As I got out of my car and headed toward the first day of class in my counseling psychology doctoral program, I remember thinking, “I’m finally going to learn how to be a psychologist.” I was hungry for answers, and I wanted to know the RIGHT WAY to be an effective therapist.
As it turns out, there are many theories, many answers, many styles. What is the best one? I asked. That depends, said my supervisor. Do no harm, said the ethical code for psychologists. There are many ways, said my professor. How frustrating, I said.
“Keep practicing what you have learned and eventually you will feel comfortable,” said one mentor.
Eventually I gravitated to theories that resonated with who I am and my fundamental beliefs about people: we are doing our best, when we know better we do better, and struggles are best met with compassion and grace. I stay grounded in these beliefs with every new client I meet, and although I never feel 100% certain, I am comfortable in my role as a helper.
Parenting is kind of the same way. Prior to giving birth to my daughter, I searched for THE parenting book that would tell me exactly what to know to keep my baby safe and healthy. Guess what? There was not just one book; there were hundreds. There were also very HELPFUL friends, family members, and fellow grocery store patrons who were at the ready with lots of advice, such as,“You should really let that baby cry in order to establish a new sleep routine!” or, “You can’t let a baby cry it out, because they don’t know how to soothe themselves yet!”
I found some people and some resources that I trusted amidst the many voices giving advice. I remembered “Do no harm” from my grad school training. Although I still waffle on things like whether chores should be paid or unpaid, I now navigate parenting in a way that is comfortable for me. (As an aside, I ended up picking up the crying baby.)
Facing new roles means not knowing all over again. It means learning new things and grappling with conflicting information. It is uncomfortable. It takes practice.
After your child comes out, you enter uncharted territory. A sense of confidence can give way to that new parent feeling, “What do I do?” There is no one right way to reconcile conflicting beliefs. There is no shortcut through processing your feelings.
You will learn and grow and struggle, and eventually find your footing. You may read everything from Facebook posts to holy texts. You may seek guidance from people you trust. Many will offer answers; some may even be useful to you.
But after a child comes out, there are some questions that have a solid, certain, no-question-about-it answer:
“What do I say to my child about her sexual identity?”
“I don’t agree with or understand this at all—how do I respond to her?”
“How do I guide my son within our faith or religious beliefs?”
Stay grounded in the phrases below and let them guide every behavior and comment toward your child. Say them even if you are not comfortable yet, because with practice you can get there.
I love you no matter what. I will be here for you no matter what.