A sneak preview into It’s About You Too: Reducing the Overwhelm for Parents of LGBTQ+ Kids
Have you been considering reading my new book? I thought I’d share the introduction here with you, to give you an idea of what to expect.
INTRODUCTION: Your own personal roadmap
“Be vulnerable to life’s lessons – you’ll learn quicker”
~ Brené Brown ~
Your child just came out, you’re feeling an array of emotions and everyone’s telling you, “It’s not about you! It’s about your child. You need to put your feelings aside and be there for them.”
Wow!!! The first time I heard about a parent’s experience of this, I was horrified, saddened, and disappointed. Unfortunately, this kind of response is all too common. I knew something had to change. It inspired me to work towards improving the experiences of parents.
Several years ago, a mother arrived at her session, visibly upset and nervous. I’ll call her Ann. She sat there looking at me sheepishly, red-eyed and exhausted. Her child had recently come out as transgender and pansexual. She was so upset, and didn’t know how to respond, but knew she had to do something, so she went to see her therapist. Her therapist’s response was unhelpful, harsh, and without consideration of the support Ann needed to embark on this journey. Ann was feeling overwhelmed, confused, exhausted, and desperate for help. She was riddled with guilt and shame as a result of the lack of information and support to help her work through her feelings. She sobbed as she told me that everywhere she turned she was being told, “It’s not about you”, yet she was experiencing powerful emotions and didn’t know where to begin.
It was heartbreaking to hear about Ann’s experience, to sit with her in her pain, knowing that it didn’t have to be like that. This was the day I realised the full impact of the lack of adequate support and encouragement for parents of LGBTQ+ folk. It was something I was already doing; however, I didn’t realise my approach was so different from others. I made a mental note on that day, that if we’re going to create significant change in the lives of LGBTQIA+ young people, we need to start with the parents. It needed to be intentional and not simply left to the already under resourced system in place for supporting LGBTQI+ young people.
Ann had called me the previous day, quite distressed. She shared that her 17-year-old child had told her, the previous week, that they’re transgender and pansexual. She wanted to assure me she loves her child, and she knew it wasn’t about her, but she was struggling. “I don’t even know what pansexual is”, she whispered. “I don’t know what to think, what to do, or what to say to my child”, Ann shared, choking back tears.
She was shocked, confused and overwhelmed, and when she reached out to her therapist, she was told that it wasn’t about her and that she must focus on supporting her child. “She said that should be my priority, my child,” shared Ann, followed by a deep sigh “I know she’s right, I just don’t know how to do that. I’m not a terrible parent. I just don’t know how.”
The problem was, she didn’t know how to support her child. She had so much inner turmoil that she wasn’t even sure if she could, even though she desperately wanted to. This is a dilemma that many parents come to me with. I want you to know that it’s perfectly normal to feel the way Ann was feeling and it won’t feel like that forever.
As I paid more attention, I noticed how common this response to parents was. It was literally coming from everywhere. Health professionals, including mental health professionals, friends, family members and even other parents of LGBTQIA+ folk.
The thing is, none of these people means any harm. In fact, they’re all trying to prevent harm to the LGBTQIA+ person. And I get it. We all want LGBTQIA+ folk to feel safe, loved and supported in their families because that gives them the best chance of living a joyful, successful life. So, I had to ask myself, “Are they right? I mean, everyone’s saying it and my priority is also for LGBTQI+ people to live happy, loving, fulfilled lives” It kept niggling at me and the more I heard of these experiences from parents and how it left them feeling, I couldn’t let it go, and that’s why I decided to write this book.
I’ll introduce you to a variety of parents and families throughout this book who’ve had varying experiences and responded in different ways. Of course, this is only a small glimpse into the experiences of some parents I’ve worked with, however, I’ve chosen them specifically with the aim that you’ll be able to see a little of yourself in at least one of their stories and take some comfort and feel some hope.
I’ve changed everybody’s names and altered any identifying elements of their stories to ensure their privacy. If you’re reading this and feel like I’m writing about you and I haven’t asked your permission, it simply means that your story is similar to others, which is common. For example, I’ve already had several people reach out to me, after reading my first draft of the introduction, some of whom I’d never met, saying that they felt like I was writing about them.
I’d like to reassure you that every parent mentioned in this book deepened their connection with their child, reduced or eliminated their overwhelm, and became confident, comfortable, and found their voice to advocate for their child in their own way.
The request of parents to put their feelings aside got me thinking about other parenting situations and I realised we don’t ask parents to turn off their feelings in other circumstances and just focus on their child. Of course, there are times they need to take a deep breath and ‘get the job done’. However, in those circumstances, we still offer compassion.
Just in case you’re struggling to believe this to be true or see how it works, we’ll explore a couple of those scenarios.
