I did a radio show with a fellow coming out coach recently about the ins and outs of gay parenting from the perspective of parents who’d been married. It got me thinking about the particular challenges and rewards I’ve experienced as a gay parent.
If you have come to the realization that you’re gay and you’ve got kids, I’m sure you are stressed and worried about the impact it could have on your kids AND you are probably wondering what your experience will be like as a gay parent. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to talk about specific age groups and what the experiences can be like for both you and your kids.(0-4) If your child is very young their major concern is feeling safe and cared for. It’s important to maintain a sense of calm and stability around young kids. Reassure them that your love and commitment to them will never change. They won’t need much in the way of explanation. Giving only as much information as is needed should be your best bet.
(5-11) These kids are old enough to ask questions and they will want to understand what is happening. I have found that talking honestly about what is happening is great – keeping in mind the need for parental boundaries about what is and isn’t appropriate for your child to know about the details of your personal life. Laying the foundation for open communication is a smart idea within this age group. When they hit puberty, you’re going to want to be able to communicate easily with them.
(12-18) This age group can be a challenge for your kids because they are experiencing their own hormonal overload and they are pre-occupied with issues around their own sexuality. If you have a same sex child, they could be particularly concerned about what your sexuality means for them. It’s really common for kids to wonder if they’ll be gay because you are. There is lots of research to show that the parent’s sexuality is NOT a determining factor in their child’s orientation. It’s also a great time to assure them that no matter what they determine their sexuality to be, you will always love them.
Always keep talking with them. Even if they are not necessarily talking back – they are listening. Communicate your love and tell them you will always love them – no matter what.
I have a few tips for helping kids through this time of transition:
- To help organize your thoughts, write a letter (that you will not send) to each of your kids about what is happening. It will help you to organize your thoughts and you can decide what and how much to tell them when you have “the” conversation.
- Be patient. Their world is changing too and as much as you’d like to, you cannot make them accept it before they are ready.
- Check in often with your kids. Don’t leave it up to them to bring up scary or hard conversations. Talk about possible homophobic reactions and how best to handle them.
- Pay attention to the messages you’re sending when you talk with your kids. Coming from a place of self-acceptance will go a long way in helping your child accept.
- Understand that they go through a period of time when having your partner attend school events is scary for them. Their fear of peer persecution can be strong. Talk through other suggestions and options your child might have to keep your partner involved in their life. Getting hurt and angry doesn’t help anyone.
- Never work out anger with your spouse in front of your kids. They need to have the freedom to love both parents.
Also, keep in mind that time is your friend! Most kids will have a much better time integrating a gay parent when they’re out of high school. Peer pressure to conform is much easier in college and all the diverse people kids will meet really helps to open their minds and world.
Lastly, if you need professional help – don’t hesitate to reach out to a coming out coach like myself or to a gay friendly therapist. I work with my clients to guide them through the emotional and situational challenges they encounter throughout the process of coming out. Sometimes kids have no problem accepting all the changes taking place. But for those who struggle, there is help.