For a lot of parents, there are two primary things we want in life for our children: for them to feel loved and appreciated and to grow up kind, self-sufficient, independent humans. Sometimes we get caught up in what life throws at us and we don’t do our best to ensure our children know and believe this. Having open and honest conversations with your children as they are growing up can help minimize the gap between the life your child is actually living and the one they share with you.
I have two children who walked different paths when it came to revealing their true selves to me. My youngest felt comfortable sharing her feelings and experiences openly, while my oldest felt the need to hide a significant part of who he was. I don’t feel like I did anything different in raising them, but therein lies the problem—I should have stepped back and paid more attention to each individual child’s needs. This can be challenging for parents who don’t want to be accused of treating children differently or playing favorites.
My youngest wasn’t afraid to tell me when she realized she was attracted to people of all genders. My oldest, who also has attractions across the gender spectrum, felt like he wouldn’t be accepted if he disclosed his attraction to someone of the same sex. It saddens me to think he had to hide for so long, feeling lonely and isolated from the family for fear of being completely shunned or not taken seriously.
When my youngest shared that she was dating a girlfriend from high school, this opened the door for my son to do the same. I was lucky enough to have my son stay with us for a short period of time during all of this, so that I could open the door to further conversation and ask for forgiveness. This allowed him to begin sharing his real life and his true self with us.
There isn’t a complete manual handed to you when a child is born. Rearing a child comes from the experiences we had in our own childhood and the advice we get from others. Children are not assembled on a factory line where they are all the same. Even in my own household, where I thought I was raising my children the same way, their experiences and behaviors were completely different.
What I’ve learned, especially as a parent navigating the complexities of gender and sexual identity, is that open and honest conversations are essential. As my children came out and shared their truths with me, I realized that I needed to educate myself and evolve my understanding of LGBTQ+ challenges.
One crucial aspect is terminology. LGBTQ+ terminology can be nuanced, and it’s essential to use language that respects and validates their identities. For example, my son’s spouse identifies as non-binary, which means they don’t exclusively identify as male or female. When referring to them, I use their chosen name and the pronouns they prefer, which are”’they/them.”
Additionally, my youngest child shared that they are attracted to people of various gender identities. This is sometimes referred to as pansexual or bisexual, depending on how they personally identify. It’s important to understand these terms to support and validate their experiences.
What I’ve discovered on this journey is that there’s a generational gap in what is considered acceptable when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. I thought I was being supportive, as I had several friends, including one of my best friends, who identified as gay. I didn’t think I was ever saying anything offensive or inaccurate. However, with my children’s and friends’ help, I realized that even well-intentioned comments can sometimes be perceived as microaggressions. I’m still learning and growing, and I have much more to learn. I am grateful I have people around me willing to share their experiences and help me learn from them.
The best advice I can share with other parents, regardless of your children’s age, is to open that door to acceptance by having open and honest conversations. Don’t allow your own experiences with your parents dictate how you engage with your own children. Break the mold and start a new one. Show your children that you are a loving, tolerant and caring human—not just their parents.
Ultimately, what matters most is that your children know they are loved and accepted unconditionally. There are no stipulations to love, and it’s our role as parents to support our children in their journey to self-discovery and authenticity.
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