When a child is injured or sick – obviously a difficult situation for a parent. To see their child suffering and not be able to take their pain away is heartbreaking for parents. In these circumstances, parents are required to be brave, hold it together and be there for their child, in whatever capacity is necessary. We don’t tell the parent that it’s not about them, and we don’t expect them to ignore their feelings. Most of us will acknowledge how tough it is, offer support, and ask how we can help. We know they can’t fall apart in front of their child, but they can with us.
A child just won first place in their first National level athletics competition – obviously an exciting experience for the parent, too. A very proud moment. Of course, it is not appropriate for the parent to jump into the limelight and make it all about them. However, again, we wouldn’t tell the parent it’s not about them. We would congratulate them on their child’s win, we’d celebrate with them, we’d listen to them share about all the work and dedication to their child, the car trips to training for the last few years and all the trials and tribulations that got them there. We might even throw them a dinner party to celebrate, as their child goes off and celebrates with their teammates.
Give yourself a break
Parents, I know you’re often hard on yourself. You have high expectations of yourself as a parent and you believe your child deserves more than you. However, It Is About You Too. Your and your child’s experiences are not mutually exclusive. You are human; you have feelings, thoughts and emotions and they are all valid and require some TLC. Your child needs you to make it about you, too. Your whole family needs you to take better care of yourself, give yourself a break, and allow yourself space to process how you’re feeling.
All these people are right. It’s not ‘all’ about you and yes, it is about your child. Yes, you need to get on board and be there for them. They need your unconditional love and support. They want you to embrace them for exactly who they are.
That doesn’t mean you have to ignore your own feelings and thoughts. In fact, that’d be detrimental to you, your child, and the rest of your family. In order to be there for your child in the most authentic, effective, loving and supportive way, you have to work through what you’re feeling and thinking. It’s not possible to effectively shut off those feelings and make it all about your child. Yes, it’s true, it’s important that you get there as quickly as possible, to minimise the impact on your child. It’s also true that you need to do your best to shield your child from your process. As you’ll learn throughout this book, they’re not the one to learn from or to share your thoughts with.
What would’ve been a more helpful response from Ann’s therapist is, ‘It sounds tough and you have a lot of feelings to work through around this. As you may know, it’s not your child’s responsibility to manage your emotions or be your educator for the parts you don’t understand. Let’s use our sessions to explore how you’re feeling and gather some more information.’
I’m totally aware of why therapists and other health professionals respond the way they do, and I completely understand it. Their focus is to advocate for unconditional love and support for LGBTQIA+ folk. I’m also acutely aware that this can be really difficult if a parent is struggling and not able to find the space and support to work through their own emotions, fears and experiences. I’d also like to acknowledge that it’s not fair for folk to be put in the position of being the support person and advocate for LGBTQI+ individuals and also providing education, support and understanding for their parents. In other circumstances, it might be considered a conflict of interest. Unfortunately, it seems to be the default at the moment due to a lack of effective alternatives.
What about you
So, your child recently came out and you’re confused, overwhelmed and full of emotion. As I said to Ann, this is totally normal. Parenting is one of the hardest, highest pressure jobs you’ll ever have. And now there’s this to figure out. What do you do? My advice – take a deep breath, make yourself a nice warm beverage of choice and keep reading.
Over the years, I’ve walked the journey alongside hundreds of parents as they’ve realised their child’s sexuality or gender identity differs from what they expected. I’ve supported them as they’ve learned to accept and eventually celebrate their child’s sexuality and/or gender identity.
I won’t lie. It’s not a simple process, however, with patience, kindness and compassion they get there. When they do, they’re elated to reach that feeling of unconditionally embracing, loving, supporting, and celebrating their child exactly how they are. This will be you, too.
Like I told Ann, it is about you, too. You matter. Your feelings matter. Your worries and concerns are valid. You can have your feelings and still love your child. Your feelings do not negate your love for your child.
Your feelings matter. You matter. Your child matters.
When parents arrive at a session with me, they’re experiencing an array of emotions, and they’re almost always the same. My last client said to me, “Out of the 10 emotions you’ve got listed on your website, I’m feeling 9 of them…” It’s no accident that they’re on my website. It’s because I commonly hear this from parents and it’s a perfectly natural response.
They also ask the same kinds of questions. Wonder the same things. Have the same fears. You’re not alone in the way you’re feeling. Most parents go through their own version of what you’re currently going through.
Are you asking or saying:
- “Is it a phase?”
- “They’re too young to know”
- “How can I protect my child?”
- “Did I do something wrong? Something to cause this?”
- “What about grandkids?”
There are a few things I always make clear with my clients and I want to share them with you, too:
- You matter. It is about you, too. Your thoughts, feelings, and concerns are valid.
- Your feelings about your child’s sexuality or gender identity don’t negate your feelings for your child.
- If you’re uncomfortable, they’ll see straight through you
You can’t fool your child. Get comfortable as quickly as you can, so you can connect with your child and deepen your relationship with them.
