Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Your child has come out to you and now they are ready to start telling the extended family.
Are you feeling heart palliations about this next step?
You want it to go perfectly – where everybody says and does the right thing but you know you can’t control the humans.
There might be a lot of reasons why you want your extended family to know. Here are a few:
· Your child might be ready to start dating and you want your close friends and family members to know.
· You don't want people making assumptions about your child or gossiping.
· Your tired of hearing other people use stereotypes or negative labels.
· You don’t want your child to feel like they're living a lie or not acting true to themselves and want to feel accepted for who they really are.
So what do you do? How do you best control how this goes? My first piece of advice is come to peace that there are things you can’t control:
Focus on what you can control:
Your thoughts about peoples’ words, actions thoughts
Your reactions to people’s words, actions, thoughts.
You being an advocate is one of the best ways you can show support and love to your LGBTQ child. The research is staggering on how important a family’s acceptance will be for your LGBTQ child's life and mental health. The more acceptance they feel within their family the less likely they will engage in risky behaviors.
LGBTQ young people that feel rejected by their family are:
More than 8 times as likely to attempt suicide
Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression
More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and
More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases
This is sobering evidence. It increases the importance with what support we ask from our extended family. On the flip side the research of LGBTQ youth that are accepted by their families shows that they have a much more satisfying lives and closer relationships to their families and one day want families for themselves.
Handling the coming out to extending family in the right way is one of the most important gifts we can give our LGTBQ children.
Parental advocacy for LGBTQ youth—such as requiring that others (including other family members) respect them reduces our child’s risk for health and mental health problems and helps promote their well-being. Advocating for our LGBTQ child expresses our love for them, helps build their self-esteem, and teaches them how to advocate for themselves.
I have coached a lot of families through this exact scenario. Telling your extended family brings up a lot of fear. It is normal to feel fear but with the right tools you can manage this journey with success and less fear.
Here are nine tools to consider when coming out to extended family:
One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make is telling others without the permission from their LGBTQ child. When parents find out about their LGBTQ child they need support. Out of that need, they mistakenly share information that is not theirs to share. This can do a lot of damage to you and your child’s relationship.
Your child has shown you great trust in coming out to you. You need to show your child the same trust by letting them decide how the rest of the family will find out. Getting support for yourself is key but you need to seek that support outside of your immediate circle so you honor your child’s privacy and protect your relationship. I can't stress this enough how important it is that you let your child decide who they want to tell.
Do I send an email? Do I face time? Is my LGBTQ child there? These are all important decisions. There is no one right answer. Every family is different. Every situation is unique. So many different variables involved.
The most important aspect is to consider how my LGTBQ child is comfortable with? Once you have that discussion, then you decide what is the best way to move forward. You know all the players involved. Consider your family’s dynamic and culture – and your child’s wishes – then make the best plan on how to proceed.
3. Prepare you and your child
It is your job to prepare yourself and your child emotionally. Explain to your child that how the family member reacts has nothing to do with the child. How someone will react has nothing to do with the child being LGBTQ and has everything to do with the person’s capabilities– their capability to love and feel compassion for others.
Help them to understand that if someone reacts negatively it is because of their limits on loving others and ultimately themselves. Just because people are older doesn’t mean they are wiser and always respond in healthy ways.
4. Know Your Objective
What is your objective for telling this person? You need to decide what you want from the conversation – what is your goal?
My objective to tell my son’s grandparents was for them to love him for whom he truly is. To gain a better understanding of who he was. I didn’t want my son to have to continue to live a lie around his family. I wanted them to develop an honest relationship with my son with his authentic self not the version they thought he was or should be.
I reminded them that to have a good relationship with my son they didn’t have to agree with his choices but they did need to develop understanding and compassion. I knew that even though we didn’t view this as bad news that they might – and that to be fair to them I needed to allow them time and space to process this new circumstance.
It took me time to understand all of this as his mother, I needed to allow my family members that same grace. Be clear in your mind with your expectations and the family member's capabilites before you start the conversation.
