The turkey has been carved, Black Friday has passed, and radio stations have begun their twenty-four hour Christmas medleys. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. For many families this is a time of the year to look forward to, as everyone comes together to celebrate the holidays. It is a time of joyous reunion.
But for some Christian parents who have LGBTQ children, the holidays bring mixed emotions. The excitement of being together is combined with apprehension and uncertainty. The holidays may feel more like a relational minefield than a jubilant occasion. For parents who struggle to reconcile their Christian faith with their love for their LGBTQ children, the holidays can be a time of stress filled decisions: Do I allow my LGBTQ child to bring their partner home? Do I allow them to sleep in the same room? How do I introduce their partner to my friends? Do I say anything about my child’s sexuality/gender identity during this time?
Through our research with the Parent Resource Initiative, The Marin Foundation has learned from parents who have already navigated these questions. So here are some tips for the holidays from other Christian parents:
1. Do I allow my LGBTQ child to bring their partner home?
Many parents worry about what will happen if they allow their child’s partner to spend the holidays with them. Some are simply uncomfortable being around their child’s partner. Others are afraid that by allowing the partner to spend time with the family, they are signaling to their child or to other Christians that they are accepting or condoning of that relationship when in reality they may believe that relationship is against God’s will.
Remember this: You are a representation of Jesus in your child’s life and in their partner’s life. What better way to share Christ’s unconditional love and Christian witness than to host your child’s partner? Getting to know their partner does not mean that you have to one-hundred-percent accept the relationship. Including someone in your holiday celebration does not mean you love everything about them or who they are with. Is anyone who is sitting around that dining room table without sin? Do you agree with all of your relatives choices for significant others? No, but you still break bread (or turkey) with them.
If you are afraid that people in your church will judge you for this, you are in good company. Look at the way the religious leaders in Jesus’ time judged Jesus for spending time with outcasts, sinners, and people on the margins. If Jesus was courageous enough to face that kind of criticism, then we should be too. What better way to honor Christ on His birthday than to follow His example.
If you are concerned about physical affection between your child and their partner in front of you or your family then talk to your child about it. Let them know what level of affection you are comfortable with. Be honest. Tell them this is difficult for you and ask them to respect that. But before you talk to your child, ask yourself, “What level of physical affection would be appropriate for heterosexual couples in my home?” If you are holding all of your children to the same standard of physical affection, regardless of their sexuality/gender identity, then make sure your LGBTQ child knows that you are treating everyone equally.
2. Do I allow my LGBTQ child to sleep in the same room with their partner?
Sleeping arrangements during the holidays can be tricky for any family. No one wants to get stuck in the same room with that uncle who snores like a chainsaw. How do you decide where your LGBTQ child and their partner sleep?
Ask yourself, “If my child were heterosexual, where would I have their boyfriend or girlfriend sleep?” If your standard has always been that unmarried heterosexual couples sleep in separate rooms, then you are simply upholding this standard by asking your LGBTQ child and their partner to sleep separately. The key is to make sure that your LGBTQ child understands that the reason you are asking them not to sleep with their partner is NOT because of their sexuality but rather because that is your standard. Make it clear that regardless of their sexuality the rules would be the same. Also, be consistent. If you tell your LGBTQ child they cannot sleep with their partner until marriage, make sure you enforce this standard with your heterosexual children.
What if your LGBTQ child is already married to their partner? Or, in states where marriage is not legal, what if your LGBTQ child has a civil union with their partner or has been living with their partner in a monogamous way that resembles marriage for years? There are two questions to ask yourself in that situation: “If my child was heterosexual and committing any other sin* in the Bible (lying, stealing, gossiping) would I ask them to sleep in a separate room from their spouse? How would I feel if my parents had asked me and my spouse to sleep separately?”
[*This is assuming that you believe being in a same-sex relationship is a sin. Not all Christians believe this.]
3. How do I introduce my child’s partner?
Knowing what language to use when introducing your LGBTQ child’s partner can be difficult. It may simply be that you are unsure of what term to use but it also may be deeper than that. For some Christian parents, introducing their child’s partner brings up feelings of embarrassment and shame. We have three pieces of advice:
a. Ask your LGBTQ child what term they would like for you to use. Say to your child, “I’m not exactly sure how you would like me to introduce [partner’s name]. What word would you prefer that I use?” This shows your child that you care about them and their partner and want to be respectful of the language they use.
b. Mirror the language that your child uses. If you don’t want to directly ask your LGBTQ child how to introduce their [partner] then listen and observe when your child introduces their [partner] and use that same language. If your child says, “This is my partner,” or “This is my boyfriend,” or “This is my fiancée”, then use the same word they do.
c. If you are uncomfortable with the two options above, then simply introduce your child’s partner by their name, “This is Sam.” This allows your child to offer up any further information about who that person is to them.
4. Do I say anything about my child’s sexuality/gender identity during this time?
Unfortunately many Christian parents are told and/or feel like it is somehow their job to change their child’s sexuality/gender identity. Parents often also feel like they need to make sure their child knows that they do not approve of their child’s sexuality/gender identity.
First of all, you should know that it is not your job to change your child. As any parent who has ever tried to make their child do what they want them to do knows, it is futile if it is not what your child wants. Only God, through the Holy Spirit, can change people, AND that is only if God wants to. (This is a discussion for another blog). So making sure you let your child know you disagree with their “lifestyle” during the holiday season is NOT going to change them. All it is going to do is cause more stress and turmoil for both of you. Trust that if God wants your child to change, God will do it.
Secondly, it is very, very likely that your child already knows how you feel. You most likely raised them in the church. They have read the verses in the Bible about this topic. They know where you stand on this. Reminding them will not make them change course. It will only drive a wedge into your relationship.
Finally, the holidays are supposed to be a time of celebration, joy, and peace. Even if you still feel that it is your job to change your child and even if you feel you must share Truth with your child at every opportunity, give yourself and your child a gift this holiday season. Enjoy their presence, enjoy Christ’s birth, and let the holiday be about love, not conflict.
Peace on Earth and Goodwill to men.