I know this isn’t easy, but I also know you can do this, and it doesn’t need to take months and years. You have a choice; continue to listen to unhelpful advice from people who may or may not have your child’s best interests at heart, OR read this book to find out how you can continue to prioritise your child AND work through your own feelings and take care of your own needs. In fact, you’ll find out how prioritising yourself has much better results for your child, family, and relationships.
What are you going to choose?
Please be assured,
‘You Do Matter,’ and ‘It Is About You, Too.’
And it’s time to work through this together.
This book is for you, if you are a parent, carer or guardian of an LGBTQ+ person, regardless of their age and are:
- Struggling with their sexuality or gender identity
- Finding your own feelings, thoughts and emotions difficult
- Feeling shame, guilt, fear or anger
- Not sure where to turn and feeling stuck between your feelings for your child and your faith, beliefs, values, or thoughts.
- Confused or uncertain about what your child has shared with you
- Tired of being told it’s not about you
- Wanting to support your child and simply unsure about the best way to do that?
Perhaps you’re wishing this would all just go away, or maybe you’re feeling ok with your child’s sexuality or gender identity but feeling some feelings that are not comfortable or what you would’ve expected of yourself. Regardless, there’s something in here for you.
It’s also for you if you’re a family member of an LGBTQ+ person and feeling any of the above or want to support someone who is.
You’ll also benefit from reading this book if you’re a professional who supports LGBTQIA+ people and/or their families.
In this book, we’ll explore the experiences, feelings, struggles, beliefs, values and thought processes that lead to a sense of overwhelm, isolation, confusion and often despair. Just like Ann, you’re likely to be feeling an array of emotions and perhaps don’t understand why or where they’re all coming from.
You might be asking yourself, “Why do I need to read this? I’m fine. Shouldn’t I just get my child a therapist?” The simple answer is, no, your child needs you to be ok. Well, actually, they need you to be better than okay. I don’t know if your child needs a therapist, however, I know that when a child’s parents are doing well, when they’re able to completely understand their own feelings, experiences and emotions and can heal where healing is required, they are much more able to be present for their child. Your child needs you to do this. And don’t you want to be the best parent you can be? Unconditionally loving, supporting, embracing and celebrating your child, exactly how they are?
This will be a journey of learning, growing, healing, connection both to self and your child and developing the skills to prioritise yourself without sacrificing your family. In fact, your family will thrive as a result of you prioritising yourself. And who doesn’t want that for their family?
A little housekeeping
One of the common struggles I hear from parents is the difficulty in understanding and/or remembering all the different labels and language now used. I’ve done my best to keep it simple. However, I also have a Glossary of Terms on my website to assist you. Please understand that while I’ve done my best to provide a clear, accurate glossary, the terminology used by and for LGBTQ+ folk is changing all the time, so use this as a guide. It’s more important to listen to what your child and other LGBTQ+ folk tell you about themselves and their identities.
You’ll hear people, including me, use a range of umbrella terms to refer to people who identify as not heterosexual or cisgender (cis – people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth). This includes but is not limited to, shortening the initialism, LGBTQ+, a different order of the letters, and the word queer. They’re all valid and simply depend on the individual’s preference. It’s important to acknowledge that while the term ‘queer’ is now broadly used within the LGBTQ+ community, it’s still offensive and upsetting to some people, so please be mindful if you use it.
As mentioned above, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to pause, reflect, breathe, take part in an exercise and, perhaps most important, give yourself a hug. These elements are just as essential as the rest of the book. They may feel challenging if it’s not what you’re used to, however, ‘challenges’ often result in the most profound growth and learning. Do your best to embrace yourself, your experience, and all your emotions with loving kindness and compassion.
MOP – Moments of Pause
Now let’s check out the MOPs (Moment of Pause) that’ll be at the end of each chapter. As I mentioned, they’re as important as the rest of the book, so please give them the attention they deserve. Or should I say… Allow yourself the attention, time and space that you deserve. Give yourself this gift.
I won’t pretend this is an easy journey, but I will tell you that you’re in the right place, and you will get there. Quicker and more easily than you expect.
One thing you’ll notice is that I place a lot of value on self-care and this journey with you is no different. When we’re going through challenging times, we often forget the most important things. What we need to keep our strength up, keep us well, keep our mind functioning at its full capacity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that doing a little mindfulness, breathing, exercise and eating well is going to make all your troubles go away and everything all rosy again. But these MOPs will make them more approachable. They’ll be your little reminder to breathe, to take a moment for yourself, to ensure your cup is getting filled up, so that you have the best chance possible at getting through this time as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
Please make these a priority for your and your family’s sake. For some of you, I know, there’ll be a little voice in the back of your head saying, “You don’t need this. It won’t make any difference. Just skip to the parts you need.” To that voice, I say, “Ssshhhh, so far, your way hasn’t reduced the pain or overwhelm, so let’s try something different. What harm can it do? After all, you’re breathing anyway.” And to be honest, the time it took to read that paragraph you could’ve already experienced some benefits from intentional breathing or other mini mindfulness practices.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Does this feel helpful to you?