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The Parent Trap

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http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/02/14319/

I came across this article last month, entitled, “Is Christian Teaching on Sexuality Psychologically Harmful?” I found several aspects intriguing, and I thought I’d pass it along.

The first point of interest was the false dichotomy that there are only two choices for Christian parents of teens who come out to them as LGBT – either complete acceptance / celebration or complete rejection. Those are, thankfully, not the only choices parents have. But the promotion of that narrative relates directly to the second point I found interesting in this article…the way that preparing for only either one of these reactions robs parents of breathing room when they hear this type of announcement from their kids.

“Typically, those who finally come out of the closet have done so after a long, hard process of soul-searching, struggle, and self-questioning. This is precisely why the event itself is so important to them. But when this dramatic news is announced, those to whom it is announced are expected to come to terms with it immediately and respond with unflinching affirmation and support. This expectation just isn’t realistic about the nature of such news and the impact it has on many families. Awkwardly stumbling through such news is dramatically different from refusing to accept a vulnerable person with grace and compassion. It is human to struggle; it is divine to love the other without conditions.” ~ Andrew T. Walker and Glenn Stanton

I remember the conversations that I had with each of my parents (they were divorced, so these occurred separately.)  This was in my early 20’s and in grad school – not quite the same situation as a teenager living at home.  But I had spent a long time wrestling with my sexuality and my faith, and I’d tried to be prepared for any number of possible reactions.  Confusion was something I expected, along with elements of surprise and doubt and questions about what this might all mean.  I was thankful that I was able to give each of them space and time to work through the variety of emotions that came up at once.

It’s bothered me for a long time to hear LGBT groups educate teens on how to come out to their parents, with warnings to expect rejection if their parents are persons of faith. It creates a pre-meditated tension, where any sign of confusion or surprise causes some teens to jump to the conclusion that they are being rejected.  It’s important for teens to be encouraged to show some maturity and discernment, especially in the midst of such an emotionally charged conversation.

There were a few steps that I took to prepare for these conversations with my parents:

  1. I chose the time and place carefully.
    1. This is not the type of conversation you want to have during the midst of an argument or stressful situation. This information should not be used as ammo, or as a weapon against someone close to you.
    2. I made sure that they were each in a good place to be able to listen, and that we would not feel rushed.
  1. I had trusted friends praying for me ahead of time.
    1. This was such a comfort – to know that while this was my story, I wasn’t in it alone.
  1. I thought through what I was going to say, and prepared myself for any kind of reaction.
    1. I tried to make my best guess at how each of my parents might react, and thought through what might make the most sense to them, or what might be easiest for them to understand. I knew that my mom, especially, was quite sensitive (she has since passed away), so I came up with a few illustrations and examples in case she started to take things too personally. (Which she did, but I as I’d thought she might, I gave her information to correct that train of thought, and then gave her space to think about it all. To this day, I don’t hold her initial reaction against her.)
  1. I had set up time to talk to several good friends soon after sharing the news with each of my parents.
    1. This allowed me to know that I could have a safe space of my own to work through how the conversation went, whether it had been good or bad. It meant so much to me to have friends set aside time to pray with me & to listen before and afterwards. That gave me a sense of comfort, shelter and love, which provided the strength to get through it well.

The third point that stood out in this article was not advice on how Christian parents could react to such news – there are good resources for those looking to learn more about that on the Resources page of this blog. Rather, it was learning about the work of someone who has taken a deeper look into how Christian parents do actually respond.

Ritch Savin-Williams, Ph.D., is the chair of the Department of Human Development and a Professor of Developmental Psychology at Cornell Univ. who specializes in gay, lesbian, and bisexual research. Walker and Stanton write:

“Savin-Williams also explains that teens who come out to their Christian parents are generally treated just as well, if not better, than kids who come out to other types of parents. In fact, he finds that it is often parents’ Christian theology that contributes to a caring—though often difficult and awkward—interaction and navigation through this news. More often than not, families with children who struggle with same-sex attraction do not respond with judgment, condemnation, or rejection. Rather, there is typically a promise of unconditional love and comfort for the child, even while the parents themselves wobble through coming to terms with this startling news.”

Savin-Williams also states that there is no epidemic of gay teen suicide – which is welcome news!  [You can learn more about Savin-Williams’ conclusions about gay teens here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130732158].

This was new information for me – to learn that someone has been taking note of how Christian parents are reacting to the coming-out news of their teens, and finding that even when they are not celebrating the news, they are loving their child. I was encouraged to see that this is evident to a psychologist and professor at a major university, and I hope that the trend will continue.

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2 thoughts on “The Parent Trap

  1. I read this article by Stanton and Walker as well. My wife and I are Conservative Christians with a gay teen. It was not a surprise for us when our son told us the truth that he was gay. It still was hard at first. We did tell him we loved him and to follow Jesus. We questioned him and said no matter what we will be there. We are 10 months out and we see things so differntly. We are less judgmental and more caring. We love and accept our son. Still there is a lot of work to do. There is a lot of hurt and pain. As for Savin-Williams and his study about no real gay suicide epidemic, that may be true. I don’t know. I do know this that we treat our gay son the same way we do our other children who are straight. We love them all and support them and realize that Christ is the answer. He is the answer for gay and straight.

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