When your son or daughter opens up to you about their sexual orientation or gender identity, it takes a lot of courage. When a child comes out during divorce, it’s going to take a lot of courage from you too, to be loving and supportive.
With today’s more supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, more and more teens are accepting themselves for who they are and living by their true self. According to a recent study, 18% of college students identify as LGBTQ.
As a single parent, you may not know what to say to them as they open up so personally to you about themselves. If you’ve just gone through a divorce, it can be even more difficult for your child to open up to you with so much going on already.
When a Child Comes Out to Divorcing Parents.
Divorce can make it challenging for a child to come out to their parents because the stress of their mom and dad splitting up can be overwhelming enough. Their parents may not be in the best emotional state after a divorce either and they may not be as supportive as they would be otherwise.
If a child is financially dependent on their parents, it can be even more daunting to come out to them. A child can run the risk of being kicked out of their home or being physically assaulted by one or both parents when coming out to them. However, many states have explicitly stated that a child’s right to be supported by their parents was not barred by emancipation. For example, Michigan law mandates financial parental support for emancipated minors, stating: “The parents of a minor emancipated by court order are jointly and severally obligated to support the minor.” Allowing children to petition for child support may be controversial in some areas, but litigation attorney Lauren C. Barnett concludes that, “given that both emancipation and child support statutes share the goal of furthering children’s best interests, granting post-emancipation child support may be the most faithful way to further this joint legislative purpose.” (Having Their Cake and Eating It Too?: Post-Emancipation Child Support as Valid Judicial Option (University of Chicago Law Review, 2013).
On the other hand, some children may find it easier to come out to a separated or divorced parent. For example, if their mother is an ally to the LGBTQ community and their father is homophobic, they might have a smoother time coming out to the parent who is more supportive. In this case, their mom can be with them to provide support while they come out to their less accepting father – or to suggest waiting until the child has finished school and is financially independent to tell their father.
When Your Child Comes Out they Need Your Love and Support
It’s still a homophobic and discriminatory environment for too many LGBTQ people out there, and it takes bravery to stand up and announce your true self to those closest to you. You may be nervous about how to handle this situation, but it’s easy if you approach your child with kindness and acceptance. If you’re feeling exhausted or emotional because of your divorce, you may have to dig deep to find the energy to be extra-supportive to your child – who may be coping with their own sadness or anger due to your divorce as well as the stress of coming out. Here are a few suggestions for what to do when your child comes out during your divorce.
- Give them a Hug: The best thing to do after your child comes out to you is to give them comfort. Talking about something so personal as their sexuality or gender identity can be frightening, so it’s vital to provide them with parental love and support. You may find that both of you feel better after a loving hug.
- Say You Love Them: Even if you’re shocked or confused by the news your child shared with you, say that you love them and are proud of them. Those are the words they need to hear in this moment, and it will make them feel glad they told you.
- Ask Questions Later: Even though you may have questions about how long they knew their sexuality or what exactly their identity is, you should wait and simply comfort your child until some time has passed. Your child may be emotional at this moment, and it’s best to let some time go by before asking them a bunch of questions.
- Don’t Say “It’s Just a Phase”: One thing your child doesn’t want you to say is that you think their identity isn’t valid. Even if your child may identify with a different label down the road, at this time, their identity is very real to them and should be taken seriously. It’s your job as a parent to empower them and believe in who they are.
- Understand Their Courage: It’s important to develop an understanding of how much courage it takes for someone to come out to you, especially for your child. LGBTQ Americans still face discrimination and harassment every day, and it’s even worse for LGBTQ people in nations such as the United Arab Emirates and Papua New Guinea, both of which jail couples in openly same-sex relationships. And in countries like Iran, Sudan, and Yemen, same-sex couples can be put to death.
In September 2018, India struck down an old law punishing same-sex sexual activity or relationships between consenting adults, but there are still 69 other countries that consider consensual gay sex to be a crime.
In Kenya, many members of the LGBTQ community refuse to seek medical care because they’re afraid of being ostracized or arrested. Things are looking up for the nation though, as the country’s High Court recently lifted a ban on the LGBTQ Kenyan film “Rafiki,” letting LGBTQ Kenyans see themselves portrayed on screen in a positive and romantic way.
Closer to home, many Caribbean islands have laws on the books that criminalize consensual gay sex, including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
When teens see the treatment of other LGBTQ people around the world, they can be scared to open up about their identity, which makes coming out an act of bravery for them. But if they see a positive representation of themselves in the media, they’re less likely to be closeted.
- Encourage them to Join Social Groups: Empowering your child to embrace their identity is essential for them to develop acceptance and love for themselves. Many high schools and colleges have gay-straight alliances in which members and allies of the LGBTQ community meet once a week to chat and share their experiences. This can be a great way for your child to meet other LGBTQ people and can make them feel less like an outsider. Encouraging them to join an LGBTQ group – or going to meetings where compassionate parents are welcome – can also let them know that you support them, want to understand them, and want to help them embrace their identity.
- Read Up on Terms: To fully understand what your child is going through, do some research and read statistics on LGBTQ youth. There are glossaries of LGBTQ terms online that can help you understand what terms such as “pansexual” and “genderqueer” truly mean.
These are just a few of the ways you can make your child’s coming-out experience less terrifying and more supportive – especially when they are already experiencing strong emotions about your divorce. But even after your child comes out to you, it can be a difficult road to bliss for them.
Studies from Eastern Kentucky University found that 64% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. The sad reality is that other students at your child’s school may discriminate against them after they come out to the rest of the world.
When Your Child Comes Out to You, Listen to Them, Comfort Them, and Support Them
It’s your role as a parent to provide help and support in their time of need and encourage them to not stay quiet about their identity just because of some bullies at school.
Your child may experience other hardships as an LGBTQ individual later in life, and it’s vital to give them support when that time comes as well. For LGBTQ couples who want to have a child in their life, adoption can be a difficult process. Certain adoption agencies may be unsupportive of LGBTQ families and refuse to provide service to them.
Domestic abuse is also an issue for LGBTQ relationships, as one in three partners will become victims. Even if these hardships arise, your child will get through them with the right parental love and support.
As your child comes out to you, listen to them, comfort them, and support them. If you are having trouble coping with your divorce-related stress and emotions, reassure your child that your sadness has nothing to do with their coming out to you. Shower your LGBTQ child with parental love, which will set them up to live fruitful lives and become loving and kind people themselves.
Even if it’s hard for you to accept – especially if you come from a religious background that considers homosexuality to be a sin – it’s important to keep an open mind and think about how your child is feeling. Especially after a divorce, it’s important to be there for your child in their time of need. By being supportive, you’re setting a positive example for other parents and letting your child know they’re loved and accepted.
Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer who contributes to a variety of blogs online. Wallace is a recent graduate from the University of Montana and currently resides in Boise, Idaho.