Coming out is a process. It takes many different shapes and forms. Often times people worry about the reaction of parents and families the most. Good relationship or bad relationship, you are their family and you have a huge impact on their life.
This post isn’t about one sexuality or gender identity and it isn’t a step by step on how to come out. I’m writing this for parents and family members of someone who recently came out. I’m asked by clients all the time, “What do I do?” or “What do I say?” This is a normal reaction even for the most open minded of family members.
1. Listen Actively
There is a difference between hearing and active listening. Imagine two people at a restaurant and one is on the phone while the other is speaking. The first person is still hearing the other speak, but they aren’t internalizing and understanding it.
Active listening is the process of giving your undivided attention in the effort of internalizing what you are hearing and trying to understand it.
It is the first step in showing empathy. Remember, that empathy means the ability to share and understand the feelings of another.
Active listening is the way for your ears to hear, your mind to process, your heart to connect, and then your words to show understanding.
2. Show Support
There is a lot of fear and anxiety when you go up to a loved one and say, “I am ____.” The most heart crushing blow is when support is not given.
If you are not sure what to say then show affection until you can get past your first thought. Get up and wrap them in a nice warm hug.
Recommendation: Don’t let the first thing you say be a question. Being asked questions like: “Well, how do you know?” or “Who else have you told?” can put people on the defensive because they have to explain their actions, thoughts, or feelings.
I’ve seen support given in many different ways. Hugging is a popular choice, one of my personal favorites was a parent saying, “I’m glad that you trusted me enough to tell me.” And you always have the classics, “I have and will always love you,” and “I’ll be here whenever you need me.”
3. Ask Questions
See! Question time did come at last. It’s ok to ask questions and it shows you are interested and that you care. Just be careful of the questions that might cause unneeded defense.
During a session I remember a parent looking at their child and asking, “Were you scared to tell me?” This question sparked an extremely heart felt conversation in which the child explained that they were scared and that they didn’t want to disappoint their parents. By the end everyone was crying and it ended in a round of “I love you.”
Remember that your child is the same person they were before. They are trying to be their authentic self. Including you is a big step in this process.
It is important to ask questions that are mutually beneficial for you and them. Try not to ask self serving questions.
Questions such as:
These are just a few simple questions you can ask your child that shows that you care and that you are ready to support them.
4. Say I Love You
This is a scary time for your child that most likely included a lot of processing and struggling before they started coming out. Telling a family member can be extremely stressful.
The three steps above are all important and can show the support and caring that is craved during this transition. In my opinion, Step 4 is the most important because it glues all of the steps together.
You actively listened to them, you showed support, and you asked questions that demonstrated interested and not judgement. Saying “I Love You” shows your child that you are behind them.
Life is going to change for you as well. There are plenty of support systems out there that you can take advantage of such as PFLAG. Feel feel to visit my resource page for more information.
You are part of a huge transition in your child's life and your support can change everything. So give them what they need and remember to always follow these 4 simple steps.
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I love providing people with information. So in my blog you will find posts on topics such as: community resources, media suggestions, parenting questions, and informational posts.