Do Not Panic
Your child has just informed you they’re gay; now what?
First, do not panic. They are still the same son or daughter that ten minutes ago you were laughing with in the kitchen while cooking dinner and sharing with each other about your day. It is still the same child that, last week, you were so proud of for finishing that paper they had been working on in school and received an A on. They are still that same little girl or boy that you told bedtime stories to not so long ago, and that little girl or boy that wanted to be just like you when they grew up. They are still the same child that dreamed of getting married and having their parents at their wedding one day, and maybe even having children. The only difference right this moment is that you just discovered they are not attracted to the opposite sex.
All those thoughts and feelings whirling around out of control in your mind will calm down. Just be patient and breathe. Let your heart rate slow down. It really is going to be okay. Thankfully, your child is growing up in an era where this more than likely is acceptable by society’s standards. It isn’t like it used to be. This isn’t anything new these days. Same sex marriage is legal and recognized. You can still have the beautiful grandchildren and the family gatherings. You can still help plan your daughter’s wedding, and they can still go to prom, and then off to college. This is something they have probably been dealing with alone for quite some time and have just gotten the courage to share it with you, so they truly are no different than they were ten minutes ago.
Focus On What Matters Most
They haven’t been lying to you. They have more than likely been struggling to find courage and strength to talk to you and going over a million different scenarios, trying on each one, letting them play out in their mind, and throwing several ideas out the window. They have probably expressed their concern over disappointing you and the fear of maybe even losing you to their friends, and asked for their advice on how to approach you. One or more of their siblings may know if they’re close. There isn’t much you can hide from siblings.
This beautiful child that you love so much and have sacrificed much of your life for is still that beautiful child and what they need in this moment is your unconditional love and support. It is okay to feel concern; you are their parent after all. It is okay to be scared; this is the first step on a long journey of self-discovery. The thing you need to keep in mind is that your child has just conquered a huge fear, has left no doubt that they trust you, and they need you now probably more than ever. They have just opened up to you and shared with you probably one of the most intimate parts of themselves. This is where you make or break the relationship with your child. This is where they rebel or learn that you will love them regardless. This is where they either hide who they are and struggle with identity issues or they embrace who they are and flourish. Shame or confidence. You will set the tone.
Caught Off Guard? What to Do
If you were caught off guard, lashed out, now have calmed down and are seeking answers, it is not too late to repair any damage that has been done. There is still time to go to your child and gently explain that you were just caught off guard, it scared you, and you reacted without thinking. Your child needs to know you are sorry if you attacked their character or identity and caused them to feel shame about something they have no control over. (We don’t choose to be gay). Your child needs to know he or she does have your support and love.
Parents aren’t perfect and I guarantee your children already know this. We do make mistakes and speak too soon sometimes. It might take a little while to earn their trust again, but it is possible. It is a very emotional time for them and he/she will probably be sensitive, so you both will need time to adjust.
The thing most children wish for is their parents' understanding, patience, love, acceptance, and approval. This may not be what you envisioned for your child, but that doesn't mean that your child is wrong.
Take it From Someone Who Knows
I know all of this because I was that teenager with identity issues seeking love, acceptance, and approval. I didn’t have the courage to tell my mother (or anyone for that matter) that I was a lesbian until I was in my mid 20s, after two failed marriages, three broken homes, and five children I owed an explanation to.
When I was a teenager it wasn’t exactly acceptable to be gay, especially in the small town I grew up in. My younger brother knew, of course. He knew everything there was to know about me. He accepted me and loved me unconditionally, but also agreed to keep my secret safe because siblings do that for each other. I had known since I was 4 years old that I wanted to marry a woman. Life happened somewhere along the way and I chose to hide my true self, choosing what I thought was the easier and more socially acceptable route. I’ve regretted that choice much of my life. The only thing I am thankful for are the children I was blessed with along the way. I suffered quite a bit of heartache over the years, never feeling whole.
I came out to my mother in my mid 20’s while tentatively experimenting with an old friend from school, which was about 9 years before I actually publicly entered into a long-term serious relationship with a woman. You can imagine my shock when my mother’s immediate response was, “Oh! Well, that suits you! Would you two like to come over for dinner?” After all those years of fearing the worst, it was that simple. I call myself lucky to have the mother I have. She has always supported me, encouraged me, and simply loved me for who I am. Many of my peers are envious of the love and support that she gives me. I don’t know why I waited so long to tell her. I think I feared more the reaction from society than from her and just chose to keep it from everyone, my mother included.
When I did finally come out to everyone, I didn’t receive any negativity from anyone, other than my ex-husband. I actually left him for the woman I would spend the next 5 years of my life with, so I guess he was entitled to be a little bitter. To this day I still haven’t faced any negativity otherwise, and for that I am also thankful. I am also aware of how lucky I am in that aspect too. Finding others like me seems to be the hardest part of being a lesbian that I’ve had to deal with to-date.
I've Been Where You Are
I also found out that my youngest daughter had a girlfriend for almost an entire year before I chose to come out publicly in my 30s. She too had hidden it for the same reasons I had, although her fear was more about facing her father than facing me. It broke my heart to imagine her feeling the need to hide something like that from me for so long. Her father still hasn’t exactly accepted the whole idea, but he hasn’t disowned her at least. He has made fun of her on occasion and asked her some rather embarrassing questions, which I simply do not approve of, but we are divorced and live hours from each other, so it isn’t something my daughter has to deal with every day. At 14 years of age, my daughter mostly deals with blunt curiosity from her peers and has no trouble finding others like her. She is out and proud. Like I said before, it is more accepted these days so more and more girls are open about exploring their identities earlier. There are those occasional few who have something negative to say, but she is comfortable with who she is and doesn’t let the nay sayers bother her too much. She mentions it, we discuss how not everyone has learned to mind their own business or be accepting of everyone, and she dismisses it.
I am very thankful my daughter has come out to me as early as she has, while sorting out her identity and trying on her independence. I know that she will not struggle as I did. She won’t have to worry about me not loving her or worry about me disowning her, so she doesn’t have to hide from me. She can figure out her identity in the safety of our home, discussing it with me, asking me questions, trusting someone that can and will give her the correct information, crying on my shoulder when a girl breaks her heart, etc. She doesn’t have to deal with hiding her whole life and she won’t have to deal with the same regrets. There isn’t a communication gap or emotional distance between us. I am her confidant and I am extremely lucky to have the relationship with my teenager that I have. We still have the talks about what kind of wedding she wants one day, about what she’d like to name her children when she grows up, and we still laugh about the day's events in the kitchen while I’m cooking dinner, just like we always have. She is still the same beautiful girl she has always been to me. She is still my daughter.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Tracy Sheppard (author) from Stanley, NC on January 23, 2018:
I agree that we shouldn't panic and that we should show them love, but I disagree with shunning their choice of lifestyle. I prefer to teach them love and confidence and that although the lifestyle they have chosen may be difficult, I'll always be standing in their corner encouraging them to be all they can be. My daughter is bisexual; she has her reasons and I support her in this choice. Who she loves is not for me to choose for her. How to love and be loved is where I set the example.
Tochukwu Ibe on January 23, 2018:
Don't panic about the news.... Show them love and give them reasons Why that lifestyle doesn't suit them.