When my daughter first came out to me, I was worried and fearful, but I had no problem saying, “I love you.” This was the child I’d loved for a lifetime. The child I will always love. But parenting an LGBTQ child is different, and unexpectedly, I had to learn new skills. I had to learn how to move beyond the words “I love you” to actions of love and support.
Some skills and actions were easy, some were not, but each one spoke more than words alone. Each step I took supported her and strengthened us both. Here are a few things I learned about becoming a parent ally and moving beyond “I love you.”
Remember That Coming Out Is A Continuing, Repeating Choice
Coming out is not something that happens just once, but over and over. Each new class, group, or team brings decisions about what to say or not say. Your child will navigate when to tell friends, sibling’s friends, people at church or family acquaintances. Later, they will decide how and when to share who they are at jobs, with employers, colleagues, and subordinates. It’s a never-ending list of who to tell, when it’s not necessary, and how to handle reactions, questions or criticism.
Parents can be an enormous support in this ongoing challenge. A parent ally should provide:
•Steadfast support to be true to themselves, whether that means speaking up or waiting.
•Encouragement, reassurance and compassion: A shoulder to cry on or a team to cheer with.
•A sounding board – this means they talk, you listen.
Move at Their Pace
It’s important to not “out” your child by sharing before they are ready; it is also important to not hold them back. Sharing their identity must be their decision – every time. But as a child becomes more open, parents can too.
•A parent’s open, direct discussion shows clear acceptance and promotes conversation, rather than gossip.
•A stance of public acceptance of your child builds more acceptance around them.
•Openness can build community with other parents, friends or neighbors who have LGBTQ loved ones. They can give you support as well.
Be Easy to Talk To and Talk With
Make a conscious effort to talk about LGBT people or issues in positive ways. Silence makes LGBTQ topics seem taboo. When you raise topics at home, you send the message that it is accepted and expected to have discussion, which makes it easier for your child to approach difficult subjects with you. In addition, talking with your friends and family can change the conversation and culture around your child. For example,
•Talk about LGBTQ individuals you know and what you admire like them (co-workers, friends, relatives, etc.)
•Discuss news stories or current events around LGBT issues (gay marriage, health issues, news, etc.)
•Comment on celebrities, politicians, or advocates who are or who support LGBTQ and why that matters
Help Envision a Positive Future
You’ve probably imagined possible futures for your child that seem out of reach now. Lost expectations may be hard to bear but try to focus on a new big picture and speak your hopes and dreams out loud.
•Remain hopeful. Parents hope many things for a child: good health, a happy life, close friends, a good education, a job, a loving partner, a way to serve in the world, and many more. All of these can still be a part of your child’s future, though the details of how they occur may differ.
•Revise your dream. For instance, the dream of a great spouse for your child is at heart the hope for a good partner, one who loves and supports your child. That’s still a great dream.
•Dream big for your child, maybe dream bigger than ever before. They need your hopeful view and encouragement regarding possibilities.
Learn All You Can
Parenting an LGBTQ child is different — you need to educate yourself in order to dispel myths, learn the facts, and build understanding.
•Research on the internet for basics but be aware of the source so you can discern facts from bias, opinions, or assumptions. Get factual information, resources and suggestions from supportive websites such as strongfamilyalliance.org
•Find a book, watch a documentary, and find stories from other parents. You can find places to start on our Resources page. (If you’re struggling as a parent you might watch Lead With Love. For a documentary on the struggles of coming out, check out The Worst Thing About Coming Out.)
This Valentine’s Day give the best kind of gift to your LGBTQ child, a gift of both love and action. Find ways to move beyond “I love you” and help them believe in and build a strong new life.