Communicating With Your Children
Whatever you need to talk to your children about, you are probably worried about how they will react and how it will affect them long term. The most important thing to children will be your relationship with them. If you are able to reinforce that you will always love them and be there for them, they are more likely to be open to talking about issues.
The Australian parenting website Raising Children Network has excellent resources about communicating and maintaining positive relationships with children through various ages which can help you think about how you are going to talk to your children.
If you are wondering how to talk to your children about how you conceived them or about why your family is different to the ones they see on television or in the community, you may like the additional support of books and other resources aimed at helping LGBTIQ parents do this. Generally, this kind of conversation is an ongoing one as the children grow and develop deeper understanding about their family and the world around them. It is useful to be aware of opportunities for discussing diversity which will inevitably pop up in daily life. Noticing that some families include a grandparent, or only one parent or other step or blended variations, debunks the myth that families are only a mummy, a daddy and their biological children. Additionally, encouraging your day-care centre, kindy, pre-school or school to promote family diversity using resources such as these will provide your child with more positive reinforcement that their family is just as valid as any other.
If you want to break some news to your children about yourself, then a more planned, specific conversation may be the place to start. In general, children are more accepting of sexuality and gender diversity than adults, because their ideas are less defined than an adult’s. Of course, this does vary widely depending on the environment they have been exposed to as they are developing their ideas about the world. In the lead up to any conversation you may have, noticing diversity around you might help to open children’s eyes to things that are often unnoticed. When you have ‘the conversation’ you will need to focus on explaining ideas to them in simple language that is tailored to their developmental level and be open to questions and ongoing discussion about the issue. Your children may react very strongly and become very emotional or angry, or they may barely react at all in the short term, but they will need to have open lines of communication with you and their other parent/s and caregivers about the issue.
Try to discuss your issue, whether it be coming out as trans*, lesbian or gay, or the fact that you have a new girlfriend/boyfriend, with the child’s other parent and come to a calm agreement about how you will talk about it with the child. This is not always easy, but you both need to try to remain focussed on what is best for the children when dealing with difficult issues. Even if you are both uncertain of what the future holds, you need to emphasise in an age appropriate way that you will always be a family and you will always care about each other and support each other.
Relationships Australia has excellent resources to help you talk to children about separation. Unfortunately for adults who come to the realisation that they are one or more of the LGBTIQ spectrum later in life, relationship breakdown and/or separation is often a part of the process. You may need to explain your situation as a part of this conversation however it is important to remember to focus on what matters most to the child; your ongoing desire and ability to love them, care for them, play soccer, ride bikes or whatever special activity it is that you do together.
Even if there is not a relationship breakdown imminent, coming out to your children can be a difficult process. Here are some ideas to think about before you have the conversation.
- Tell them in a quiet, confidential place, such as your home.
- Make sure you have plenty of time to talk – don’t do it when you know you or they have to be somewhere else, or if there’s a time constraint.
- Be prepared to listen to their feelings and worries.
- Decide exactly what you want to tell them, and how much. They may ask, for example, if you’ve had sex with another woman/man yet; decide in advance how much you want to divulge, so that you are prepared. Also be prepared to accept that they may want to discuss it with other people. If this is an issue, talk about privacy and give them some options as to who they can talk to apart from you.
- Make it clear to them that they can ask questions at any time in the future. Be aware that this will be an ongoing conversation.
- Remember that while you may have had some years to get used to the fact that you are lesbian, gay, trans* or bi or whatever other label you feel comfortable with, it could come as a great shock to them (or it may not, and they may have guessed – either way your confirmation may be shocking for them). So what they say immediately may not be how they feel when the news has been digested.
- They will take the lead from you – if you start crying when you tell them, and are too emotional, they will think that is the response required. Be calm and confident and don’t be apologetic. This isn’t something to be sorry for. You’re telling them you’re gay/lesbian/trans*/bi/etc, not a mass murderer. That said, you can say “I’m sorry if this is a shock” or “I’m sorry you feel that way” if they react badly – but don’t be tempted to just say “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” in a random fashion. Be strong – they’ll need to know that you can handle it.
There are other great sites on the internet which support LGBTIQ people and their children and partners. These are some that we think are particularly helpful
Families Like Mine is a website created by Abigail Garner, daughter of gay dads and author of the book, Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is. The website has lots of information and advice/FAQ sections which are worth reading.
This article in Curve Magazine addresses coming out to your kids as lesbian, trans* and polyamorous.
COLAGE is a fantastic organisation based in the USA that is a national movement of children, youth, and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ) parent/s.
TransFamily is another USA based group that supports trans* people and their families, they have very active email discussion/support groups which can be helpful for people who are isolated.
Gender Identity Research and Education Society give some examples of how you can explain gender transition to both younger and older children. Their support information for families is excellent as well.
A Gender Agenda is a fantastic group in Canberra who ran an amazing social inclusion project for trans* people during 2011. They also run email based support groups for trans* people and their partners.