Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Part one of How to be the best Gay Parent “What is a good parent?” If you missed it you can read it here: https://www.jeniehuntercoaching.com/post/how-to-be-the-best-gay-mom-part-one
Our Parenting Story
Parenting on our best days can seem like the hardest job in the world. When you throw in a child who is struggling with their sexuality it can make even the most confident parent feel off their game.
This happened to me when our oldest came out at 15. On top of him struggling with his sexuality, he was also experiencing anxiety and depression (LBGTQ experience depression twice as likely as their heterosexuals peers) throw in puberty and this made the perfect storm.
Our normal style of parenting no longer seemed effective and relevant to what our son needed. Our house had quickly turned from our normal happy chaos to high tension and stress. I longed for the days of struggles over sippy cups and naps.
Every interaction with our son seemed painful, for him and for us. I was beginning to feel like I was stuck in an abusive relationship and nobody was going to give me permission to leave. It felt heavy, sad, and overwhelming.
I felt like my son was making this quote true – “You're making it difficult for me to be the parent I always imagined I would be.”
I felt like I wasn’t the problem, that my son was just being difficult. He just needed to adapt and toe the line – it was all his issues.
I was wrong.
We loved our son and our son loved us but nobody was feeling the love. It felt like we woke up one day and the loving, strong family we had created had been swept away. The chaos was not just affecting us, but also all of Nick’s siblings.
We realized that we needed help but we really didn’t know what to do. Our son was in a lot of pain and it was clear that our style of parenting needed to change. We all needed to heal and learn new ways.
We started searching for answers and found a fabulous coach and family therapist. With their help, we gained new skills and new thinking. Our relationship began to heal. We learned how to become better parents to our LGBTQ son.
Today I tell a very different story about our relationship with Nick. Our 23-year-old son Nicholas is a free-spirited, independent, creative boy. His expression of his individualism is evolving and he is developing his own interests and is gaining confidence as the man that we had hoped he would become. Even though Nick is living at college, and not at home, we still feel deeply connected to him because of the work we have done in our relationship.
One of the important parts of his confidence is the deep connection that he has to his father and me. We are secure with our connection with Nick. We have not backed off physically, emotionally, spiritually, and creatively with our gay son. We have not “backed off” or “stepped back” or “let go” in times when he might have stopped going to church or had done something that we didn’t approve of.
We still feel protective and the need to nurture him. John and I have remained in the parenting game. We have continued to be mindful of our nurturing, affection, and compassion. In doing so, we have set him free to grow holistically into a secure gay LDS son.
This was not our relationship when he first came out. We had to learn how to be connective parents and not authoritative or permissive parents. If you have an unhealthy dynamic with your child change is possible. Seeing our story should teach you that it is completely realistic to become the parent that your LGBTQ child needs.
What is Your Parenting Style -is it connecting with your child?
As your child tries to come to terms with their sexuality there will be a lot of upheaval for both you and your child. This can lead to some unhealthy dynamics in your parenting. Most of the time I have seen my clients try to parent in either two ways Authoritative or Permissive:
1. Authoritative/Fear-based parenting – High discipline-follow our rules because we are your parents don’t and there will be serious consequences (constant monitoring of actions)
a. “Do as you are told” style
b. Strict/inflexible set of rules
c. Not interested in child’s point of view
d. Enforce swiftly without discussion
e. Very controlling-high demands and expectations
f. Not responsive to the child.
g. More cold than warm toward the child
h. “Because I said so”
This is the most common form of parenting. This is the parenting that we were doing with Nick and it wasn’t working. You feel like you are losing control so your brain tries to tell you to double down on the control. All this does, is bring more conflict and less connection.
The other end of the spectrum is permissive/friend parenting. I have seen a lot of my clients switch to this without even realizing it because they are so afraid to make a mistake or do damage to their LGBTQ child.
They are so worried about their child’s mental health that sometimes without even realizing it they become the permissive/friend parent and stop setting boundaries and limits. This produces an in-authentic relationship with their child – it leaves the child feeling confused which leads to further disconnection.
2. Permissive/Friend Parenting – Low discipline -don’t set boundaries because you are worried about how your child will react and you become more their friend than the parent.
a. Relationship turns into friend vs. parent
b. Driven by parental anxiety or dread – feelings am I doing enough for my child?
c. Goal shifts from what is best for my child to what makes me feel like I am being a good parent.
d. Children get confused about boundaries
e. Extremely involved
f. Reluctant to discipline
g. Wants to make the child happy
h. Rules are erratically enforced
i. Child has little to no responsibilities
j. Blame others for child’s problems
How to become a Connected Parent to create a strong relationship with your child:
Learning how to be a connected parent takes developing qualities of acceptance, understanding, and communication. This will help your child become a well adjusted LGBTQ child.
There is growing evidence suggesting that parents make a critical difference in the mental health of their LGBTQ child. So, how you negotiate the parent/child relationship is essential for your child’s well-being.
In fact, your parent-child connection needs to become even stronger once your child comes out because your child has a greater need of feeling loved and connected.
One pitfall many parents face when trying to move away from a fear-based or permissive parenting style is going too far in the opposite direction and failing to set firm, reasonable limits.
