When should your kids “come out” as having gay parents?
by Kristen Beireis
When should your kids “come out” as having gay parents? As the daughter of a lesbian, I’ve been asked this question a few times. Most of the time, people expect me to give them an age range. Unfortunately, it’s not about age or even maturity. It’s time for your kids to come out when they are READY to come out. As GLBT parents, it’s your job to educate them on the choices and consequences of “coming out.”
Choices – If at all possible, let your children have the choice of who to come out to and who not to. Ask them about their choices. Follow up with a question like “So what made you choose not to tell Suzy?” Listen to their answer and accept it for what it is. There’s no right or wrong answer from your child. If you support them, regardless of their choice, they will be able to talk with you and ask questions as they get older. Once you have your answer, follow up with the consequences of their choice.
Consequences – There are consequences to every choice. We may consider them to be good or bad. Whichever they are, they exist. For children, a good consequence might be that they make friends who accept them and their parents for who they are. Another one might be, they find out who their REAL friends are. A bad consequence might be bullying. Another might be the loss of a friend.
Cleaning up the mess – Unfortunately, as a GLBT parent, you will need to be there to teach your child how to clean up the mess, should one occur. Remember the first mess you made by coming out? You found out just what you were made of. Your child may have to do the same and you want to make sure you are there to help them find out what THEY are made of. It’s not going to be the same as you, so be open to their perspective and reactions. Give them safe options and let them choose.
As the parent, it may become necessary to step in and deal with the situation. Talk to your child about your choices and how they might have done it differently. Allow their perspective and share your disagreement in a non-argumentative way. Of course, you know your child best and there is an age appropriateness here. A 6-year-old child is not going to be able to comprehend all of it, but your 12-year-old definitely can and needs to be able to form his opinions about what happened. The facts and perspectives are key here.
The toolbox – Your child needs tools. There is a delicate balance between educating your child on the (very real) dangers of coming out and helping them feel safe enough to explore coming out. Remember, their process of coming out is not about YOU. It’s about your child. Be careful of warning your child about the wrong person finding out. That’s going to scare them into not wanting to tell anyone. Let them know that some people will not be as happy when they find out. Others are going to be like your child…“what’s the big deal?”
Look for opportunities to talk about it. When you go to a public place, be observant. You may notice someone staring at you…a good opportunity to share that some people just don’t understand. If you find yourself choosing NOT to come out when your child is present, be alert for the perfect opportunity to explain why it didn’t make sense in that moment. When your child asks…“Why do all these people come to OUR house for Christmas instead of going home?”…take this as an excellent opportunity to discuss how some people aren’t understanding and yet you can still have a family. Share your skills of picking and choosing. Share your philosophy and then let your child decide what he/she wants to take from that. It will be their toolbox for the future.
Shame and Communication – In being open and honest with your child when they start questioning your actions, you will open a line of communication AND create a safe place for them to go when they aren’t sure what to do. You also go a long way towards preventing shame in your child. Children come to understand that it’s not that “my Mommies are bad,” but “not everyone understands my Mommies.” There’s a big difference in those two statements. Go back and read them again. Use words and phrases that foster the second statement more than the first. For example:
understand vs. hate or don’t like
“They don’t understand us.” vs. “They hate us.”
choose vs. refuse
“They choose to stay home.” vs. “They refuse to come over.”
good vs. bad
“PFLAG members can be our friends.” vs. “PFLAG is good.”
There is a tendency in the gay community to have a mentality of Us vs. Them. It’s important to be aware of that with your children. They may be one of “them” when they grow up. As long as you foster the attitude that some people make choices we don’t agree with, then it becomes about specific people not specific GROUPS of people. When you talk about the choice of coming out, you want to be aware of what groups of people you make unsafe for your child. In my area of the country, it’s the redneck republicans that were the most unsafe as I was growing up. As an adult, I found out that rednecks are just like everyone else. They’re just different…hmm…so are my Moms. In fact, I live in a redneck area right now and I’ve made a few friends here. My neighbors are really friendly and very interesting. It took a lot of time for me to realize that not EVERYONE in those groups are unsafe, just the few that are louder than the rest.
Your children are watching you every step of the way. Support them in their choices, provide them a safe line of communication and give them the tools they need to make their own decisions. This will allow your child to “come out” when they are ready.
About the Author: Kristen helps adults with LGBT parents create their OWN amazing lives. She is dedicated to helping them adjust to being in the straight world and finding their own path. One that is not determined by their parents’ sexuality, but honors that part of who they are. Kristen believes in empowering individuals to be the unique human being they are, with each step they take on the path of life. To learn more about Kristen and her Rainbow In Me program, go to HERE.
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