When a child comes out, the family dynamic changes. It’s a role reversal. The child is perceived as being “in charge.” But you play a vital role. Don’t “roll over and play dead.”
Your response has real impact. A parent may feel any one or all of these reactions such as denial, shock, anger, confusion. guilt, worry, fear, shame, and loss when told of his child’s sexual orientation. But how a parent responds matters. The Family Acceptance Project, 2009, reports that if parents are high rejecting, particularly if they evict their child, the outcomes compared to non-LGBT children are as follows:
· 8 times more likely to commit suicide
· 6 times more likely to report high-level depression
· 3 times more likely to use illegal drugs
· 3 times more likely to have risky sex
While you may not be prepared for this important message, you can make it easier on your child (and self) by:
· recognizing that your child must have trusted you to reveal such an important part of his self.
· admiring the child’s self-knowledge and confidence to come out. Maybe relieved that your child felt comfortable with himself to share.
· being proud of your child for being so open, trusting, and able to share with your parent.
· realizing that your suspicions were accurate, thereby not constantly worrying or wondering.
· knowing that your child no longer is harboring a secret. This may result in improved mental health.
Like you, your child may have mixed feelings. His reactions:
- · he may be fearful of anticipated, potential or actual rejection.
- · he may feel that he has disappointed you, made the family’s life harder for which he feels guilt and sorrow.
- · or, he can be relieved at telling his parents. A burden has been lifted!
- · he may feel greater self-esteem, not harboring secrets and feel good about educating parents.
- · he may feel healthier: his sleeping and eating habits may improve. He may have a more positive outlook.
You can support your LGBT child with the following steps:
- · Identify and engage LGBT adult mentors: teacher, relative, work friend.
- · If needed, seek out a LGBT-affirming therapist.
- · If your child is harassed at school, tell teacher, principal, even Superintendent of Schools. Keep records of conversations and written requests.
- · Safety Planning: Find “safe spaces” at school and en route to home.
- · Join or form a GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) at school.
- · Seek out LGBT-affirming health care providers you can trust.
- · Advocate for inclusive sex education in school.
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.