8 Things Parents Need to Know When Their Child Comes Out
Enid Jackowitz, Retired Psychotherapist
- Along with the myriad of feelings you may be experiencing, there is usually a great loss of expectations. Like many other parents, you may feel the dreams you had for your child will never materialize. But given time, there will be new dreams to take their place. During this stage it’s important to give yourself permission to acknowledge your feelings and to grieve the loss of your expectations.
- Read a lot. To answer questions, you may have about homosexuality, read Is it a Choice, by Eric Marcus. To understand what gay teens face check out It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living, Dan Savage (Editor), Terry Miller (Editor). If you are having trouble resolving religious issues, read Mel White’s book, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America, The Good Book, by Peter Gomes, and one of Rev John Shelby Spong’s books like, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. To help you understand the process that many parents go through read, The Rest of the Way: Breaking Barriers Between Parents and Their Gay Children, now with Questions for Refection at the end of each chapter to help initiate a dialogue, by Enid Duchin Jackowitz. These books will help you understand that: Your son or daughter did not choose to be gay. It is not your fault that your child is gay. There’s nothing wrong with your child. But there is something wrong with our homophobic society. There’s also an award-winning documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So, by Dan Karslake. The film, told with compassion and insight follows 5 families, a few of them quite famous—that have struggled with making sense of having a gay son or daughter.
- If you are having a difficult time accepting your child’s sexual orientation—know that it can take time. It’s a process. So, don’t let your child’s coming out come between you. Remember you are still family—that will never change. Let the love you have for your child be a bridge to a stronger, more loving relationship, and the catalyst for a new growth and understanding.
- If your child wants you to “get over it” and be more accepting, let him or her know that the same way it took them time to work through their issues and become comfortable with being gay, now you too need time to work through your issues as well. This may not be easy, but it is part of the process. Ask for their patience.
- There’s a saying that when kids come out of the closet their parents go into the closet. If you are stuck in the closet find a support group or find a good therapist. Don’t isolate yourself. Go to a PFLAG support meeting (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). The parents at PFLAG know what you’re going through. They went through it too. They will answer many of your questions and concerns in a nonjudgmental and confidential atmosphere. Go to: www.pflag.org to find a chapter near you.
- Don’t let your child being gay be the unspoken elephant in the room. Your child wants you to be part of their life. Don’t shut the door to real communication.
Here’s a favorite Zen Story:
There was a learned professor of oriental studies
who visited a very famous Zen master in the Orient.
The master received the professor in his private room.
As soon as the professor seated himself,
he talked on and on about Zen philosophy,
while the master said nothing.
The professor continued talking until finally,
the master said, “let us have tea,”
and he began pouring tea into his guest’s cup.
The professor, so busy talking, hardly noticed.
But suddenly the professor jumped to his feet
when he realized that the Zen master was still pouring tea,
even though the cup had long since overflowed,
and the tea was spilling out onto the tatami mat
in front of them. And still the master continued pouring.
“Stop, stop, what are you doing?” cried the professor.
“Can’t you see the cup is already filled to the top
and the tea is spilling all over the tatami mat?”
The master looked up and said, “Just as this cup
cannot hold anymore tea when it is already filled,”
“how can I teach you anything when your mind is overflowing,
much like this teacup?”
Try listening to your child with the ears of your heart, without any preconceived ideas.
- Once your child comes out to him or herself, they will have to come to grips with how to live an authentic life in a homophobic society, albeit one that over the years has become more accepting of the LGBTQ community. But we still have a long way to go and your child really needs your support and love now. One abandoned young man once told my husband and me, “How is it that yesterday I was their golden boy, but when my parents found out I was gay, they threw me out of the house.”
- Remember that parents go through a coming out process too. Be open to learning and be patient with yourself. This isn’t an easy journey. The world we live in is a homophobic one, and because many of us grew up steeped in homophobia, our understanding of homosexuality can be tinged with half-truths and misconceptions. So keep an open mind—and an empty cup.