“I’ve told my son that nothing changes, that I still love him, but I expect him to live the same standards as the rest of the family, and yet he seems more and more depressed. Why isn’t this working?”
“I don’t want my daughter’s ideas about being lesbian to influence the younger kids in the family, so I’ve told her not to talk about it at home.”
“I think if my son is going to wear makeup, he’s going to get made fun of at school. I can’t stop that.”
In the September/October issue of Utah Valley Health and Wellness, I talked about parental self-care. It’s important for parents to have people to talk with who understand and don’t blame them for what they are feeling and experiencing. In the July/August issue, I talked about how to keep lines of communication open when a child “comes out” as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc. In this issue, we’re going to talk about how to keep you and your teen connected.
Some families consider that their main responsibility to a child that comes out is to continue to teach truths about sexuality and gender, and to make sure their teen does not misunderstand or ignore these teachings. In my experience with hundreds of teens from good homes, this emphasis generally results in a disconnection that makes communication feel tense and difficult. Because teens need a good relationship with parents in order to navigate the experiences of being a healthy teen, I recommend that parents:
- Consider that your child may not be choosing to rebel against your teachings and beliefs as they learn new things about themselves and want to share them with you.
- Recognize that your child knows where you stand with regard to teachings about sexuality and gender.
- Learn to be open to hearing from your child what internalizing these ideas has been like (both recently and in the past).
- Find out what your child’s hopes and dreams for themselves are, and how they may be changing.
- Show respect for your child, especially as your child’s experiences are different from yours.
These five things will make a dramatic difference in your child’s interest in re-opening a relationship with you. The most important thing is that you – as a parent – remain a steadfast connection with the world of respectful and loving relationship with your child. Children who do well – that is – avoid risky sex, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and suicidal behaviors – have parents who show respect for their children’s sense of what is true about them. (For details about the retrospective studies of families who demonstrate accepting and rejecting behaviors and the outcomes for teens, see http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/)
If you want help navigating how to support your teen while making sure they are safe and mentally healthy (especially if identifying as a gender or sexual minority goes against your beliefs), you may want to:
- Meet with other parents who have found peace in this journey (last issue listed several groups that meet in Utah County)
- Meet with a therapist who can help you and your teen navigate issues of safety and mental health.
Many families have found their way through this journey with greater love and appreciation for each other and for their relationships, which strengthens everyone, including parents and the younger children in the family.