Come here, mama (or padre, or parental unit, or guardian of the galaxy and small humans)! Let me give you a big ol’ hug. If you can’t feel it, then set down the blog and wrap your own arms around yourself and squeeze firmly… then pick up the blog again. I want you to know that the kids are going to be okay.
Are We Enough? Are We Too Much?
Feelings of parental inadequacy run rampant nowadays. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be a mom in the ’70s or ’80s, letting my kids consume oversized bowls of GMO Corn Pops with copious amounts of cow milk dripping on their hand-me-down Kmart t-shirt. I’d unlock the screen door and let them run wild in the yard until dinner, not worrying about sun damage, or hydration levels, or if they were using a growth mindset in their speech patterns. I often ponder if parents back then had the same nagging feeling that they were constantly not “enough” for their kids. Maybe I should just ask my parents. (Mom… feel free to comment below)
I remember when I realized I was gay. I had come out in therapy. I was 38 years old. I had an 18-year relationship (12 years of marriage) under my belt and two fine specimens of children to my name. The initial feelings of elation and self-love soon gave way to the realization that I would have to come out to the aforementioned spouse and children. My marriage was almost guaranteed to come to an end. My children would suddenly become a product of a “broken home” (cringe). And then, just to add some rainbow sprinkles to the shit cake, they would also have a parent who was gay and maybe they didn’t want that. Being as that I didn’t know any kids with queer parents growing up, I didn’t know what that would be like.
Hey Kids, Mama’s a Lesbian
I’ve learned via some fabulous social media groups for the late-to-gay crowd, that I was not alone in my fears. In fact, almost weekly there seems to be a post from another mom. “Help! My husband and I are divorcing because I’ve realized I’m a lesbian. What do I say to my kids?” The ages are always a range. Sometimes they have children that they fear are too young to tell. Sometimes they have teens who they fear will hate them for ruining their lives. Sometimes they have adult children that they fear are too old to tell. Let’s clear things up…
- Children can understand love from in utero. There is no age that is too young to tell them who you love.
- Teenagers may assume you’re ruining their lives with little to no effort. Ask how their day is going. See?! You reminded them of their existence. They’re having an existential crisis now. Great job. You ruined their life again today.
- Adult children can also understand love and attraction. And depending on their maturity, they may have reached the point where they realize that being happy is worth more than people-pleasing.
What I find most interesting, always, about this question is that the call for help seems to be rooted in fear and judgment for coming out. If my kids know I’m gay, what will they think of me?
What I find so beautiful in nearly every response to these questions is that in most situations the children don’t care at all about their parent’s sexual orientation. Perhaps it’s because this generation is growing up in a different time where Pride is a celebration more than a civil rights movement, where stating your pronouns is becoming a regular thing, where at least one of their friends identifies as non-hetero or non-cisgender. In some cases, the kids said they already suspected their parent was gay even before they came out. They’re in tune with a new reality of love, gender, and relationships that many of us did not have available to us in our own youth.
Different Kinds of Love
My children had been raised with several incredible gay and lesbian couples in their lives. They never saw same-sex relationships as anything other than two loving people kissing and it being absolutely disgusting… because they believe ANYONE who kissing is absolutely disgusting, including cartoon characters. But the genders of the couple never caused them to raise an eyebrow. So when I came out to my own babies at the tender ages of 9 and 6, they were unphased. I asked them, “Do you know what a lesbian is?” to which my 6 year old responded, “What’s a Lego bin?” To that, I kicked up my Converse-covered heels and replied, “Well baby, mama's got a one-way ticket to Legoland and she ain’t never coming back!
That last sentence only happened in my mind. Here’s what really happened.
I explained to my children that while I loved their dad very much and we have always been very good friends, the way I loved him was different from how a married couple loves each other. We explained that we would be getting a divorce but that we would always still be a family and would continue to love them. We also explained that in the future, dad may have a relationship with a new woman and that mom may also have a relationship with a new woman. To this, my 9 year old replied, “So, wait… doesn’t this mean I could have 3 moms?” I paused, trying to gauge her emotions around it. “Yes, baby. I suppose that could be the case someday.” “Sweet!” she said.
