SFA board member and mom of three reflects on the extra-heavy burden of worry that parents of LGBTQ+ children unfairly have to carry, and the beauty that is often born from that struggle.
As a parent, I worry about each of my children in different ways. I worry that my 16-year old, who is extremely successful in school, is not practicing enough kindness or empathy. I worry that my 14-year old, who often compromises and seems to need very little, feels overlooked in our busy, noisy family. I worry that my 11-year old, who has difficulty organizing himself and remembering what to do, needs more help and guidance from me with his schoolwork. I worry that I fail them all the time, in big and small ways.
Worrying about your child is part of being a parent. These concerns live in the back of my mind and sometimes keep me up at night. However, I am aware that part of the unearned privilege that comes with my kids’ status as cisgender and straight is that I get to focus on these “typical teenager” concerns. I am not worrying that my children will be physically attacked at school on an average day. I do not worry that adults they don’t know will laugh at them, stare at them, or snub them.
This is not fair.
To all the parents who carry these heavier burdens on top of the everyday worries about grades, friends, chores, and teenage moods, I want to say: I see you. I see your amazing trans, queer, gay, bi, lesbian, non-binary, gender-expansive kids. I see that they are just teenagers, too, but that you are in the parenting adventure course, navigating extra jumps and turns in the race. I hope that one day your kids will be seen by everyone for who they are: moody, disorganized, beautifully imperfect teenagers who are just trying to grow up and figure it all out.
I believe that when someone is struggling or suffering, it’s not a good idea to try to point out a silver lining in their cloud. People rarely want to hear, “but look on the bright side!” if they are down. But here I go, offering a perspective that could be seen as the Pollyanna side of this experience: I think that when someone has navigated deep loss or seemingly impossible obstacles, benefits flow from that significant shift in perspective. Joy and gratitude are more apparent in everyday, small moments. The skill of shrugging off “the small stuff” is honed out of necessity. Relationships are pruned or discarded with some, but deeply cherished and developed with others.
For LGBTQ+ kids and their parents, it is all this and more. The rose-colored glasses of naivete and the blinders of entitlement are not an option. The positive side effects of struggle are many: pragmatism, ability to assess the safety of people and situations, awareness of self and others, boundary-setting, reflection, and deep sense of self. Though a parent might not choose this path for their child, these well-developed muscles are a by-product of the strength and endurance needed along the way. Parents and kids alike will emerge with scars and treasures.
Each night, I go to sleep with a new promise to myself that tomorrow, I will dedicate more time and focused attention to my kids. Tomorrow, I will figure out how to give each of them what they need. Tomorrow, I will seek more connection and enjoyment with them. I imagine this nightly intention followed by the daily unease of falling short is just one of the entrance requirements to The Club of Worried Parents. Parents of children who are gay, straight, lesbian, bi, queer, trans, cisgender, non-binary, or gender-expansive, I’ll see you there!
Shailagh’s story is a reminder that LGBTQ+ allies are everywhere. We think that parents of LGBTQ+ children can take comfort in knowing that the community of people working for acceptance and love is numerous and diverse. Trust that there are many people out there who will also love your child for who they are.