Families can struggle when a young gay adult comes out to them. Parents can struggle with how to be understanding, supportive and accepting. Most parents love their child after coming out, so that is not the issue, but they are not educated about what being gay actually means. They may think that their child is going through a phase, can change this part of their lives, or that they are making a choice. There is extensive research and science to show otherwise. The best thing that parents can do in this situation is become informed and more educated, so that they are better able to help the family move through this potentially stressful time.
Another struggle that families can face in this situation is that a parent may avoid the topic altogether. Avoidance of the topic may allow the household to feel comfortable and unproblematic, but leaves the one who came out feeling unaccepted and unsure. It is confusing to know how accepting someone actually is unless they talk about it. Many times people rely on verbal cues that they are going to be accepted in a given situation. Therefore, healthy, open communication is vital.
Many times parents are not sure about the future of their child. Depending on the education of the parent, they may fear a wide variety of issues. The concerns can range from health-related concerns of the parent thinking that their child will end up with HIV, to more social concerns such as worrying that the community will never except this. There are also many unknowns for the family at this time. They do not know if they are going to have grandchildren, if his partner will be considered to be part of the family, or if other family members will even accept this.
The best thing that families can do in this situation is to be honest with themselves about acceptance and understanding. Asking themselves if they feel self-conscious, uncomfortable, and/or saddened by this is important. If this is acknowledged, then understanding that this is their issue to work through and not their child’s will go a long way. It is much easier for a young gay adult to hear from their parent that “I am trying to understand, but this is my issue, and I am working through it”, then hearing that they “made” the parent sad or hurt.
Although this is possibly less hurtful to the young adult, it can still be hurtful to hear that their parent is struggling with his coming out. So considering talking with a professional about this could be a viable option. This could help open up the lines of communication, encourage both sides to cope with these changes, and facilitate future healthy family roles. The parents and the young adult may benefit from participating in support groups. These are excellent forums for people to learn that they are not alone and get suggestions on how others have handled similar situations.
Having a son who has come out can be a trying time for families. Many parents are not educated enough to know how to handle this delicate situation. Some deny that they are struggling with this, while others avoid the topic altogether. With proper support and counseling, however, families can gain education, learn to communicate without hurting each others’ feelings, and live healthy family lives.