According to a new important study, headed by David Huebner, PhD, MPH, associate professor of prevention and community health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, many parents still say after two years that it is moderately or very hard for them to adjust to the news of their childrens’ coming outs. In fact, the responses from the questionnaires of 1,195 mothers and fathers with gay, lesbian or bisexual children between the ages of 10 and 25, showed that the responses were, on the average, the same for the parents who have recently learned about their child’s sexual orientation.
The parents were asked “ How hard is it for you, knowing that your son or daughter is gay, lesbian or bisexual? on a five-point scale, with five being extremely hard.” Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the researchers found:
· African American and Latino parents reported greater trouble adjusting compared to white parents;
· Parents of older youth reported they had greater levels of difficulty compared to parents of younger children;
· Fathers and mothers reported similar levels of difficulty as did parents of boys and girls.
LGBT children who are not accepted at home because of their sexual orientation run the risk of depression, homelessness, suicide, substance abuse, and other health issues. As two years or more may seem like an eternity for a family facing a strain between the parent and child, Dr. Huebner recommends that future studies examine how that adjustment process can be accelerated so kids will feel more connected to their families.
Says Dr. Tobkes, “one of the most prominent reasons is denial, a defense mechanism used by individuals to cope with a reality that is perceived as threatening or damaging to one’s self-image or concept of the world. Not surprising as the vast majority of parents don’t have expectations or wish that their child will be LGBT. Therefore, they utilize denial in order to cope with a reality that may be perceived as a threat to their self-image or concept of the world. Upon finding out that a child is LGBT, many parents are unable to assimilate this new data into their previously connected notion of their child’s identity and future life plan.”
In order to come to terms with acceptance, Dr. Tobkes suggests the following:
· Confront and break down your denial by working through your own feelings.
· What is your baseline notion of what it means to be LGBT?
· The most important steps for working through your denial involve having direct and honest conversations with your child and other family members, reaching out to friends and community supports for additional guidance.
· Or seek help with a trained professional.
The good news of the Huebner study is that this difficulty appears to decline within five years for most parents. Huebner says most parents, even those in shock, when first learning the news, care deeply about their children and eventually do adjust.