Author: Kusha Giahi
As children get older, self-discoveries become more and more frequent. It can be difficult to know how to best support children and be affirming throughout this journey- do you let them figure it out on their own, or ask them about it along the way? How do you navigate possible biases and show that you’re there for your child unconditionally? Here are some tips to be the best parent you can be, whether your child is discovering their sexuality or their gender identity.
Creating an Open-Minded, Accepting Environment
Regardless of who your child discovers themselves to be, it’s never too early to create an accepting environment at home. This doesn’t have to be grand gestures and celebrations, in fact, the smallest comments can sometimes be the most impactful. Recently, my mother asked if I had seen Anderson Cooper’s baby, gushing about how cute he is and how Cooper had the baby via surrogate. As a gay man myself, I have felt supported by my mother for years. Still, hearing her casually discuss this meant everything to me. No fanfare, no speeches or side remarks- simply an exciting new celebrity baby.
We all have biases, and it’s crucial to identify these and work towards challenging them. Comments that may be perceived as harmless, such as asking a daughter if she likes any boys at her school or telling a son that you hope he finds a nice girl to marry someday, can be incredibly invalidating for children and impose a restrictive ruleset on them. Instead, try using gender-neutral pronouns and phrases when discussing a child’s future partner. This helps establish an understanding and affirming environment (and can guide children towards being more understanding and accepting themselves!), regardless of your child’s sexuality.
Expressing Unconditional Love
A big fear for children discovering that they’re not straight, not cisgender, or both (and anything else that may come up in life!), is that their parent(s) will no longer love them. Consistent appreciation and expressions of parental love can help ease this fear, as well as outright making statements affirming this. Through the bustle and frenzy of everyday life, it can be easy to forget to show our love. Reminding your child that you love them, and will always love them no matter what helps establish that you will be there for them unconditionally.
Meeting Them Where They’re At
If your child discovers something about themselves, there’s many ways they might or might not communicate this to you. For example, if your child discovers that they’re gay, they may want to “come out” to you and announce this. However, this is not the ultimate goal for everyone, and your child may not take this route. This is not necessarily a bad thing- as society progresses, “coming out” will ideally become less necessary, with people feeling free to express their love without announcing how they are labelling themselves.
With this in mind, it’s understandable that children may not feel a desire to “come out” to their parent(s), and questions regarding this subject may do more harm than good. Instead, affirming them by showing support for what has been communicated allows you to meet your child where they’re at. Additionally, your child may still be figuring things out for themselves!
Human sexuality and gender are complex. It can take years for one to fully discover who they are and how they can most authentically express themselves. As a parent, it’s most important to show that you’re there for them regardless of where they are on this journey and where it leads them.
Kusha Giahi, Clinical Intern