If you read my last blog post titled, Hard Pill to Swallow, you noticed it was more philosophical in nature. It spoke of certain misconceptions Christian parents may have around their role as parent. If it was a bit challenging or hit a nerve, it was suppose to. We do not grow without being constructively challenged now and then. I know that my dreams and fears for my children often get in the way of their own flourishing. Through my personal transformational work and my work as a parent coach, I have come to know that our best parenting strategy is to surrender our children to God daily and then choose to joyfully walk alongside them as they journey towards self discovery one success and failure at a time. We must get out of the way and trust God to do His work in their life. Okay…let’s move on and get practical.
This blog outlines specific tips for how to be a loving, accepting and safe parent to your LGBTQ child. Research suggests that parental support, acceptance, and closeness are essential for adolescent well-being and healthy development. Although most parents know this and long to be these kind of parents, this can be challenging when our children’s behaviors and choices conflict with our deeply held religious convictions. Dr. Janelle Hallman, long time friend of Where Grace Abounds and founder of Desert Hope Ministries, believes the key to sustaining or (re)building a healthy heart-centered connection with an LGBTQ child is to offer them unconditional love and “radical acceptance”.
Many faith-based parents are deeply challenged by the idea of radical acceptance. They may feel that radically accepting their child’s same-sex attraction would dishonor their faith convictions and communicate the wrong message to their child. However radically accepting your child’s same-sex attraction/identity or gender variance does not mean that you must celebrate it or feel joy over it. The truth is that today, right now, your child has these feelings. No amount of denial or resistance will change that.
Radical acceptance means that you will choose to accept them just as they are right now. It means accepting what is. It is surrendering what you envisioned their path would be and entering their reality as it is being experienced now. This posture holds incredible power and freedom. When we feel unconditionally loved and accepted just as we are right now, we no longer need to defend our feelings or fight for understanding. We become free to experience God’s movement in our lives resulting in personal healing and growth. Along with Dr. Hallman’s teaching on radical acceptance, she has developed some practical guidelines that help parents become safe places for their children to navigate their sexual and gender experiences.
Guideline 1 – Delight in them
While remaining true and authentic, enjoy your children. Prior to their coming out there were many qualities and characteristics that you loved about your kids. Remember those and find ways to show your delight in them and offer blessing over them. Dr Hallman states, “They are made in the image of God and should be celebrated for their unique and special giftings and blessedness that comprise their true self.”
Guideline 2: Become their student
If you do not have SSA or gender dysphoria then you will never fully know what it is like to be in the shoes of a person who does. Your children are your best guides to what this experience is like. Allow curiosity to be your driving force. Allow them to teach you by asking questions about their lives. What is their world like? What are their fears and concerns? Do they need something? How can we help or be a support? What are their beliefs about God? What do they struggle with? By asking questions we honor their lived experience and help restore their human dignity.
Guideline 3: Stop speaking carelessly
Because we are human and this subject matter is uncharted territory, we are bound to make mistakes and say things that cause added pain for our children. While having grace for ourselves in this process, we must also take great responsibility over our well-meaning words, suggestions, questions, and guidance. It is critical parents understand how their words are being heard by their child. Dr. Hallman states, “If our words could be misconstrued as judgmental, insensitive, or unloving, then we are not ready to speak”. This goes back to taking the position of student and allowing them to guide our speech in this subject. In learning to become safe people for your child it is best to speak less and listen more.
Guideline 4: Resign from being God’s “moral cop”
Ohhh this is a hard one and why I purposely left it to the end. For many of you, Godly parenting has centered around teaching your children right from wrong and instilling your Christian morals and values deep in their bones. Let me first start with saying that this is good and admirable. However when those values and morals get in the way of loving and connecting with your children, it becomes a hinderance. Most children who have grown up in the church know what you believe about gender and sexuality. They also know what the bible has to say about each. It is not helpful to continue reiterating those messages. To simply lecture about what is right or wrong not only blocks the parental connection but more importantly their connection to God. As Dr. Hallman put it “very few of us have reached a state of perfection that would justify our attention being more focused on another’s struggle with sin rather than our own.”
We must all be our own moral cops and leave the conviction and judging to God. As stated by Billy Graham, “It is the spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and our job to love.”
C. Paige Smith, M.A., LPCC
Paige Smith has a Masters of Arts in Clinical Mental Health from Denver Seminary and is a Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate in the State of Colorado. As part of her studies, Paige was an intern at Where Grace Abounds. She is passionate about understanding and knowing individuals as biological, psychological, social, and spiritual beings. She believes that these factors are always interacting with one another and each needs consideration when seeking optimal health. From this perspective, she works to help her clients understand their complex nature and experience holistic healing. Paige strives to create a warm and inviting space for all of her clients through acceptance, authenticity, and support. Her desire to walk alongside those hurting is evident through her caring and understanding presence.