Tips for Parents of Queer Children (Guide 2021)
If you're reading this article, you probably want to know how you can support your child in coming out. That's great of you! 🙂
In this guide, we will explain how you can support your child in the often difficult coming out process - both before the actual outing and when your child has confided in you with their news.
Genrerally, it is important that you understand that coming out is very individual for each person - including your child. Contrary to popular belief, coming out is not a one-time event. It is a process that will accompany your child throughout his or her life. Starting with the inner coming out (becoming aware of one's own sexuality, romantic orientation or gender identity), up to the point where the news are shared with other people.
"I feel different from the others - I don't really fit in anywhere!"
The feeling of being different often emerges during childhood. Mostly, however, this cannot yet be properly understood or put into words. Often these feelings even start before kindergarten - therefore coming out and sharing these feelings of otherness can theoretically happen early in childhood. For most queer people, these feelings become more tangible and definable during puberty.
This phase of becoming aware is often associated with feelings of anxiety and nervousness. Many feel isolated from their peers because they feel they are different and don't fit in. Children who feel loved and valued (something you can usually give them as a parent) often find it easier to cope with these feelings.
This is What You as a Parent Can Do For Your Child:
- Create a safe place for your child where they don't have to be afraid of being judged or evaluated.
- Reflect on your own heteronormative (the assumption that all people are heterosexual) and cisnormative (the assumption that all people identify with the gender assigned to them at birth) views. Try not to push these views onto your child. You are likely to make them feel that there is something wrong with them.
- Support your child in building a diverse circle of friends and an open social environment around them.
- Support your child in hobbies & leisure activities that - in the social norm - are rather attributed to the opposite sex (e.g. a boy may also wear a dress, a girl may also play football, etc.).
- Talk to your child regularly about issues such as interests and friends, but also about any bullying that might be taking place.
"I think I might be gay (or bi or lesbian or trans) but I'm not sure and I don't know how I feel about it ..."
As soon as the feeling of "being different" described above becomes clearer, people who are mostly in their teens start to consider whether they might be gay, lesbian, bi or something else. The feelings that accompany these considerations are often very mixed between relief, excitement and concern.
It is not uncommon for your child to try to suppress these feelings and changes in order to conform to social norms, out of fear of bullying, or in order not to disappoint the parents (you in this case). Often people in this phase are completely overwhelmed with everything for a while. By the way, this is also where the risk increases that your child will develop depression, anxiety disorders or other psychological problems. This can be a result of self-isolation, for example, out of fear of being ostracised or outed. Loneliness can also play a big role, especially in areas where there are no LGBTQ+ services (e.g. queer youth groups). A supportive and loving atmosphere at home, as well as good relationships with friends, can help your child cope better with the challenges they may face.
"I accept myself as I am, but what will my friends and family say?"
Just because your child accepts their own sexuality, romantic orientation or gender identity does not necessarily mean that he or she is ready to share this knowledge with other people. When exactly your child is ready to come out to other people or even to you, their parents, is very individual. Your child will most likely take your attitude towards LGBTQ+ issues into account when making this decision. Try to talk positively about queer celebrities or LGBTQ+ issues in general.
Society is becoming more open and tolerant of LGBTQ+ people, so more and more people are coming out at a young age. Your child may come out first in online groups or to trusted friends before they tell their family and parents.
"I have come out to most of my family and friends"
It takes an extreme amount of courage for a young person to come out, especially if they are unsure of how others will react. Your child may be afraid of disappointing or upsetting you, or in some cases, fear physical violence or being kicked out. Of course, you may also need time to process the news (after all, your child has often spent years doing this as well). This can range from a few days to months. Even if you take longer to process your child's coming out, it is extremely important that you continue to give them your full support and attention. Show and tell your child that you still love and value them as much as you always have.
It is often difficult for children who feel that their family has special expectations of them. Bringing grandchildren into the family, finally bringing home their first boyfriend or girlfriend, or presenting the family well to the outside world. Here, the fear of disappointing one's own family and failing is often particularly great.
After coming out, your child will probably be able to talk openly about their feelings and possible relationships with you for the first time. Coming out is almost always associated with a feeling of freedom and relief for your child. They finally no longer have to hide and can behave, speak, dress, etc. as they feel comfortable.
How Parents of Queer Children Can Support Them:
- If your child comes out to you, be understanding and supportive. If you have any objections or concerns that you would like to discuss with your child, it is best to do so in a separate conversation later.
- Accept and love your child just the way it is. Even if you don't agree on everything (which is perfectly OK), it is important that your child knows that they can always count on you.
- Help your child if he or she is treated badly, discriminated against or bullied by other people. Do not play down the social pressures your child may be suffering from. You will never have gone through anything like this yourself, so you should never play down the fears and worries your child has.
- Speak out against any kind of queer-hostile jokes or remarks in your environment.
- Look for signs of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders or massive insecurities and act accordingly.
- Bring your child into contact with queer services and information sources. It is important for them to know that they are not alone.
- Work for more diversity in your environment. Add more guides on queer issues to your book collection, watch films with your family that feature queer characters, hang a rainbow flag in your window or support (local) LGBTQ+ organisations.
- Support your child's self-development. Talk to them about their taste in clothes, possible changes they would like to make (to themselves), etc.
- Seek professional support if you are overwhelmed with this topic on your own. You can find a lot of good information and help pages on the internet.
A Few Words in Conclusion
Even if you don't completely understand your child's coming out or have "objections", it is super, super, super important that you continue to be there for your child as a supportive parent. Being loved and supported by your own parents is extremely important for your child, especially during the coming-out phase. The feeling of being loved is - scientifically proven - an important factor for a healthy psychological development for children. Many parents of queer children themselves need support and assistance to process the coming out. You don't have to feel bad or like a failure - getting help when you need it is extremely strong and will help both you and your child process the coming out together.