What IS the Hard Part?
Now— it is not my intention to set a false expectation that coming out to your children will be all sunshine and rainbows. I’m not going to pretend that my conversation was just a happy talk of Lego bricks and estrogen dominance. It wasn’t. It was a hard conversation. So hard that I had to write down all of my words in advance so I wouldn’t fuck anything up and cause further emotional damage. I wanted to be concise. I wanted to be clear. I had to stay focused. And their dad and I discussed our approach and goals at length before we spoke with them. There were tears from several of us. This talk was a major defining moment in all of our lives and something none of us had ever thought we’d have to do. But the tears and hardship did not come from me being gay, it came from the fact that we were going to divorce and life would change. And that is always a hard conversation, regardless of your sexual orientation.
I know what you’re thinking. “Practice that ‘clear and concise’ thing, Jill, and get to the point.” Fair enough.
My point is that many people are surprised that coming out to their children is not the big deal they expect it to be. The conversation of divorce is a bigger deal and I will prepare another blog about that experience if it’s something you want to read. But if your experience is anything like the trend I see amongst our late-blooming community, your kiddos will be alright. And who knows… it may make them more comfortable to share their truths with you too.
So Where Do Issues Arise?
There seemed to be some common threads as to why some children struggle with their parent coming out to them. One thread relates to bringing the new partner into the relationship immediately. This is understandable given that it adds an additional layer to the changes the child is already experiencing in their lives. Doubly hard if the new partner has their own children, precipitates a move to a new home or city, or starts making major changes to their lifestyle or traditions. We love to say that children are resilient. And in many ways, they are. However, we can soften the amount of resilience they need to show by keeping their needs as the priority and integrating the new partner in a way that works for everyone. (A professional therapist is great in helping navigate this. Or listen to Abby Wambach’s beautiful response in Episode 28 of the podcast We Can Do Hard Things starting at minute 12:48. I also recommend the audiobook version of Dr. Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey’s new book, What Happened to You, for more information on trauma and resilience.)
Another thread of concern from children was the bullying that they may now face by having a queer parent. Completely valid. As much as the younger generations are more accepting, bullying for sexual or gender orientation (even if it’s that of a parent) is alive and well. Sometimes the bullying can even come from within your own family, in an attempt to invalidate or ignore your new family structure.
My own children haven’t faced bullying from the outside, though we have still had conversations around the importance of living our truth, the fact that there is nothing “wrong” about same-sex relationships, and the fact that there is still ignorance and fear out there that leads people to make hurtful comments. From the inside, I have become a mama bear that puts protecting the integrity of our core family first. Peace is important, but not at the expense of you or your children having to act like you have something shameful to hide.
At the end of the day, and with any bullying situation, I remind my children that bullying typically has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the bully’s own fears or internal struggles. We can’t change them, but we can be secure in our own being and love each other fiercely for living with honesty and integrity.
There are three main points I would like you to consider before we depart from today’s chat:
1. Our children are humans and will experience hardship and all of the emotions in their life. Our job isn’t to remove all hardship or sadness, but instead hold the space for them and give them the tools to navigate these experiences. I always joke that my kids will need therapy regardless of how I raise them, because we are humans that need support as we go through our human experience.
2. Ask yourself if waiting to tell them you’re queer or not telling them you’re queer will make the situation better? I firmly believe that coming out when you are ready to come out is the healthiest option. But if you’re delaying because you feel they won’t understand, dive deeper into what you think it is they need to know before they can understand your situation. We do not need to reduce our romantic relationships down to the act of sex. I’m not sharing with my children my sexual partner, I am sharing with them who my heart loves and who I want to build a life with in the future. Also, I’ve found that time is not usually the cure to making things easier.
3. A friend asked me, “Do you feel like you have more of yourself to give to your kids now?” I answered the question HERE on my TikTok page. But if you’re not on the TokSpace, the short response is a resounding YES! We are better able to give love to others when we have love for ourselves.
You got this, mama (or padre, or parental unit, or guardian of the galaxy and small humans). The kids are going to be okay.