I’m grateful for the ministry of Living Out, a UK-based organization led by Christian leaders who experience same-sex attraction. They’re doing a service to the church in providing resources and support to people who are struggling with questions of gender. One of the issues they address at their web-site (www.livingout.org) is how to respond if your child comes out to you. As a follow-up to Sunday’s message on “Gender and Attraction,” I thought it would be helpful to summarize their advice.
1. Love and accept them unconditionally. They stress that the first and most important thing to do is thank your child for telling you and reassure them that it doesn’t change your love for them. This is not the time for a lecture. A child will likely decide very quickly whether you’re a safe person to discuss issues with.
2. Listen and ask lots of open questions. Even if your heart is in the right place as a parent, it can be difficult to know where to start. They give examples of questions to ask: “I am happy for you to tell me anything, but I also don't want you to feel I am prying - how much do you want to tell me?” and encourage asking about how they feel, what they’re thinking and how they came to their realization.
3. Normalize it. It’s hard for children to speak to us about something as private as same-sex attraction, if we come across as if we have no understanding or compassion for what they’re experiencing. We don’t have to have experienced the same feelings to relate to the challenges of our own besetting sins. The fact is that we’re all fallen and so we all have to deal with sinful desires.
4. Point them to good support but don’t avoid supporting them yourself. Most parents would feel overwhelmed in trying to sort out how to help their child. And there are many people and organizations that can help. But no child wants to be left alone to navigate through it all or feel as if what they’re dealing with is impossible for their parent to help with.
5. Take it seriously. Don’t deny it. I think many parents could be tempted to deny their child’s feelings, because they’d rather the issue just go away without having to deal with it. But like other areas of life, problems don’t go away because we ignore them, they just tend to get bigger.
6. Don’t blow it out of proportion. While some people may deny the issue, others may be tempted to over-react. They warn against sending the message that same-sex attraction changes everything. It’s still just a part of who your child is and what they’re dealing with.
7. Don’t speculate about causes. While many people feel strongly about their opinions, the fact is that nobody knows what exactly causes sexual orientation. So to speculate about your child’s sexuality is probably not going to help anyone.
8. It’s about them, not you – but get support if you need it. Some parents may be tempted to ask, “What did I do to cause this?” They point out that this is usually not a helpful question anyway, but particularly so because it takes the focus off your child when they need you to be focusing on how you can help them. If however the discussion has surfaced feelings of guilt, anger, or inadequacy as a parent, they recommend organizations like True Freedom Trust, which provides support for parents and families.
9. Love and accept them unconditionally. Starting where they began, they assure parents that no amount of expertise can outweigh the need “to love and accept your child unconditionally, and by doing so to show them that they are truly lovable, and loved by God.”
As I read through their nine points again, I reflected on what wise encouragements these are for how to respond to any number of big talks that a child might initiate with their parent, not just talks related to sexuality. And also, how they could just as easily apply to how to respond to a friend who comes out to us, not just a child. May God give us all wisdom in navigating the challenging issues we’re confronted with in the love and wisdom of Christ.
In awe of Him,