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Coming to terms with your sexuality and/or gender identity can be a difficult process. Many people stay closeted for years out of fear, anxiety, or denial. For some LGBTQ+ individuals, this can lead to relationships that, while perhaps fulfilling in other ways, do not allow them to be their most authentic selves. LGBTQ+ individuals may even choose to have children as part of these relationships. If this applies to you, and the time has come for you to start being open about your sexuality/gender identity, you will undoubtedly have to come out to your children. Below are some tips to hopefully help make the process a bit easier for you and your children.

It is important to remember that it is never too early or too late to come out to your children. Often, children may be more upset at the perceived deception or secrecy than your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Writing down your thoughts, or practicing with someone you trust, maybe a good way to prepare for the conversation. Be mindful that if your children have not had significant exposure to or interaction with LGBTQ+ individuals, introducing such a new concept to them may cause some anxiety and/or trepidation at the unknown. You should also be prepared to address potential stereotypes about LGBTQ+ individuals that your children may have picked up in social environments outside the home, such as school, daycare, sports, and/or religious institutions. Slowly introducing your children to LGBTQ+ concepts before coming out to them may help you gauge their reaction and pave the way for a smoother conversation.

When coming out to your children, make sure to do so in a private setting with plenty of time for you to talk and process. In approaching the topic, it may be helpful to frame it as a question to help your children unpack their feelings. For example, “how do you feel about boys who like other boys/girls who like other girls?” Or, “what do you think about a person who feels like a boy/girl/both/neither?” By listening and asking your children what they already know and feel about the LGBTQ+ community, it can help to act as a baseline to discuss your sexuality/gender identity more broadly and address any questions or concerns they may have. It is important to address any concerns or questions in a non-judgmental and non-argumentative manner. Just as this may be challenging for you, so too can it be challenging for your children. It may also be helpful to provide context to younger children by using metaphors, such as two princes or princesses getting married (in the case of sexual orientation) or popcorn in a cereal box wanting to be in a popcorn bowl (in the case of gender identity/transitioning).

Coming out to your children does not mean that you have to have “the talk” with them. Make sure you frame the discussion about your sexual orientation/gender identity in an age-appropriate manner. This can include discussing affection, romance, and attraction as things like holding hands, dating and finding someone pretty or handsome. It may also be helpful for you to break down stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people during the conversation by pointing to famous LGBTQ+ role models. You should also recognize that your kids’ reactions may vary, from peppering you with questions to none at all. This conversation may be one of many, with your children potentially having new questions or concerns as they grow and mature. Depending on the age of your children, this may also be an opportunity for your children to come out to you. This should not be an expectation, nor should you pressure your children to address their own sexuality or gender identity simply because you are addressing yours. Regardless of your children’s sexual orientation or gender identity, it is important to show them the support you would want from them.

It may be helpful in this time of change to reassure your children of the things that will remain the same. Emphasize that you love them, are still their parent, are still the person you have always been, and that they are still your number one priority. You can demonstrate this by being attentive and respectful of their needs while you begin this new stage of your life. In particular, be respectful of your children’s wishes as to how, when, and who they “come out” to about you once you feel comfortable being open about your sexual orientation/gender identity to the public. This may help them feel as though they have some measure of control over the new changes in their lives. Finally, it may be helpful to connect your children with other children who have LGBTQ+ parents. This can be done through word of mouth, community organizations, or national organizations such as PFLAG.

If as a result of your decision to live openly about your sexual orientation/gender identity you and your partner are separating or divorcing, it is important that you and your partner communicate this to your children together, where possible. Your partner may feel upset, hurt, and betrayed by you. Nevertheless, it is important that you approach your children with a unified, loving, and respectful message regarding your separation or divorce. If it is not possible for you to speak to your children together, ensure that you do not speak poorly of your partner when discussing your separation or divorce. Be prepared for the possibility that your children may blame you for the separation or divorce. Reiterate that despite you and your partner no longer being together, you both still love them and want what is best for them.

Ultimately, it may take time for your children to adjust to the “new normal” and accept your sexual orientation/gender identity. While this may be difficult, being honest with your children will allow both you and them to be happier and less stressed in the long run. Encouraging such a dialogue with your children may even help you become closer to them than ever before. You know yourself and your children best and must make the decision that works best for you.

For more information about coming out to your kids, consider contacting support networks like COLAGE.