“When a child has the courage to come out to a parent, you want to do everything right, react the way you should, offer support, and take them seriously. But how many of us are prepared for it?
We live in a world where it’s still illegal to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community in more countries than it’s legal. We expect our children to grow up and perhaps fall in love. Yet society prepares us for straight relationships. It’s expected and often assumed that ‘this is the way.’
I remember the day our child took the brave step to trust us. They left a beautiful picture and a note on the bedroom door. My child had put the note on before they left for school. They were aware I was going in the room to do some cleaning and hoped I would see it. For some reason, I didn’t go in until after school that evening when they were home.
The note read:
Dear family, I would like to say that I’m bisexual and like girls and guys. I wanted to let you know, and I hope it’s ok with you. I am still figuring myself out and don’t want to label myself. I was just letting you know.
I didn’t know what it meant at first. I felt surprised and uncertain of what to do or what to say. I remember asking them to explain it to me and trying my best just to listen without judgment. At this point, I was glad I’d taken the approach of saying we can talk about anything as a family in an age-appropriate way.
As a former scientist, I’ve never felt awkward talking about personal things, and as a parent, I’ve been lucky we have a very open and trusting relationship. I still felt the need to reassure them I loved and accepted them completely as they were. I thanked them for trusting me. We hugged for a long time, and for my child, I think much of that was relief.
When a child chooses to confide in you how they are feeling, it’s important to remember judgment (such as saying they’re too young or how can they know) is a very quick way to cut them off from you.
I remember saying I didn’t know much about LGBTQ+ but if they liked, we could learn about it together. I felt this would be the best way to keep the communication open. I don’t mind admitting my knowledge was lacking in this area, and I didn’t feel I could offer knowledgeable comments without understanding the facts and information first. Thankfully, our child helped us, and we were able to ask questions, listen, and learn together what it meant to be bisexual.
As a mom, I’m used to turning to the internet for guidance. I did find many useful websites out there with information about the different terms and more clinical explanations of definitions of them. But I found places like TikTok, where wonderful creators were making videos, using their own experiences and voices to educate us, spoke to me in a way this other information did not.
Meanwhile, our own adventure was continuing. Our child chose to come out to us again. This time, we discovered what it meant to them to be non-binary, trans, and identify with different pronouns and a new name. There was so much to learn, and we didn’t get it all right the first time. These new discoveries sparked conversations about identity, gender, and the type of homophobia we all absorb subconsciously. Not to mention the difficulties children face in a school environment from other pupils.
Is it just a phase? Despite having a loving extended family, there were tough conversations to have. Our family had questions, and some found it hard to understand this new transition. Education around gender has left many of us convinced of the existence of only two. Learning to talk about a loved one in a new way with they/them pronouns rather than she/her was challenging.
It was around this time that a dear friend of mine was going through something similar with their own child. When they asked some questions, I was happy to offer my experiences and did my best to answer. It was such a coincidence that they were going through something similar, and I was in a position to help.
Their questions were mainly around how we handled it, how to discuss LGBTQ+, and how to be supportive. I answered as honestly as I could, talking about listening without judgment and the importance of showing interest, learning together, and supporting them. When they later told me how helpful I’d been, I was honestly shocked. I felt I hadn’t done anything! Still, it made me feel so happy to know I could help, and I think this is where my book, Bi The Way was born. What if other parents out there needed support and advice? Where could they turn?
I’d started writing some years ago when I left my career in scientific research. Up until this point, though, I had written fiction. Mostly one-off novels or poetry. I’d never even entertained the idea of writing non-fiction. But I thought back to how real experiences are the most helpful and how few books I found offering advice from a parent’s point of view.
I’ll be honest though, I thought long and hard about whether to publish a book about being gay. Would I cope with the backlash? Would it affect my writing career? I felt as a parent, our children come first, and being an advocate for them and a voice to hopefully make this world a better place is always the number one priority. I also had wonderful support from many fabulous writers I am grateful to know.
When I first mentioned to my child about writing a book regarding our experiences, I was incredibly nervous. There were concerns about making sure I did this in a way that didn’t compromise them or put them in a difficult situation. I ensured I wrote it sensitively with this in mind and they were happy with every word before I published. The support I received from them and my whole family was amazing.
Still, as I mentioned, I feared the backlash that might arise from being a voice on this topic. However, as a parent, I feel it’s so important to stand up and be an advocate for your children. Demonstrating the values you want them to have is the best example you can give. I knew if it only helped one other parent, the book would be worthwhile. After reading just a few of the messages I received following publication, I knew I had achieved this.
Bi The Way became a short book that meshed our own honest family story with some educational things about LGBTQ+. Its intention was for it to be a quick, helpful, and easy read. So, I wrote about the mistakes we made as parents, the questions we came across, and even added some dates to celebrate. Together, we’ve all learned to have a little pride!
The best advice I can give to parents who find themselves in my position is to listen without judgment if their child chooses to confide in them. To work together with their child to learn about it. To make it clear that, if further down the line the child chooses to make a different decision, there will be recriminations or ‘told you so’s.
It’s all too easy to dismiss children as being too young to understand, or going through a phase, without offering them any support. Invalidating how a child feels will only alienate them. With a little education, support, and acceptance, a child is far less likely to suffer mental health issues and distress. The world has diversity, and that is what makes it such a beautiful place.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Northwood. Sarah is a best-selling author, and you can find her book Bi the Way here, and her other books here. You can follow their journey on Facebook and Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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