My daughter just told me she’s a lesbian. What should I do?
Your daughter just came out of the closet, and you’re not sure how to respond. Here’s why compassion and support should be your first – and only – priorities.
First of all, to the incredible parent who sent us this question and all the subsequent ones reading this blog...you’re already taking the right steps! It’s okay that you’re not sure what to say to a child who just came out of the closet. It’s also okay if you’re experiencing a lot of mixed emotions. It’s a lot to process, and you’re entitled to take some time to figure out the best way to react.
On that note, let’s talk about what to do – and what NOT to do – from this point onward:
DON’T forget that she’s struggling just as much (if not more) than you are.
It’s easy to get caught up in your own emotions. This is something we’re all guilty of and, like I said above, it’s not something to be ashamed of. But if you take anything away from this blog, let it be this: your daughter’s emotions are more important than yours in this situation. She’s in the process of coming to terms with her sexuality and sharing it with the people she loves the most. That’s a huge deal, and it’s going to take a toll on her emotional well-being. So before you spend too much time dealing with your own feelings, consider hers. It’s your job as her parent to be there for her during this complicated hour.
DO listen to what she has to say.
Chances are, your daughter opened up to you about her sexuality because she needs someone supportive to talk to. What an honour! If you’re panicking about what to say, stop and take a breath. She might need your advice eventually, but first and foremost, she needs an ear to bend. Set aside some time to spend with her in a safe space where you can give her your undivided attention. Let her talk, and do your best to absorb everything she says so you can be fully equipped to offer guidance when she asks for it.
DON’T dismiss, negate or shame her.
This might sound like a given, but you’d be surprised how many supportive, loving parents react negatively when their kids come out of the closet. For many, it’s a knee-jerk reaction, while for others it’s the result of latent homophobic tendencies. Either way, if you find yourself on the verge of saying anything that resembles denial or disapproval, bite your tongue. This moment in your child’s life is crucial, and handling it the wrong way will set her up for a lot of avoidable challenges. Regardless of how you feel, respond from a place of love. Be as understanding and non-judgmental as you can, and chances are you’ll start to warm up to the situation once the water settles.
DO some research.
As a parent, you’re a hundred different things. You’re a support system, a caregiver, a provider – and you’re also a mentor. This means that your daughter might seek your advice, and you can’t offer her an educated, unbiased perspective without a basic understanding of what it means to be gay. Though you might not have any first-hand experience to draw from, the internet is a fantastic resource that contains a plethora of rudimentary knowledge about LGBTQ+ history, culture and lifestyle. If you’re in need of some personal guidance, seek out queer bloggers and social media influencers. Contact them and ask if they have time to give you some advice. Even mentors need mentors!
DON’T tell anyone else without her permission.
Just because your daughter came out to you doesn’t mean she’s ready for the whole world to know. No matter how much you want to tell your spouse or friend, it’s not your place. Think about it this way: your daughter entrusted you with the biggest secret she’s ever kept. How would she feel if you turned around and shared it with someone else? That said, it’s okay to ask your daughter if she wants your support telling others. Maybe she wants to tell her grandparents she’s gay, but doesn’t want to do it alone. Helping her navigate the ongoing coming out process is part of your new role as her confidant! Embrace it, respect it, and make her feel relieved that she chose you to confide in.
DO act casual….but not too casual.
This one is a bit tricky. After your daughter comes out, she’s going to place a lot of weight on the way you act in the subsequent hours, days and even months. No matter what you say and how supportive you are, your mood will give her insight into how you really feel about her sexuality. If you seem dejected, she’ll suspect that you disapprove. If you’re too exuberant, she might be embarrassed. Do your best to go about your life as if nothing is different – because it’s not. Your daughter is still the same person she was before she came out, and your perception of her shouldn’t be any different, either. If you’re struggling to find your equilibrium, try to strike a balance between indifference and approval. You want her to get the impression that her sexuality matters to you and that you accept who she is, without making her feel like she’s uprooted your family dynamic. Remember: everything has changed, but nothing has.
DON’T make assumptions.
When someone you love announces that they’re gay, it’s easy to jump to conclusions. You might “blame” yourself, speculate about that person’s future, or project stereotypes onto them without even realizing it. But when your daughter comes out, making assumptions won’t do anyone – especially her – any favours. In fact, those assumptions will likely end up doing more harm than good, because they’ll instill false expectations and pretenses into your head and prevent you from being the one thing your daughter needs you to be – open-minded. If you find yourself predicting things you aren’t sure about – her label, for instance – ask her. Let her know that she doesn’t have to tell you anything she’s not comfortable with, but until you have answers, don’t assume
DO tell her you love her.
Whether you’re the type of parent who says “I love you” once an hour or twice a year, now is the time to utter those three words. Set aside every single reaction and emotion you’re experiencing and remind your daughter that you love her for exactly who she is.