Parenting LGBT and Questioning Kids — at a Glance
- Our lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (LGBT) and questioning kids need to know that we will love them — no matter what.
- They need our help to be safe and find their way in the world.
- Our LGBT and questioning kids also need support from the broader LGBT community.
One out of four families has someone in it who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans. Even more may have kids who question their sexuality at various points. There are millions of LGBT and questioning kids in the U.S. today. Most LGBT youth successfully get through adolescence with similar challenges to all youth. But because of bias, life is difficult for many of them. Some run away from their families. Millions live with their families in fear of losing their love and support if it is discovered that they are not straight. More and more families are looking for ways to help their LGBT and questioning children feel loved and secure.
Whether you have an LGBT or questioning child in your family or are a concerned partner, friend, or other family member, you may have many questions about helping LGBT or questioning kids feel safe, secure, and loved. Here are the answers to some questions people commonly ask about parenting LGBT or questioning children.
What Do I Do if my Daughter or Son Comes Out to Me?
“Coming out” is the process of accepting and telling others about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity — such as being bisexual, lesbian, gay, or transgender.
Whether we are straight or LGBT ourselves, parents need to be as loving as possible when our sons or daughters choose to come out to us about their sexual orientation or their gender identity. It takes courage for children to come out to their parents. When our children come out, it means that they have begun to accept themselves for who they are. It also shows that they want to have an open and honest relationship with us.
The most important thing to do is to listen — whether we are relieved or whether it’s news that shocks or upsets us. In many cases, our children have a lot to get off their chests. To help our children say everything they might want to say, we may ask questions such as “How long have you known?” “How did you know?” “Why do you want me to know now?” “Are you in a relationship?” “How are you feeling about it all?” We should respect and affirm their answers and be patient if they aren’t yet prepared to answer some questions.
This is not the time to criticize. If we have any confused or negative feelings about our child being LGBT, it’s best to keep them to ourselves until we can think about them for a while. It may help to talk with someone at PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). During future conversations with our child, we can find ways to talk thoughtfully, respectfully, and lovingly about any challenges or disappointments we feel.
It’s important to realize that we might not be the first people our children come out to. We should try not to feel left out if our children have already come out to friends or other members of our families before they come out to us. People come out in stages. First they come out to themselves. Because they are particularly afraid of losing their parents’ love and respect, kids often practice coming out with friends and then siblings before they feel comfortable enough to do it with their parents.
No matter how surprised or concerned we may be, the most important goal in this conversation is to let our children know that they are safe and loved. So it is very important to tell kids that, “I love you, have always loved you, and will always love you, no matter what.” Good, long hugs can be helpful, too.
How Do I Help Keep my LGBT Son or Daughter Safe and Secure?
LGBT and questioning kids face many challenges socially, and some of them may be dangerous. The challenges they face can make it difficult for them to feel secure as they make their way in the world. Bisexual kids may need special affirmation because many people in the straight, lesbian, and gay communities wrongly believe that bisexuals are really gay but won’t admit it. While it may take a while for people to fully understand their sexual orientation, it is very important to remember that bisexuality is a real sexual orientation.
The best way to help LGBT and questioning kids be safe and secure as they find their way in the world is to understand and support the world they live in. Here are a few suggestions to help them do that:
- Ask how we might help them.
- Never “out” them without their permission. Let kids decide when, where, and to whom they want to come out.
- We can ask them if they want us to help them come out by telling other family or friends, but we should never do it without their permission.
- Offer advice and help them think through their coming out decisions so that they can avoid taking unnecessary risks.
- Make sure they know how to practice safer sex and how to use birth control if they ever have sex with people of the opposite sex.
- Learn about the world they live in and support our kids’ involvement with the LGBT community online and in real life.
We can listen to their stories. Spend time with them. Ask questions such as “Are you in touch with anyone else in the LGBT community?” “Are you getting support from them?” “Is anyone harassing you?”
We can learn about the LGBT community from our LGBT or questioning children, from other parents, from LGBT friends and neighbors, and from online, print, video, and film materials from reliable sources, such as Planned Parenthood, PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Advocates for Youth, and the Human Rights Campaign. We can help our kids get to LGBT community centers or Gay-Straight alliances. Just as we can help them find helpful websites, we can help them avoid those that might not be.
