Few things create more of a stomach-dropping sensation than the sentence, “I have something to tell you,” whether it’s by text or in person. If your child has decided to come out to you, this is big and exciting news.
Coming out is a major life event, but it can mean a lot of things; your child could be just beginning a journey of sexual questioning or they could be finally telling you about a relationship they’ve had for a year, or somewhere in between.
Wherever they are in this journey, here are ways to best handle your child coming out to you:
15 LISTEN to What They’re Saying
Before responding, listen intently to everything your child is saying. Try not to fill in their sentences if they get lost for words, but give them the space and time they need to get all the right words out in the way that’s best for them.
There may be something that they aren’t explicitly saying, so if you’re smart enough to listen to them, you can find the answer between the lines.
14 Thank Them
Coming out is not easy. Consider the fact that they may have been terribly nervous, and apprehensive, just as if they were about to give a public speech. Thank them for trusting you with this news, for being brave enough to share it, and for reaching out to you.
If you’re not sure what to say, a good initial response is to say “Thank you for telling me. I’m glad I know.”
13 Find Out Who Else They’ve Told
When anyone comes out, it’s usually a special process that they’d prefer to do themselves, especially when family is concerned. Ask your child who else knows, and also if they want you to tell anyone else. You don’t want to go spilling the beans to your great aunt over dinner, would you? At least not without your child’s permission.
12 Talk Honestly About It
If your child is ready to come out to you, it hopefully means they’re ready for an honest discussion with you about what this means. Be sensitive of course, but also don’t hold back so much that you can only come up with generic, limited responses. This may give off the vibe to your child that you’re disinterested in what may be the biggest event of their life up until that point.
And that’s gonna hurt ‘em.
You may want to bring in a neutral mediator, like a close family friend, to help you and your child have an open and honest discussion.
11 Limit Your Questions
You probably have a lot of questions, and we understand that. But save the grilling for Bobby Flay for later. A few questions are fine, of course - “How long have you known?” and other simple things, but going into a long list of intense, emotional questions could make your child uncomfortable or feel intimidated, stopping them from talking more.
10 Do Homework
Your child has just told you they’re an polyamorous lesbian, and now you’re wishing you had focused more in your Queer Studies class in college. Your child may be excited to educate you about their identity, but they’re not required to do so.
A little bit of googling and blog-reading can give you some great insight, even if it’s just getting used to the terminology. The alphabet soup of LGBTQQIAA+ can be intimidating, but you can have it mastered soon enough. So after they’ve made their revelation to you, hit Google and become a master at the type of LGBTXYZ your child is!
9 Talk to Someone You Trust
If you’re grappling with the news, it can be good to discuss these problems with a trusted confidant. Your therapist is always an option, but even discussing options with your friend or asking difficult religious questions with your minister can be a good way to process the news.
It’s okay if you’re not 100% ready for this news at first, but if you want to support your child, then airing out your worries with a third party might be a necessary first step.
8 Be Mindful of Your Language
Be especially aware of language if your child has come out as trans or non-binary and wants you to use different pronouns for them.
Language is important for many identities – and now that you know your daughter isn’t interested in boys, it would be weird to make reference to her “future husband,” right? Words that assume heterosexuality might slip out, so be aware of what you’re saying. Try to use neutral terminology like spouse, partner, or just better half.
7 Don’t Jump to Conclusions
They must be dating their best friend. They must have been up to something at that sleepover last weekend! There must be more things they need to tell you, like, OH MY GOD THEY HAD GAY SEX.
Or maybe, you know, this news doesn’t mean you need to question everything about your child’s honesty. Speculating will probably do more harm than good. Your child will tell you in time - that is, if you react with maturity and prove that you can be trusted with this information.
6 Talk to the Rest of Your Family
Assuming that your child has come out to the rest of the family.
It’s good to check in with them to make sure you all understand what’s happening and are on the same page. Talk to your spouse to see how they feel. Talk to your other children about what they need to know about their brother’s big news.
5 Be Your Normal Level of Embarrassing
You love to embarrass your child, but don’t go too far with the public fanfare. Nudging them to look at a poster for Modern Family or cracking awkward jokes at the dinner table could send the wrong message. Be normal, joke like you usually do, and make sure your child knows that coming out doesn’t make things any more awkward than, say, a fart in public.
4 Ask Them What They Want From You
Do they need advice for coming out to their friends? Do they want you to tell the news to their aunts and uncles? The best way to know how you can help your child in this process is to ask. Be mindful that maybe they don’t want help from you and want this to be their own process, and that’s fine too.
3 Make It About Them, Not You
You might let out a “I knew it!” or “I was hoping for this,” but be mindful of how the conversation goes, and try not to bring it back to you. This is about your child coming into their own and feeling they can trust you with sensitive, personal information, so make sure to focus the conversation on them and their feelings.
2 Make Them Feel Safe & Validated
Seems obvious, but considering how vulnerable it feels to come out, your child will need some extra love and care in this moment. To be a supportive ally for your child, make it clear that you’re ready to support them and are happy with their news. You can even repeat yourself, since you tend to do that anyway - whatever it takes to make your child feel like you are there for them.
This should be happy news - get excited! Coming out is often a major life event, so it’s ok to treat it like one. Though your child maybe wouldn’t want you blasting the news with a huge neighborhood block party, you can find ways to celebrate your child coming out to you.
Showing your enthusiasm will help your child feel like coming out to you was the right decision for them