerful! I highly recommend Blue Babies Pink, the story of a preacher’s kid and how he came out, especially if you are religious. PFLAG is a wonderful resource as well, you can read a variety of stories there and get connected to a local group, too. Even the AAP has informational pages for parents of LGBTQ+ youth.
This one is closely related to educating yourself, but is important enough for its own section. While your child has probably done lots of research and built a support network of their own, you are going to need one for yourself. You are probably going to have a lot of feelings and thoughts and questions that it isn’t appropriate to rely on your child to help you navigate. A group for parents of LGBTQ+ kids is a huge resource and relief. You can ask them your hardest questions or share your struggles with a group of people who truly understand, and be supported by people who are at different stages of their parenting journey than you are. You will get to hear questions and discuss topics that may have never occurred to you, like how to handle sleepovers or how sex ed needs to differ for LGBTQ+ kids.
Be a support.
Every LGBTQ+ kid has a different story and a different path. Some kids are going to be a target for harassment or bullying at school, some are going to be forced out of their churches, some are going to navigate transitions, some are going to deal with depression, some are going to deal with not being accepted by peers or family members, all are going to encounter negative messaging from the world about who they are in some capacity. Your child needs you in their corner, helping them and fighting with and for them. Open dialogue about what they need and how you can be an ally and advocate is so important. Take cues from your child here and be the fierce and loving parent you always have been.
This pivotal moment can seem incredibly daunting and utterly surprising for some parents, and for others it isn’t a surprise and doesn’t feel like it changes much at all. How you feel in the moment is not an indicator for what kind of parent you are or how much you love your child, but what you choose to say and do in the moments that follow will speak volumes to your child about those things. I know that there are still heated disagreements about this topic, especially within religious circles, but the bottom line for me is that research has shown that LGBTQ+ kids who are accepted and supported by their families do so much better than those who are not; they are 8 times less likely to commit suicide, 6 times less likely to report high levels of depression, and 3 times less likely to use drugs or be at high risk for STDs. I think that we all want our kids to survive and thrive and have a chance to be their very best self, and family support is one of the most important factors in LGBTQ+ kids having that chance. So go, love that kid like you were made for it…because you were, Mama.