- Defend them against discrimination. We can advocate for our children with family members, teachers, school officials, health care providers, religious leaders, and social services professionals who are responsible for creating safe environments for LGBT and questioning kids. We can vote for political leaders who are accepting of LGBT and questioning people and who will protect their rights.
- Support our kids’ right to have loving relationships. It’s a good idea to get to know our children’s partners and friends.
- Help them believe that life will be good to them in the future.
- Support our children’s life goals, even if they are different from our own.
- Let our children find their way without pressure from us.
- Take pride in our kids’ ability to have a loving relationship.
- Do not let family members or anyone else try to pressure them to change or go into “reparative therapy.” Such efforts do not work and can be emotionally dangerous.
- Keep saying, “I love you.”
We can also help our teens by setting boundaries for them.
How Do I Help my Trans Son or Daughter?
As for all children, happiness also begins at home for gender non-conforming — trans — kids. To create a loving, safe space in your home for a trans child is to do all the things you would do for a lesbian, gay, or bisexual child. With trans kids it is also important to ask them what names and pronouns they would like used when we talk with them or about them. Switching what names and pronouns we use for our children may be difficult at first, but becomes easier in time.
Trans kids may also need help in thinking about hormone therapy and surgical gender reassignment. Both of these options have permanent effects so it is very important to listen to one another very carefully and get professional help in your discussions as you consider the best options for your child’s possible transition. For pre-adolescent trans children, it is possible to postpone their transition decisions with hormone treatments that help to suppress puberty.
As a starting place, parents of trans children may benefit from reading PFLAG’s Welcoming Our Trans Family and Friends — A Support Guide for Parents, Families, and Friends of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People.
How Do I Help my Questioning Son or Daughter?
The first thing we need to do is to let our daughter or son know that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, straight, or questioning is perfectly okay. It’s as much a part of each of us as being short or tall, left-handed or right-handed, brown-eyed or blue-eyed, dark-skinned or light-skinned.
Our children might look to us for a definitive answer. Resist taking your best guess at your child’s sexual orientation or gender identity — it is not a question someone can answer for another person. Help your child understand that it takes time to know who you are. For some people it takes a lifetime. So there’s no need to rush.
We can also reassure our questioning children that they are not alone. Thousands and thousands of kids have questions about who they are, what they will become, and how normal it is for people to be like them. Let them know that they can relax and take their time. And keep telling them, “I love you, and I will love you, no matter what.”
How Do I Take Care of Myself and Come to Terms with Confused or Negative Feelings I May Have?
Many parents find it difficult to accept the sexual orientation or gender identity of their children. Many of us were brought up to believe that being LGBT or questioning is wrong or sinful. Many find it difficult to let go of the dreams we had for our children to get married to a member of the other sex and provide us with biological grandchildren.
It can be difficult for many parents to accept that there is nothing we can do to change our children’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We may even blame ourselves for causing our children’s sexual orientation — even though there is no research to support that idea.
For all kinds of reasons, many of us find that we are frustrated, angry, confused, remorseful, shamed, grieved, or hurt when our children come out. Here are some things we can do to relieve those negative feelings
- Try to realize that our negative feelings are coming from us, not from our children.
- Think about the beliefs, hopes, and disappointments that may be behind those feelings.
- Think about ways we can generously reshape the beliefs and hopes that are causing the negative feelings we have.
- Educate ourselves about sexual orientation and gender identity by turning to reliable sources.
- Talk with, or read the stories of, parents who have gone through this themselves.
- Look for guidance from our faith community if it is one that is accepting and supportive of LGBT and questioning people. Take our time.
- Don’t blame ourselves.
- Don’t try to make our children into something they are not.
Many parents — straight, LGBT, or questioning — have turned to PFLAG. It is an organization that offers support for parents who are having a hard time understanding, accepting, and celebrating their LGBT or questioning children. PFLAG has more than 250 chapters in all 50 states. It is a very reliable organization for helping parents come to terms with their LGBT or questioning children by talking with other parents who have had a hard time with it.
Some parents become severely depressed about the sexual orientation or gender identity of their children. If this should happen, it would probably be very helpful to seek a gay-positive professional for help.
The key to getting through these challenges is love. Just as we want to give love and hope to our children, it is equally important that we give love and hope to ourselves.