Holiday time for most of us is a time to spend more time with family and loved ones, but for many children, it is a harsh reminder of their non-acceptance and thus, is all the more difficult as well.
As we move into the holiday season, it is important to realize that for many, it is not the most wonderful time of the yearespecially children who are not accepted by their families because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or any other sexual orientation or gender identity.
These children see their friends experiencing family traditions and excitement about gifts they want to receive. But for them, their main wish may be to have a spot at their own family's dinner table.
It is important that children who come out to family members know they are loved, even if their parents have a hard time accepting what their child shared about themselves.
Many studies have shown that children who do not experience family support about their sexual identity are more likely to attempt suicide, have depression and mental health issues, and use illegal drugs. On the flip side, children who are accepted for who they are are more likely to have higher self-esteem, and thus, better mental and physical health.
While the news that their child is LGBTQ+ may be shocking to a parent, it is crucial that their children receive verbal validation and approval. The parent may wish what their child told them isn't true, but it is harmful to treat the child's self-perception as a phase they are going through. Instead, it is better to focus on who your child is, thank them for sharing this vulnerable information, and tell them that you love them. Parents can also show their love by asking them directly, "How can I support you?"
This sort of news would likely put most parents on new ground, and there isn't a step-by-step guide that tells how to deal with it. We know what causes harm, however: banishing a child from the family, telling them they are no good or a disgrace, or that they will "grow out of it. All are recipes for disaster.
For many parents, receiving this sort of news is often hard to handle. It is important they don't beat themselves up if they say or do the wrong thing at times, as long as they have good intentions. This is often new ground and sometimes when taking two steps forward, one step back is taken.
Parents of any child are not perfect, nor should they be expected to be. However, if a mistake is made, parents should acknowledge it to their child and move on, as dwelling on it can make it worse. Parents also need to realize that processing their own feelings and emotions should not be placed onto the child.
To help navigate this new reality, it is vital that lines of communication with their child are open and remain that way. Check in with them regularly (as all parents should do, regardless of their situation), and make sure the children are not being bullied or experiencing other issues related to their gender or sexual orientation.
Parents who do not agree with each other on how to deal with a child who has come out as LGBTQ+ would be wise to seek family counseling or a support group. They should also seek out the advice of other parents of LBGTQ+ children at their child's school to learn how others navigated similar situations and issues.
For parents who are divorced or going through a divorce, this type of news often is even more challenging. Support of LGBTQ+ children, especially in difficult family times, can have potentially life-long impacts on their health, happiness and success, and thus it is vital that lines of communication stay open.
These parents must realize that it is vital to put any disagreements with their former spouse to the side for the well-being of their children. They must not blame each other for the fact that their child is gay or lesbian. Remember, it is not a choice; rather, it is something one is born with, just as one is born having blonde or dark hair, or being tall or short.
While the realization that your child is LGBTQ+ may not initially be the ideal reality for you as a parent, you must realize that this is your child's life and you must be supportive. All parents must realize that one's sexual orientation is irrelevant when it comes to matters of character. Your child is the same person he/she/they always were, and your support can be the difference in them achieving their full potential in their life or having to face obstacles that many cannot overcome. Realize that this can be a life-or-death situation.
So this holiday season make the extra effort to be accepting and welcoming, and to improve on traits that have caused obstacles to that. Let love and acceptance override your fears and preconceived notions. It will be better for your entire family and will allow you all to experience the true joy of the holidays.
Attorney Jeffery M. Leving is the recipient of President Biden's 2023 Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award. Leving, who has dedicated his career to safeguarding children and reuniting them with their fathers, has written three acclaimed books: "Fathers' Rights," "Divorce Wars" and "How to be a Good Divorced Dad."