The following post was written by Nathan Albert. Nathan is the Director of Pastoral Care at The Marin Foundation.
I get a lot of emails from parents asking what to do when their children come out. As a heterosexual, I can only say so much on this subject. However, after talking to countless LGBT youth and young adults about their coming experiences, this is the advice I often give to others.
Understand that the moment when your child comes out to you is probably the most vulnerable they have ever been in their life. Possibly for years, they have been in turmoil over their feelings, attractions, and how they would ever tell you. They are spilling their soul to you. And, most likely, they are expecting you to reject them as they sit before you in their vulnerability. For some, they may think this could be the last conversation you will ever have together (One of my closest friends told me years after him coming out to me that, because I was a Christian, he expected that once he told me he was gay we would never talk again. Sad.). Needless to say, they are usually expecting the worst.
Take their coming out to you as a holy moment. A holy moment where they, as your child, are being the most vulnerable with you, where they are holding their heart and soul in their palms, and asking you to be their loving parent. They are hoping that you will simply see them as the child you have always loved. So love them and let them know. View them as your child, as the infant whom you held so close, the toddler that finally began talking and walking, the child on their first day of school, the child who overnight seemed to grow up, and the child you love with all your heart.
When they finally venture to say the words, “I’m gay,” for the sake of their souls don’t look shocked, don’t become angry, don’t get heated, don’t say anything actually, and don’t check out of the conversation. Don’t say, “Are you sure?” (I promise you, they are sure. They’ve been dealing with this internally for at least a few years). Don’t try to convince them they are straight, even if you disagree with homosexuality theologically and morally. In this moment, you don’t have to throw out Bible verses about homosexuality (I guarantee your child has done a lot of homework with the Bible on the topic).
Instead, listen. Ask them questions about being gay, how long they’ve known, if it was tough, or if they’ve told others. Perhaps even thank them for being so open and honest. Let them share their soul with you. Let them be your child. You can have time to be upset or shocked later as a married couple or single parent behind closed doors. In that moment, they need you to be their support. They need you to affirm your love for them through words and expressions of affection even if it is difficult at the time for you to do so. You need to be the parent who unconditionally loves them. They don’t need you to be a disciplinarian.
Understand also that once your child tells you they are gay, you will be entering a grief process. Realize it and accept the tough days ahead. Since the day your pregnancy test revealed you were going to have a child, and perhaps even before then, you have had dreams and visions about your child. You, for decades, have been dreaming about what your child will do, who they will become, who they will love, what they will accomplish. And now that they are gay, your dreams don’t entirely match up with reality.
So, the dreams you have had for your child for countless years must now change. It’s ok to grieve. Take your time. But begin to be open to new dreams. Allow your child to teach you. Allow your child the chance to parent you through this time. Allow your child to shepherd you. Ask them questions. Get to know them in a new way. Learn from them. Please don’t abandon them. This just might be where they need you the most. Continue to show your child grace. Continue to show yourself grace.
Find other parents who have LGBT children. Do life with them. Learn from them. Let them support you so you can support your child.
Pray for your child. Not prayers that they will change their sexuality, be healed, or even that they will find a loving partner. Pray that they would know the love of Christ more deeply. Pray that they would not abandon their faith. Pray that the furious longing and love that God has for them would overwhelm them. Pray that God would be their rock, foundation, and anchor. Pray that God will protect them and make His face to shine upon them. Pray that they will continue to find their identity in Christ.
And for goodness sake, with the amount of LGBT youth who have had horrific coming out experiences with their parents, which often leads to suicide, I plead with you to LOVE YOUR KIDS! Unconditionally. Please. I’m tired that the norm experience in our culture is that kids become homeless because parents can’t handle their child’s sexuality. That child is your flesh and blood. Love them. Please. Please. And if you are a Christian, for goodness sake, you are mandated to do this.
I guarantee this has the possibility of bringing your family closer together and you will see that after a long hike you’ll reach the peak of that mountain, the view is unbelievable.
If you are a parent that had a child come out to you, what did you find that helped you and your family in the process? If you have come out to your parents, what are some things that they did well and/or what do you wish they would have done?