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Coming Out to Your Grown Kids

Coming Out to Your Grown Kids
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By Nina Malkin

Eight years into a heterosexual marriage, Jim Nelson* sat down with his wife Lisa and told her he was gay. After remarkably little fuss, the Nelsons reached an agreement. They would keep their marriage intact, with Jim free to explore his sexuality and Lisa equally free to enjoy intimacy with others, both making sure to be safe and discreet. They also decided against trying to explain any of this to their young children. Though hardly ideal, the arrangement functioned—until last year, when Lisa fell in love with someone else and moved in with him. The couple’s son and daughter, by then 20 and 23, were shocked and confused: How could this have happened? The Nelsons realized it was time to come clean—and for Jim to come out to their kids.

The challenge facing the Nelsons couldn’t be more timely. Olympic champion Bruce Jenner’s gender transition and entertainer Joel Grey’s sexual orientation made big tabloid news in 2015. Part of the public’s fascination has been that these high-profile celebrities are also parents—their grown children’s reaction very much part of the story. Grey’s daughter, actress Jennifer Grey, expressed support for her father to PEOPLE magazine: “I feel very happy for my dad that he has come to a point in his life where he feels safe and comfortable enough to declare himself in a public way as a gay man.”

Yet even in this enlightened era, LGBT sexuality can be a powder keg—professionally, socially, politically and, when it comes to families, emotionally. No one can attest to that more than the Nelsons. “It was difficult,” Jim says of the conversation he and Lisa had with their kids. “They were very upset. Our daughter cried, but it was worse for our son. He shut me out and wouldn’t speak to me for months.”

Coming Out Complications

Coming out is rarely easy for anyone. Yet when the LGBT person is the parent and the children are also adults, particular issues may surface. “Mature adults may have the task of challenging their children’s negative attitudes towards LGBT individuals,” says Long Island, New York-based clinical neuropsychologist Christine Weber, Ph.D. “Some adult children may worry about being ostracized by others who hold negative stereotypes.”

Because the parent-child relationship is ideally about trust—at any age—grown children may feel betrayed. In situations like the Nelsons’, grown children can be doubly distressed. “If a heterosexual relationship is ending, the sadness adult children feel over the separation may be compounded by the LGBT parent’s revelation,” Weber says. When students work in class they always have a person who can help. This is one of the main concerns of students, as they do not have a lot of cash to spend freely. Each paper written is completely customized and always original. It has a direct bearing on your final product. “Adult children may experience symptoms akin to grief.” They know that there are experienced specialists in every industry, who can provide them with perfect service.

Parents, in turn, may be hurt and feel judged if their offspring handle the news badly. This can be especially sensitive if the parent isn’t fully comfortable with his/her sexuality. “A parent who experiences shame or guilt over being LGBT might fear the rejection of an adult child,” Weber says. Such rejection can lead to strong reactions. Jim, for instance, became angry with his son. “When he wouldn’t return my calls, I felt a bit of, ‘Who is he to tell me how to behave? I’m his father!’” he admits.

Can Love Conquer All?

So why, after all this time, discuss your sexuality with your kids? For one thing, it’s bound to improve your quality of life. “Living a lie has been shown to increase levels of depression and anxiety among LGBT individuals,” Weber says.  For another, it can ultimately lead to better family relations. “Once you drop the façade, you can work towards fostering honesty, togetherness and better communication,” says Weber, pointing out that such communication is especially important if the parent has or is seeking a partner—that relationship has a better chance to thrive if it’s in the open.

While this crucial conversation should be planned, not blurted in the heat of the moment, there’s no single right way to have it. “All families are unique and function in their own way,” Weber says. So depending on the dynamics, it might be best to tell members as a group or speak to each child separately. Consider what else is going on in your children’s lives; if they’re having relationship troubles of their own or are under undue stress at school or work, you may wish to wait. Give careful thought to the setting, too. “The atmosphere should be comfortable and tranquil, without time constraints,” Weber says. “A noisy restaurant may not be the best location.”

Once the bomb is dropped, an LGBT parent may discover that the grown children have suspected his/her sexual orientation for some time. “It is often a relief to these children when the ‘secret’ is finally revealed,” Weber says. So it’s vital to encourage questions and listen to what your children have to say, letting them talk and reassuring them that while you may not be perfect, you have always loved them and still do. That said, you are entitled to privacy in intimate matters and should insist on being treated with respect.

The benefits of coming out to your grown kids may take time. “If an adult child doesn’t respond positively, parents may have to allow them to reflect on the information,” Weber says. And if you have any insecurities about your sexual orientation, it’s time to overcome them—you cannot expect your children to accept you if you don’t accept yourself. Family and/or individual counseling may be in order, helping everyone express their feelings and improve family cohesion.

These days, almost a year since his coming out, Jim has regained a warm relationship with his daughter, but things are not so solid with his son. “We do communicate, but it’s strained,” he says. “It’s getting better though. I end every conversation with ‘I love you,’ and he says, ‘Me too, Dad.’”

* Names and some identifying details have been changed.

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An all-around wordsmith, Nina Malkin is a journalist, novelist, copywriter and memoirist. She’s also an avid collector of lovely things from eras past—read her musings at http://www.vintagevirna.blogspot.com/