Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Now
By: Marina Spears and Ariane Robinson
This is part 2 in a series. Find part 1 here.
I’ve known Peter since he was 12 years old. He attended the same school as my children and was a regular in my home. In fact at one point, he had crushes on two of my daughters. So at the end of of his senior year of high school, when he “came out” as gay, I was shocked. I was also conflicted, in part due to my religious beliefs. Although I had always taught my children to love everyone and to be non-judgemental, I had also followed my church’s teachings and taught my children that homosexualtity was not a good choice. At the same time, I loved Peter; he was a part of our family. I deeply cared for him and his well being. I was unsure of how to make all the pieces of this puzzle fit.
I have gay friends and I love and respect them. But I did not know how to handle one of my children’s friends coming out. How should I explain this to my younger children? I was also surprised at my own conflicted reaction. I knew better. What was wrong with me? He was still the same young man who ate dinner at our house, the same young man who played board games and joined in other family activities. Why was I conflicted?
LGBTQ individuals are a part of our communities and the communities that our children interact in, both online and off. We all know someone who is part of the LGBTQ community and so do our children. As a result, we need to examine our own feelings and possible prejudices and be ready to deal with them. It is important that we make sure we are the ones to directly teach our children, often through a combination of discussion and example.
It took me a few days to evaluate myself and my feelings. I realized that Peter’s “coming out” scared me. It was unexpected, and I was afraid of how it might affect my children. But I soon came to understand that my reaction would have the greatest effect on my kids and would greatly affect how they would treat others in the future. Once I was able to step back and admit Peter was still the same kid I loved, I knew I had a great opportunity to show my children how we can treat all people with respect and love.
I felt the best thing to do was talk to Peter directly. I will be honest: I was afraid. I was not sure what I was going to say, but I kept my focus on the fact that I cared for this young man and his well being. He was a friend of our family and he would always be our friend. I let him know some of the conflict I was going through—he was aware of our family’s beliefs. He also knew that in our home “loving others” was the most important spiritual principle we lived, and that was not going to change with his coming out. Things did not change. He still came to our house and played board games and cooked dinners with my kids. Our home is always open to him.
When Peter was in his first year of college, he called me and related the following story. He explained that some of his friends were arguing that religious people had the worst attitude toward people who were different, especially homosexuals. Peter said, “I told them, I have a second mother, and she is a very active Christian and she loves me exactly as I am.”
When we hung up, I reflected on my experience when Peter came out. I was so grateful that I had not made a rash decision based on fear. Instead I chose to act out of love and the value I had for our relationship, and for Peter as an individual. I was grateful that Peter knew his being gay did not change my love for him, or my respect for him as a person.
Our children are growing up in a time of social change regarding identity and sexuality. LGBTQ issues are at the forefront of school, social media, and online platforms. As parents we need to be prepared to talk with them about their thoughts and feelings regarding these issues. Our children and their friends may experiment with things that we do not approve of, and they could possibly choose a path that we would not choose for them. As parents we need to be ready to handle situations that might challenge us and our beliefs. Are we ready?
What can we do to be ready?
–Be informed, know what is going on in the world culturally and socially, because that is the world your children are living in. Take advantage of everyday opportunities to talk with your kids, honestly and openly, about their world. Daily activities like driving to and from school or meal times are great times to have conversations with your children. Whatever time you choose to talk with you kids, do your best to understand where they are coming from.
–Consider the things that scare you, and educate yourself. There are so many great scholarly, well-researched resources out there to help parents educate themselves on LGBTQ issues. We cannot expect to teach or help our kids if we do not understand the issues ourselves. Educate yourself so you can educate your children.
Here is a great list of resources:
- Center For Disease Control and Prevention-LGBTQ Youth Resources
- Supportive Families, Healthy Children Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children-San Francisco State University
- A Practitioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children
- Child Welfare Information Gateway-Resources for Family of LGBTQ Youth
- LEAD with Love Additional Resources for Parents and Youth
- John Hopkins Medicine-Tips for Parents of LGBTQ Youth
-Talk with another parent or friend, and try role-playing what you might say to your child. Your spouse or friend may be able to point out flaws in your thinking or points you may not have considered. This may help you to not feel as stressed, and give you more clarity in terms of the conversations you want to have with your child.
–Think about and even write down what is most valuable to you: Is it relationships? A specific set of standards? What is the greatest priority to you and your family?
You might also want to do this exercise with your child and then discuss the answers together. A written exercise like this can give clarity and help you articulate your thoughts in a different way. Don’t be upset if your child’s answers are different than yours.
As parents, it’s important to know that the experts agree that no matter your child’s sexual orientation the best thing you can do is to let that child know they are loved. Expressing our love and concern for our children should be an important part of the conversations we have with them about sexuality. Research has shown that LGBTQ youth who feel rejected or unloved by their parents because of their sexual orientation are “more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide”(Ryan, 2009). This is a scary statistic, but as parents we can help combat this kind of hopelessness as we become more open and understanding about the issues that LGBTQ youth are facing.
Below is a list of behaviors for parents that promote well-being rather than rejection if you find out your child identifies as LGBTQ (Ryan, 2009):
- Express affection when your child comes out to you with their identity.
- Talk with your child about their LGBTQ identity in a respectful way.
- Advocate for your child if they are bullied or mistreated because of their LGBT identity.
- Insist that all family members treat your LGBTQ child with respect.
- Allow your child’s LGBTQ friends into your home.
- Connect your child with LGBTQ support organizations.
- Be optimistic with your child that they can have a successful future.
If you are unsure how to start the conversation about sex with your child. Take a look at 30 Days of Sex Talks for ages 3-7, 8-11 and 12+. It has great information about healthy sexuality, curiosity, sexual identification, anatomy, and more!
Marina Spears received her Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU Idaho. She runs the student guidance program at the Summit School of the Poconos, and facilitates a support group for families of addicts. She is also a contributing writer and editor at Educate and Empower Kids. She is the mother of five children and loves to spend time with her family.
Ariane Robinson is the mother of five children. She is a Marriage and Family Studies Major and a certified facilitator with PREPARE/ENRICH. A program designed to help couples develop skills to improve their relationships. She enjoys working with families and helping to strengthen their relationships.
Ryan, C. (2009). Supportive Families, Healthy Children Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children. Retrieved from http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/sites/default/files/FAP_English Booklet_pst.pdf