I have a young friend (an adult, but this happens to adolescents, too, and my advice to their parents would be the same) who is in her first relationship with a woman.
Her straight mom, who is not much older than I am, is having a hard time with this. I know she's not alone, and I am not unsympathetic, and I have watched many straight parents go through this same thing.
Should you be a parent in this situation, here's what you need to navigate the situation with aplomb:
- Plan ahead. Way, way before this comes up, make sure there are trustworthy openly LGBTQ adults in your kids' lives — these could be friends of yours, godparents, aunts or uncles, camp counselors, teachers, clergy if that's your thing. You know, the kind of adults you'd want them going to if they ever felt they couldn't go to you. I understand it may be too late for this step for some of you.
- It's not about you. When and how they share this, whether by accident or on purpose, does not reflect on you or your relationship with your children. How you respond does.
- Your children are not ruining their lives. If anyone does ruin your children's life over a same-sex relationship, it will be the people who are mean to them about who they are. Don't be one of them.
- It's not about you. However much you are accustomed to having your children's identities tied up in yours, it is healthy and appropriate for them to distinguish themselves from you.
- Be open, but respectful. Coming out is different for everyone — some people have a hard time with it, and some people have a less hard time with it; for some people, it's about one relationship, and for some folks, it's a major identity awareness. Either way, you'll do better if you're available without pushing too hard.
- It's not about you. If this is behavior you don't approve of, your child already knows it — and it is likely killing him or her.
- Think of your future. Whatever you do or say now, your children will carry with them as they progress further into adulthood. Be cool for the sake of your future relationships with your children, their future partners, their future children...
- It's not about you. If you find yourself rationalizing your reaction as actually about something else — secrecy, or a specific person, or even missing curfew, or something, take a deep breath and step way, way back. You will be glad you did.
- Show your kids how proud you are. My young friend is the type you'd be proud to have as your daughter; she's smart and kind and funny and confident and open-minded and athletic and beautiful. Your kids are incredible in their own ways. Make sure they know (and by this I mean, tell them, and also show them) all of how wonderful you think they are, always, both before and after any big revelations come to light.
- Oh, hey. It's not about you.