Children need boundaries to feel safe and in control. If you’re having trouble balancing the desire to parent gently and peacefully with the need to guide your children to stay within reasonable boundaries, here are some tools that may help you do this in real practical terms.
1. It means accepting them for who they are and not who you think they should be.
2. It means creating understanding for what they are going through and what you don’t understand.
3. It means taking the time to communicate and listen to your child every day.
Studies show that the LGBTQ youth that feels accepted by their families are more likely to believe that they will have a good life and will become a happy, productive, adult.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to love everything that your child does. It was hard for us when our son decided to not go on a mission but we accepted that it was his choice, not ours. Acceptance means that in spite of inevitable disagreements and disappointments, the essence of your child remains dear to you regardless of their choices.
It means letting go of controlling them but not letting go of nurturing them. It means you are still guiding them in life and in their spiritual path but also trusting them to make their own choices.
You learn to love the child that is vs. the child you think they should be. Our relationship improved vastly when I dropped my expectations of my son and started to see and accept him for the amazing human being that he is. Allow your child to unfold as they are, not as you wish them to be. It is basically dropping the control of who your child is becoming.
Children who feel understood by their parents even in the face of conflict can move forward with confidence. They don’t avoid conflict, exploration, and individuation. And they don’t prematurely push to independence without the support of their parents.
There was a lot that we didn’t understand about Nicholas’s sexuality. At first, we thought our role was to help him fix it. We were wrong. We had to become educated on new things. If we didn’t understand how he was acting we knew we needed more information - it was our job to become better educated to understand Nick's journey better.
There was a lot we didn't understand because we didn't know. Our reactions changed once we had better knowledge. We learned that we can understand and respect his choices without letting go of our values.
You will still have moments of profound disappointment or anger. You will also still have to be the parent who is paying attention, setting limits, defining consequences, and, in the process, incurring your children’s anger. But what is different now is we don't lose connection with him even when we don't like his choices.
The difference is you will learn not to mirror their anger because you will be feeling in control of your emotions because you will have a better understanding of what is happening with your child and realize his/her reactions have nothing to do with you.
You learn to stop simply reacting to your children’s behavior. You start finding out the why behind the behavior. You start learning what your child is thinking and feeling. Becoming less reactive to behavior gives you an opportunity to address the root of the behavior.
We didn’t understand Nick’s depression and anxiety. Once we got to the root of his pain it gave us compassion and understanding. His depression/anxiety didn’t go away but we were better equipped to help him and realized his behavior was a symptom of a bigger problem.
When we pause, breathe through our own reactions we can focus on our child instead of our child’s actions, Overtime, you become really good at discerning the need behind the behavior and you learn how to meet that need. This usually eliminates the behavior itself with no need/or little correction. This helps guide our children to become better at expressing themselves in the future.
The end result is not only the resolution of the present issue but also strengthening of the parent/child relationship and giving your children the reassurance that they aren’t alone in dealing with their stresses and questions and fears and can always come to us, their ‘safe-haven’ in times of need.
Ensure that you frequently talk openly with your child. When living in your house your minimum baseline should be 15 minutes of one-on-one daily. Our son doesn’t live at home but we try to connect with him frequently throughout the week.
It means talking openly and honestly with them about topics that might seem uncomfortable. It means treating them with respect, dignity, and humanity. It means avoiding sarcasm, cynicism, irritation, or disgust.
Part of communication is listening to your child. Listen not to just their words, attitudes, and angst but listen to their struggles, hopes, dreams, and fears. Be honest about your own struggles, fears, and failings. You showing your humanness to your child will be a strong connection point.
Be the first one to listen, to forgive, or apologize. Try to be the first one to understand and back down and find another way.
It is talking together to come up with expectations, boundaries, and rules. When your child says they don’t want to do x, y, or z, it doesn’t threaten your authority. You listen to their reasons for not wanting to comply without feeling as if they are disrespecting you. And then, you work together to find a solution.
Keep an open-door policy, particularly in the late evening hours when the house is quiet and everyone else is settled for the night. Stillness often lets your child feel safe enough to begin processing all of the overwhelming emotions they are experiencing and then they might have the need to talk.
Help them to verbalize their feelings and experiences by listening to their hearts and not just their words, and quietly offering observations to help them to put things into perspective.
When we take the time to linger with our children, we then get to know them in the most intimate and specific ways and we become connected.
Learning these skills will nurture your child without the need to control them. You will be modeling unconditional love and emotional support. This way you build a secure attachment bond that will last a lifetime. Remember these eight rules to help guide you:
· Model instead of manipulate.
· Invite instead of intimidate.
· Support instead of shame.
· Encourage instead of enrage.
· Teach instead of threaten.
· Listen instead of lecture.
· Help instead of hurt.
· Parent instead of punish.
If you’ve been parenting from a place of emotional neediness or stress, working through your own emotional baggage to a place of peace will help you bring peace into your parent/child relationship.
It can be very difficult to step out of our reactionary cycles with our children. It is hard to stop the patterns we are so used to doing. We couldn’t do it without some outside that helped show us how to interrupt and change our patterns.
If you feel like you could benefit from outside help, please reach out. I know the pain you are experiencing, it is the reason I become a certified coach, to help other families do it better than we did.
Book a free consult with me and see if it is a good fit for your family. I would be honored to help you with your journey of becoming more connected to your LGBTQ child.