As a parent, you always want the best for your child. You want them to feel safe, loved, and supported. When your child comes out to you as LGBTQ, you might feel a rollercoaster of feelings, but the most important thing is to let them know they have your love and support—unconditionally.
“Family connectedness is one of the strongest protective factors against the risk of self-harm among LGBTQ youth,” says Nicole Rennix, MA, LMFT, who promotes identity-affirming therapy at Napa Valley Therapy. “LGBTQ youth whose parents do not accept them are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those with supportive families.”
Lack of family support can also affect your child’s physical health: Health discrepencies in the LGBTQ community may be influenced by stress from discrimination and family rejection.
Of course, you may feel love and support for your child, but don’t know how to show it during the coming-out process. This may be something you didn’t see coming and don’t feel prepared for. There are a few things you can do to show your support during this time, which can help your relationship with your child and their future health, self-esteem, and safety.
1. Process your feelings.
It’s normal to have mixed feelings. You might feel gratitude that your child trusts you enough to share this part of their life with you, but you might also feel worried about their safety and future.
“It is important to understand that staying closeted, or pretending to be something they are not, places LGBTQ people at a far greater psychological risk than facing the threat of violence against their authentic selves,” says Rennix.
If you’re struggling to project a positive front for your child, seek out LGBTQ communities and resources for support as you process the news. Rennix also suggests speaking with a therapist if you need extra support, especially a therapist who already has experience working with LGBTQ children. Here are tips to making sure your therapist is the right fit.
2. Learn from other parents of LGBTQ kids.
Being well informed about LGBTQ vocabulary and issues can help you communicate better with your child, avoid saying potentially offensive things, and know what to expect.
If you’re not up to speed on LGBTQ knowledge, don’t make your child be the teacher. You’re definitely not alone: There are literally millions of other parents of LGBTQ children around the world you might be able to connect with.
There are also several excellent resources online—some of which are specifically for parents—where you can brush up on the facts and unlearn some of the myths. Rennix suggests the organization PFLAG, which helps support parents and families of LGBTQ children.
3. Learn identity-affirming terms (and use them).
There’s tolerance, and then there’s identity affirmation. While “tolerance” may give your child the impression that you’re merely “putting up with” their LGBTQ identity, affirmation validates them.
One of the most important aspects of identity affirmation is using your child’s correct pronouns and names. For example, a child who comes out as trans or gender non-binary will likely ask you to use different pronouns (such as he/him instead of she/her, or vice versa; others may prefer they/them), and using these pronouns shows respect and validation.
It’s not simply pronouns. Educate yourself on the vocabulary of sexuality, gender identity, and so on. Acting confused about their lifestyle sends the message that you’re confused about their very identity and existence; “getting it” sends the message that you “get them.”
Mistakes will likely happen, especially at first. Apologize for the slip-up and keep trying.
4. Let them come out at their own pace.
Just because your child is “out” to you doesn’t mean they’re ready to be out to everyone. In some cases, the parent may be the first to know—and the only to know for a while.
“If you think your child might want your help in coming out to other family members and friends, ask them directly,” says Rennix. “Do not tell stories that aren’t yours to tell.”
5. Ask what they need from you.
Relieve yourself of the pressure to be the “perfect” parent or the “perfect” ally. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not instinctively sure of the best way to help your child during the coming-out process.
Instead of assuming what they need, just ask. “One of the best ways to show your support to your child is to ask the question, ‘How can I be the most helpful to you?’ Then listen, and act accordingly,” says Rennix.
When all else fails, show love. A simple “I love you” may be more valuable than a dramatic performance of allyship. “While your child’s coming out affects you, too, remember it is about them,” says Rennix. “It is time to demonstrate your unconditional love and acceptance to the one person who needs it most.”