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Several of my good friends, including my best friend, are gay/lesbian/queer. All of them have told me that coming out was one of the most emotional and difficult things they've ever had to do. Their parents' reactions ranged from shock and vulgar ignorance ("You mean you like to do it in each others' [censored]?") to rejection to loving acceptance.

How should a parent react when their child comes out to them? Obviously some reactions are more positive than others, and ideally all parents would love and accept their child as they are, for the person that they are. However, not all parents can do that -- this is the case I'd like to address as much as possible. What should a parent do after the initial shock has worn off? How can a parent prepare (as much as anyone can) for what could be a very surprising conversation?

I'm going to request an emphasis on professional opinions and cited studies in addition to personal experience.

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Well if you love your child I would think you'd support them, although I understand people's personal belief's don't always support this choice. –  MichaelF Oct 14 '11 at 16:49
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-1 .. subjective and agenda driven. Politically correct. There is no right answer, because it depends on the goal and perspective of the parents. What if the goal is to get the child to reconsider? What if the parents think the child is just in a "phase" or "experimenting"? What if the parents sincerely believe that homosexuality behavior will keep their child out of heaven? And so forth. Yet clearly, the answer expected will revolve around love, tolerance and acceptance. –  tomjedrz Oct 18 '11 at 5:48
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No, I think the answer could very well include such feelings. The "advice" then would simply be not to be directly insulting to the child and to be conscientious of the words that you say. Disapproval is perfectly acceptable -- how you display that disapproval is what matters. –  Aarthi Oct 18 '11 at 13:17
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@tomjedrz I don't see any of those expectations mentioned, or even implied, in the question. I would hope that any answer would revolve around love, as that is one of the cornerstones of parenting (if you remove love from the equation, then you've got "caretakers", not parents). I don't think my answer conflicts with any of the concerns you raised. –  Beofett Oct 18 '11 at 14:41
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"What if the goal is to get the child to reconsider?" = then they are being grossly inconsiderate of their child and are putting their arbitrary dogma above an understanding of human psychology, biology, and unconditional love. I know this is a heated social topic, but there really is a correct side of the fence to be on. –  DA01 Oct 18 '11 at 16:01

3 Answers 3

up vote 28 down vote accepted

I found the suggestions on this website to be helpful:

  • Be sure your child knows you love him or her.A parent’s first response should be to remind their child that you are there for them, and love them, and support them. “I love you, you’re my kid,”

  • Reaffirm your values. If you do not feel that teens should have sex with other teens, this is still your value, and you should still guide your child as their parent.

  • If you have made anti-gay statements, it is time to be a good model. Acknowledge that you have a prejudice. Discuss the need to treat all humans with respect and dignity. Discuss the need for tolerance.
  • Remember that children will also have questions. They have not lived in the world as a sexual being, and will benefit from a parents’ willingness to talk openly and to ask questions.
  • Adolescents worry about being accepted–whether it is because they are not good at or interested in sports and this is something their parents value, if it is because they are not good students, and this is something their parents value, or whether it is because they are homosexual, children need to be reassured that they will be loved by their parents.
  • Re-examine your assumptions. A parent of a child who’s just come out may think may worry that they may never have grandchildren, for example, and this is not necessarily true.
  • Get support. One of the best resources is Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays

  • Protect your child. Because of the social stigma that homosexuality still carries, the risk of suicide in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered youth is much higher. Parents can help by doing the same things they would do if their child was straight. Have a connection with them, find them support, make sure they are able to feel safe and loved in their home.

If you believe that homosexuality is fundamentally wrong, then remember these other values:

  • Hatred is not a value, and your child is still your child.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated.
  • Seek the support of a trusted mentor or support group. Find out how other parents have managed to cope with their child’s sexuality when it conflicts with their beliefs.
  • Remember that your child has done things in the past that you disapproved of, and you still loved them. As a parent, it is your responsibility to let them know that though you disapprove of homsexuality, you still love your child.
  • There is nothing that you need to DO about this. You will need some time to process the shock. Many parents are surprised to learn that their children are homosexual–because it is simply not as common as having a child who is heterosexual.

PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) also has this advice:

The first thing you should do for yourself and your loved one is to talk to someone who has been through this process. ...

The second thing you should do is educate yourself. ...

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"Hatred is not a value, and your child is still your child." = +1 for that. Great advice in general for all sorts of situations a parent may run into. (I'd also +1 for "educate yourself"...yet more advice that would help society in general on so many levels) –  DA01 Oct 18 '11 at 16:04

Some people believe that homosexual behavior is a sin. How are those people to react when their child, who they love deeply and want the best for, says in essence, that they are committed to sinfulness? It is kind of flip to just presume that the parents need to get over it. The tone of the question presumes that which ought not to be presumed: that it is OK for the child to be homosexual. For some parents, it is not OK.

That said, I am a pragmatist and a realist. Reacting negatively will not make it better, no matter what better is. And like it or not, your child is your child, and needs you to love even when you don't agree.

Which brings me to the best answer I can come up with to the question directed especially at those parents who are not be comfortable with the idea of their child being gay.

  • The parents should not react with strong negative emotion, despite any inclination to do so. The child already knows what the parents think. The stronger the parents' innate disapproval, the more courage required by the child. That should be honored and respected, even if the choice is disheartening.

  • The parents must respect and accept whoever the child loves.

  • The parents must do everything possible to "love the sinner" even if they "hate the sin".

  • The parents must not start the discussion about it being a phase, or being a choice, or about something that can be cured. They may believe that, but it can't be brought up at any time during the "coming out".

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It's kind of flip for parents to state it's a sin and therefore wrong. While homosexuality may not be 'OK' for the parent, that doesn't change the answer in terms of how a good parent should react. They can certainly choose to be a bad parent, but few would agree they should be. I think you pretty much say that with your answer, and I think most would agree. –  DA01 Oct 19 '11 at 4:56
    
Well, just because a belief might be popular doesn't change it from being a flippant reaction. But regardless of it being flippant or seriously considered, I agree it's a counterproductive stance. –  DA01 Oct 19 '11 at 5:54
    
This is a grea answer! Focusing on the parents' inner conflict between love and vales. Also the notion that some things are best talked about at a later point. My only gripe concerns accepting the lover; that's not always possible, bit this is regardless of gender. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 19 '11 at 6:09
    
+1 for encouraging love and acceptance even during disagreement. Especially NOT discussing the idea of it being a phase or a choice (it is NOT a choice but something you are born with). –  balanced mama Nov 12 '12 at 3:07

If you feel you can, thank the person for coming out to you. It may feel strange, especially if the news was unwelcome. But hey, the alternative being was kept in the dark while the person pursued their alternative lifestyle anyway. At least this way they are being honest.

I'm not sure I'm happy with the phrasing alternative lifestyle, but anyway, it's still good advice. More, you should thank your child for trusting you enough to tell you.

Please don't tell the person it is 'no big deal'. To them, it probably is a big deal. Otherwise, they wouldn't have bothered. So your attempt at a super calm reaction may come across as uncaring or ignorant.

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I love this answer. –  Beska Jan 16 '13 at 18:58
    
@Beska. Thanks. As you can see, the bulk of it is quoted. It's a good article: I'd suggest following the link and reading it in full. –  TRiG Jan 17 '13 at 19:23

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