The following is a guest post by Dr. Traci Lowenthal of Creative Insights Counseling.
Having a child come out (reveal that he/she is gay/ lesbian/ transgender, etc.) can be extremely difficult for parents. For Christian families in particular, these words can create a flood of intense, painful emotions. It is possible, however, to navigate this part of your family’s journey in a healthy, positive way. Here are some ways to explore this stage of life for your family.
One of the first things I counsel families to do is slow down and breathe. The person who delivered this news is still your child, the same child you love and adore! And the fact that your child told you he/she is gay speaks volumes about your relationship. He/she trusted you enough to share this with you. Your child felt comfortable being open and honest, rather than keeping this from you. Also, recognize the courage it required to tell you. Can you imagine how afraid your child was? Honor his/her bravery by expressing your love and appreciation.
Allow Yourself to Feel what You Feel
It’s also important to own any discomfort you may have, rather than suppressing any negative feelings and trying to pretend everything is okay. Don’t be afraid to carefully let your child know that things are hard for you. You might say something like, “This is really new for me. I love you like I always have, but I need some time to think things through.” You can affirm your love for your child while still creating space for all the feelings that come with this new experience. Some of your emotions may include anger, grief, sadness, guilt, blame, fear, worry, disgust, shock, shame and many others. Whatever feelings come up, let them be present. Give yourself time to experience those feelings (rather than avoiding them).
While it is vital for you to process all your emotions concerning your child coming out to you, certain things are best processed away from your child. Realize that your child is already going through a lot, and you can work out your own feelings without compounding how difficult things are for him/her. Share your thoughts with a trusted friend or family member. For some parents, seeing a therapist or other counseling professional can be an effective way to process thoughts and reactions in a safe, supportive environment. It’s also helpful to educate yourself and connect with others that may be experiencing this same life transition. PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays) is an excellent resource. PFLAG’s website (PFLAG.org) has many opportunities for support and education as you move toward a greater understanding for your child.
As with any emotionally difficult experience, this is a time to really care for yourself and do things that help you feel nurtured. If prayer is something that brings you comfort, pray! If you’re an exercise enthusiast, get in a great workout several times over the next few months. Seek out activities that bring you enjoyment and a sense of peace. Gardening, yoga, meditation, dinner with close friends, and walks are all ways to create calmness in your life as you begin to understand that path that you and your loved one are on. Often, grief is a substantial part of learning that a loved one is gay. Grief stems from the loss of the future life you had imagined for your child. Reassure yourself, though, your child’s life may be just as full as love, purpose, and meaning as you’ve always dreamed, just in a different way than you expected.
When all else fails, reflect on your family’s past experiences. Chances are, you’ve traversed some pretty difficult circumstances and continued to thrive. This is no different! With education, compassion and thoughtful conversation, your family can become even closer than before. And remember, breathe.
Dr. Traci Lowenthal is the owner/operator of Creative Insights Counseling, a full service counseling agency in Redlands and Claremont, California, serving individuals, families, and couples. Explore more of Dr. Lowenthal’s work by visiting creativeinsightscounseling.com.
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