5. Know your words
Take the time to plan your words. Using the right words will make a difference with how they react. The Gottman Institute has done a lot of research with how to have difficult conversations. The research is clear that how you start the conversation will predict 96% of the time how successful the conversation will be. If you start off the conversation negatively then basically that will be how the conversation will go.
Start the conversation with what we call soft openings. Focuses on “I” statements vs. “you” statements, describe what is happening without judgment, be factual, be authentic, be polite and appreciative, focus on this event without bringing in old family grievances.
Good Opening Options:
· I value your support and love so much that I want to be honest with you about what is happening in our family’s life.
· I am sharing this information about my child with you because I feel safe enough in our love and know you will work on your understanding.
· We know you love ________, this might be something you don’t know ______, and we are telling you this because we want you to continue to be part of their life.
Words matter. Right down what you want to say and practice and practice again.
6. Stay in Your lane when it comes to emotions
This will probably be an emotional conversation for all parties involved. Make the decision ahead of time how you want to feel during the conversation. Deciding ahead of time how you want to feel will help keep your emotions in control regardless how others respond.
How you do this is by working on thoughts that keep you feeling peace and curiosity with how the other person is responding. Even if you can't feel positive emotion to their response you can get your emotions to neutral.
The best way to do that is to stay in curiosity with how they react. Don’t go into the conversation all knowing – try to stay open to whatever reaction you receive.
Before a difficult conversation I remind myself of these thought, "I have no idea what is the best way for this person to react." During the conversation I like to think, "This is so interesting how ________ is reacting to this news. "
Staying away from thoughts that make me feel like the other person is doing this wrong, helps me feel in control of my own emotions. When you give space in your brain to let people behave how they want to (which is funny because people always react how they want to – rather we give them permission to or not) then you feel much more in control of your own emotions.
7. Focus on Solution vs. the Problem
When someone comes out, people might have the tendency to focus on the wrong question. They tend to focus on the "why" someone is LGBTQ vs. "How can we support our LBGTQ family member?" If your family focuses on the why – politely state how unimportant the why is and how it is more important and helpful to focus on the how. How can we support? How can we love? How can we help?
Remind them of your common thinking:
We both love our grandson.
We both want our grandson to feel valued and loved.
We both didn’t think this would be our grandson’s path but we were wrong.
We both want him to have a relationship with Christ.
When you change the conversation from what they think is “the problem” and you move to solutions than it becomes a healing conversation.
At this point, you might have been thinking and educating yourself for months – give your family the time and resources that you needed to become the advocate you are today.
8. Give Requests
Be clear on what you and your child need. Don’t be shy about making requests. Be as specific as you can be=on what is the best way for them to show love and support for your child.
Even simple requests like: text them more often, ask them about their life, go on a monthly date, and/or comment on social media. These are all simple examples of ways to show love and support.
Once they have time to process, most family member’s want to show some type of support, but don’t know how to do this. If you are also unclear how they can show support, ask your child. Ask them for what would feel like love and support to them. When we give specific requests on what we need it is a gift to the other person and can strengthen their relationship.
In most cases I have seen relationships become stronger through the process of coming out because all players become much more mindful with how they are showing love and support in each other’s lives.
Remember, these are requests not demands. Let your family know that you know they love your child and you also respect how they want to manifest that love. Allow them to inquire of the Lord, so they can get their own revelation on how the Lord wants them to love.
9. Be clear on what is NOT acceptable
Remember how you are treating your child is setting the pattern for your extended family. Let them know that you will not tolerate any behavior that reflects abuse, disrespect or any type of shaming shown towards your child. This is the time to talk about the powerful research of what your support means for your child's health.
Remind them that even if your child does something they disapprove of, your child still needs love. They still need to feel valued, safe and accepted by their family. Showing love to your child isn’t just telling them they love them but it also includes helping them feel safe, valued and accepted.
Even though all families are unique and different. All families can function healthier with proper mental health education. Schedule a session to get proper guidance on how to make a personal plan for your coming out to your extended family. With the right tools this can be a bridge to stronger relationships.