Don't let hurt feelings stop you from being supportive.
Recently a friend told me he found out his teenager is transgender via Facebook. He felt hurt and confused. I can imagine all the questions, doubts, fears, and overwhelming concerns that floated through his mind when he read the Facebook post — or announcement in this case.
This particular friend — like so many other parents — has always felt extremely close to his child. He thought their relationship was one where anything and everything was open for discussion without judgment or ridicule.
Learning of such an important facet of his kid’s life through social media made him feel left out and somewhat unimportant to his child.
Remember, it's all about them, not us.
The truth of the matter is that how this teenager came out to their dad has nothing to do with whether or not he’s a good parent or their relationship is fantastic or not. It has everything to do with the internal dialogue this kid has about themself. It’s much more likely that this teenager felt insecure, afraid, or worried about losing their wonderful dad and their close relationship with him.
When our feelings are hurt by those we love most, it can be difficult to remember that whatever just happened probably has little to do with us and much more to do with whatever is going on in the head and heart of our loved one.
As parents, it can be hard to swallow when we find out we’re the last to know something so crucial to our kid’s identity. It can sting as much (if not more) as being the last to hear your kid is getting married, is gay, won the Nobel Peace Prize — you get the idea. We love our kids and want the best for them — and we also want the front-row seat to watch them grow into amazing human beings. Being the last to know some of those important, life-altering things can make us feel unimportant to the most important people in our lives.
If you happen to find yourself as one of these parents, don’t despair or let your hurt curb your support for your child. Regardless of how you found out, you now know. And your kid needs your continued love. They need to know they can still count on you to be there for them — help them, accept them, love them.
There are many reasons a child might not come out to their parents first.
Good kids with loving moms and dads might hesitate to come out to their parents because they’re worried about disappointing or embarrassing them due to the ignorance of others (friends, family, strangers, whoever). Or maybe they feel unsure about how to explain their feelings and want to test out the waters on others before telling those closest to them.
If your kid has access to the internet — and I don’t know any kid who doesn’t — the readily available statistics on transgender youth can be scary and horrifying. If they’re part of a conservative family, small town, or right-winged community they might be terrified of losing their family, becoming homeless, or without friends.
Fear has made many people do questionable things. If your kid is at all afraid of the outcome of them telling you they’re transgender or nonbinary, this can be a huge motivator for them to keep their mouth shut.
Alleviate your kid's fears.
Having open and honest conversations (obviously age-appropriate) is a great way to communicate to your child that gender identity, sexuality, and gender expression can be included topics in your discussions.
Talking about these things before your child’s possible coming out is a proactive way to alleviate some of the fears they might be harboring. If they end up being cisgender and straight, well you’ve taught them (and showed them) how to be an open-minded ally. And we all know the world could use more of those.
If you already consider yourself an accepting and supportive parent, you might be able to cement this fact into your kid’s mind by including discussions about the LGBTQ+ community as it pertains to others — the country, the world, the guy down the road. Keeping the lines of communication open to your teenager, child, or young adult will help them find the courage to come out to you if that is indeed something that is part of their journey.
Raising kids is fun, challenging, overwhelming, and wonderful. Raising LGBTQ+ youth has additional unique aspects. It’s okay to feel frustrated, confused, sad, angry, or completely out of your depth. The important thing is to continue to be there for your kid.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Your mental health is much more important than your pride. Your child’s overall health depends on you learning how to best support them and who they truly are.