Coming to Grips with an GLBT Child – Things NOT to Say [Part 3]
My nephew recently came out to his parents....[Parts 1 and 2]...
So, what should parents tell their kids when they come out?
1. Be honest and humble – “I don’t understand this” meets both criteria. Your child will certainly understand. That’s precisely the way they first experienced the realization that they were different from most other kids. Some still may not understand. So, the ability to admit you don’t understand will place you in good company. Welcome to the club!
2. Admit your own limitations. – Don’t speak for G-d. You can’t with any integrity. Don’t predict the future for your child. Say you don’t know what’s going to happen. Admit you’re afraid of what that might mean. That meets criteria number 1 above. Speak for yourself, your own feelings. Avoid the tyranny of the they, .e.g. “They say…” And take heart. You’re hardly the first person to deal with the limits of human understanding.
3. Tell them you love them. – Hopefully that’s true. And hopefully, it can be unconditional in its nature. If it’s not true, work at making it true. As a parent, you owe them at least an effort. Bear in mind that conditional love has a more honest name – it’s called manipulation. Gay kids are already subject to tremendous amounts of manipulation simply to deal with day to day life. Don’t add to that onerous burden.
4. Pledge your support to them. – Your child is going to need you. Even if you conquer your own homophobia, there are whole segments of the world who haven’t even begun to deal with this social pathology. The potential harm to your child ranges from discrimination in housing and employment to being jeered at the supermarket to being in danger on the streets to being put to death in many jurisdictions of the world. Some of the most comforting words of the Gospel are Jesus’ assurance to his followers that “I am with you, even to the end of the age.” (MT 28:20). Be there for your child. We all need the support. All of us.
5. Be tentative. – Give yourself time to think and reflect. Coming out is almost inevitably painful for all of the parties involved and sometimes comes as a shock. Bear in mind that every feeling of surprise, dread, disappointment, fear, shame and concern that you experience, your child has already most likely experienced him or herself. Coming out is rarely a one time event. For most GLBT persons it is a lifetime process. Why would their parents be any different? Give yourself room and time to think and reflect. Pray about it. Talk with others. PFLAG is an organization devoted to people like you. Consider contacting them.
6. Keep talking – Perhaps most important of all is to keep talking with your child. If you cut the communication lines, they will be difficult to reestablish. Very few people at the end of their lives say they wished they’d spent more time being right. Almost to the person they say they wished they had spent more time with those they loved.
To my nephew and the many GLBT children of the world coming to grips with life’s little surprise, I wish you well. Know that many of us have been where you are and survived to tell about it. Be courageous. Know that there are many of us who have trod your path and know its difficulties. We are with you, always, even unto the end of the age. G-dspeed in your new lives.
To our parents, I wish you patience, humility and understanding. Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that your children love you even when you are less than loveable. More importantly, try to remember that your children need you, perhaps now more than ever. Try to be present for them. This is not about you, it’s about them. May G-d be particularly present with you as you struggle to learn anew how to love your child in light of their new reality. And may peace be with you.
The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.