While acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in general has certainly grown over the years, many parents and family members still have struggles with expressing and showing their acceptance. These struggles and difficulties are often highlighted and made worse when the family unit is in the midst of a crisis such as a separation or divorce. Support of LGBTQ+ children, especially in difficult family times, can have potentially life-long impacts on their health, happiness, success and many other key indicators. Children who do not experience family support about their sexual identity have statistically significant increases in attempted suicide, depression, are more likely to use illegal drugs and struggle with mental health generally. Children who experience acceptance and support from their family unit are likely to have higher self-esteem, feel a sense of social support and generally, their physical and mental health is far improved.
When children come out to the family members and important people in their lives, it is necessary that the child receives verbal validation and approval. For example, telling the child that you love them and appreciate them sharing this information. Also, it is important for supportive parents and family members to ask the child directly “how can I support you?” This opens up the lines of communication and lets the child know that you will be there for them in a non-judgmental, kind way to help him or her or them with any problem they may be facing. Do not ask the child if their sexuality or gender identity is a phase or trend. This reflects a failure to accept the child as they are. Additionally, it is important that the open lines of communication continue, including, checking in with your child, as a parent should do with all children, to make sure they are not being bullied or otherwise experiencing challenging issues surrounding their gender or sexual orientation.
How should one parent deal with a situation in which that parent is supportive but hears from the child that the other parent is not? Of course, the affirming, supportive parent can start from a place of education. Some parents do not intend to be unsupportive, but rather, they simply do not know how to respond. Educating supportive responses and the statistical need for them in terms of the above-referenced key indicators is enough for some parents. When it is not enough, what should you do next? Suggest counseling or therapy between the parent and the child so that the parent can obtain some education and enjoy a qualified professional assisting him or her in a therapeutic manner in supporting the child and his or her or their needs. In some families, co-parenting therapy is needed to allow the parents to discuss and confirm an approach of supporting the child. Obviously, when parents are in the midst of separating, or divorcing, collaborating to support a child can feel all the more difficult, but it is more important than ever. If needed, recommend that one or both parents participate in affirming support groups with various organizations available for this purpose.
Serve as your child’s advocate if they need it. Parents of LGBTQ+ children often have to advocate in unique ways that parents of cis, straight children may not need or require. This can include advocacy through school, with family members, and even church or other groups. With children’s permission, so that you can remain a safe and trust-worthy caregiver to them, you may need to serve in a role of educating school staff or personnel, family members and even the other parent. Some children find it exhausting to keep “coming out” to various people and they are happy to have a parent assist with this, sometimes, even with the other parent. Even if a parent has permission to share certain information, the parent should not violate the child’s trust or boundaries by over-sharing private information such as where in the medical transition the child is at if they are transgendered.Parents, on occasion, will make mistakes. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it to your child, but don’t belabor it and keep addressing. Similar to if you accidentally bump a person, you say excuse me and move on. Do the same with your child. Acknowledge your mistakes or short-comings, but then move forward. If you, or the other parent, are struggling with your child’s gender or sexual orientation, therapy may be required for you or the other parent to process. Processing your own necessary emotions or feelings is never something that should be placed on the child. This is your child. Let them be the guide to how you do this process. If you allow love and acceptance to override all of your interactions with your child, you can’t go wrong!