What I wish I had known when my son first came out
In a few days your son, Nick, is going to come out to you as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. When that happens, your thoughts and feelings are going to be all over the place. You’ll feel alone and lost, not sure of where to turn to. You’ll want to say the right things, but you won’t know what to say.
And you’ll need someone to help you, someone who cares and understands, and can help you be the mom your son needs you to be.
I’ve been in your shoes, which is why I want to share some things I’ve learned over the years that will help you respond in a healthy and loving way.
Something you don’t yet know is that having a supportive family protects LGBTQ+ youth from things like depression, suicide, substance abuse and risky sexual behaviors. A 2019 report from the Trevor Project shows that just one accepting adult in the life of an LGBTQ+ youth can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt by 40 percent. And research conducted by the Family Acceptance Project shows that LGBTQ+ youth with supportive families make healthier decisions, perform better academically and experience better overall health.
So, first, before you do anything else, reassure Nick that you love him, accept him and have his back.
You can admit that you have a lot to learn while assuring him that you want the best for him and that you will be with him every step of the way.
This should happen whether you understand everything or not. You need to be Nick’s safe harbor — his anchor. Your love and support mean everything. The most important thing you can do is to make it crystal clear that you love Nick, accept him and will be there for him.
Once you have expressed your love and support the next thing you need to do is encourage dialogue and listen. Ask how you can help him feel supported. Ask if he has come out to anyone else and how that went? Ask how he is feeling.
Then listen. Listen without arguing, giving advice or interrupting. Validate any feelings that he shares with you. Sincere listening and validation are the best ways to demonstrate the unconditional love and support that you expressed.
Next, reach out for education, resources and support to deepen your own understanding. One of the best ways to get support and find helpful resources is by connecting with other families who have LGBTQ+ kids. Taking care of yourself and becoming educated will prepare you to show up and be a supportive, passionate advocate for your child.
Nick will need you to be an advocate for him, but he will also need you to help him become his own advocate.
Right now, you have no idea what this journey has in store for you. Who knows, you may end up finding a new calling in life with an army of moms, working together to make the world a kinder, safer, more loving place for all LGBTQ+ people to live and thrive.
You could even start your own private Facebook group for moms like yourself, and you could call yourselves the “Mama Bears” because of the way you fiercely love and protect your own LGBTQ+ kids.
You and those nearly 30,000 other Mama Bears could start a whole movement, and before you know it, you all might be showing up at Pride parades to give out hugs to LGBTQ+ people who don’t have supportive families and doing things like creating and sending care packages to LGBTQ+ people, standing in at weddings for those who don’t have affirming parents and performing other acts of kindness for LGBTQ+ people who need support and encouragement.
That kind of community could really change the world, because you know what they say, “As the family goes, so goes the world.”
Creating a movement like that would be a dream come true. But no matter what else happens, most importantly, you will be there for your son during this new chapter in both of your lives every step of the way and nothing is more important than that.
Your future self
Liz Dyer is the founder and admin of the Serendipitydodah — Home of the Mama Bears Facebook group. Liz’s son came out in 2007, and she started this community in 2014 to connect with and support other moms of LGBTQ+ kids. Now, nearly 30,000 members are educating and supporting fellow moms of LGBTQ+ kids, and together are making the world a kinder, safer, more loving place for all. Liz currently lives in Fort Worth.