On parenting. What I’m not screwing up.

It’s late in the day but as I write this, it’s still October 11th, 2013.  Which means many different things to many different people but for those in the LGBT community, it is National Coming Out Day.
There are many things I have done and probably will continue to do to screw up my kids.  As I illustrated in my last post, I’m not good at keeping my feelings and opinions to myself in the interests of being appropriate for my audience, even if they happen to be my children.
I’m moody, often irritable, I lose my temper,  I yell…and I swear (kind of a lot.)  I have tons of hang-ups that I have no doubt saddled my children with in some way shape or form.  I go to bed most nights with the sense that I screwed up yet again in the parenting department, sometimes quite epically. But there is one thing I feel pretty confident that I am doing right as a parent.
My children know that they can confide in me without fear of rejection.  I have made it a priority for them to know that regardless of what they tell me, I will always love them.
This doesn’t mean that they can screw up without fear of recourse or consequences. I think they are pretty clear that I’m not going to cover for them or fix their mistakes, (and depending on the  severity and style of the screw up, there is a good chance that I’ll be bringing some of that temper, yelling and swearing stuff to the table). But regardless of the screw up, I will always stand by them and support them while they do what they need to do to clean up their mess.
And when my kids want to tell me something about what they are experiencing, or something about who they are, or ask me about something they are confused about, or confide in me who they love or are attracted to, they know I want to hear it.  If my kids ever want to talk to me about their identity, their beliefs, their faith, their doubts, their fears, their hopes, they know I’m ready to listen. I may not always tell them what they want to hear. I may challenge them or disagree with them, but at the end of the day, they know that I want to hear what they have to say. They know that what they feel and think and say matters to me.  
Most importantly at the end of the day,  they know that whatever they tell me, whatever they do or think or feel, I will love them, unconditionally.
That doesn’t make me a cool parent or particularly compassionate or especially open-minded, or liberal,  it just means I’m doing my job at its most basic level.
I’ve been screwing up this parenting gig long enough to know that I’m not going to be telling people what good parents do or don’t do and that my way is better than your way, without living to regret it, usually within 24 hours.  But I’m confident in saying that there are certain things that come with the parenting territory, regardless of religious or philosophical leanings, regardless of your parenting style. Basic universal parenting requirements. Things like feeding your kids, providing them with shelter, education, physical protection…. and unconditional love.
That means if your kid is gay, they should not be afraid to tell you so. Life is tough. It’s tough for adults, but it’s even tougher for kids.  I’m not gay, so I don’t know what it’s like to be a gay kid or teenager or young adult,  but I do remember what it’s like to be a kid and a teen, and I remember the fear of being considered different or ostracized was really powerful, so I  can imagine that it can be excruciatingly hard to be a gay teen in a world set up for heterosexuals.
I can imagine how terrifying and lonely it can be for a gay person living in a world that is not only set up for heterosexuals, but is often openly hostile, and even violent toward those who aren’t.  I can only imagine how frightening and isolating it would be, realizing that something that makes me who I am, something over which I have no control,  is not just  considered different from the norm (whatever that mythical “norm” is) , but unacceptable and even dangerous depending on where I am and who I am with.  More terrifying and disorientating still, would be suspecting (or discovering)  that the people who are charged to protect, nurture, encourage and love me unconditionally might fail to do so.  That abandonment goes against the natural order of things.
As a parent I know that if I discovered that my kid had hidden any significant part of their identity from me because they feared that I would no longer love or accept them because of it, I would be devastated.  Not only would it mean that I had failed them in one of my first and most important responsibilities as a parent, it would mean that my child had probably been waking up with a sense of fear and desolation, and going to sleep feeling depressed and isolated because they did not know that they could count on my love and support. Imagining my child going through that sort of pain for any reason, makes me feel physically sick. Knowing that I could have eased it. but instead made it worse. would be unbearable.
It should be unbearable for any parent to contemplate contributing to the pain of their child when they should be helping to ease it. Because it’s wrong. Terribly wrong.
If your kid does not believe, does not know that you love them unconditionally, you are doing it wrong. Your religious, political, or philosophical views are completely irrelevant to this fact. Your kid needs to know that YOU WILL LOVE THEM NO MATTER WHAT. And if they don’t,  you. are. doing. it. wrong.
If you cannot reconcile homosexuality with your religious views, that is your business. I am not going to tell you what to believe. I’m not going to tell you how to address any issue with your kid. That is between you, your kid and your God.  But I do know that whatever they bring you, whatever you’ve got to work out together, you’ve got to do it with love, with unconditional love.  You may not be able to embrace your child’s lifestyle or believe it is morally right, but you must, you MUST continue to embrace your child.  That’s your job. No exceptions.
I’m not going to pretend that I know what it feels like to have my child come out. I don’t know what that looks like for me or for you. I don’t know how I may struggle.  I haven’t been there. I may not ever be there, but I do know that if I ever am, my kid will know that I love them. Because I will tell them so. And I will thank them for their trust in me.
I know that my kids already do know that I love them and everything that makes them who they are, and that I always will. No matter what.  And yours should do. I hope yours do too. If they do, you’re doing it right.Or at least that part right.  If they don’t, or you are are not sure they they do, please fix that.  As soon as you can. Please.
Finally, if you identify as LGBT and you are feeling alone in the world, please know that you aren’t. There are so many different people who want you to support you, who understand what you are going through and who know how to help you,  so please never feel alone.  We are all equally worthy of love, dignity and humanity. You are not alone.

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big ugly man doll said...

You. You're doing it right.

Thalia Randall said...

Nice post :) xxx

Jessica said...

The knowledge they can speak to you, about anything....when did you know for certain you were achieving this? I wonder. This is the one quality I always wanted to impress on my children too, but I fear it's not working. My oldest is so reserved and quiet with his emotions, my second is a deliberate and sneaky fibber, and my youngest. Well I don't know yet. I exhaust them with "tell me anything and we'll work through it" mantras all the time, but I still wonder. What am I doing that might be erasing that message? Thanks for this post, it'll refocus me to try, try again.