My partner and I have an 8-year-old daughter. She has just recently told a couple of her friends that we are lesbians. Our daughter is very active in school functions: cheerleading, softball and dance. I am going to help coach her cheerleading squad this fall. The coach and a couple of parents are aware that we are gay and have no problem with it.
But kids can be cruel. What is the best advice we can give her on how to handle any teasing that may happen since she is starting to “out” us? We have tried role-playing with her on some things, but is that enough? We don’t want to tell her “not to tell” because we don’t want her to ever feel ashamed or feel like it is some dirty little secret that cannot be spoken of outside of the home.
It sounds like things are going well, but of course, no one can ensure that a child will never encounter homophobic teasing or confrontations. At the same time, your child need not live in fear of being confronted by hostility around every corner. Role-playing is a wonderful strategy, because it prepares your child with the words and steps she might take to prevent bad situations from escalating. Just knowing that she has some skills built up ahead of time will help you, your partner and your daughter feel safer. It would also be helpful to identify certain adults in the school building who she can talk to when and if she needs support.
There is a difference between keeping your family a secret and talking to your child about using discretion when coming out. She should know that if there is ever a situation where she does not feel safe being open about her family, making an on-the-spot decision to not come out would not hurt or betray her parents.
Many LGBT parents tell their children that it is the person who is teasing –not the person who is being teased — who has the problem. While this is true, I think it’s also important for parents to acknowledge that even so, it doesn’t mean that teasing never hurts. When parents are so quick to say, “Ignore it. That’s their problem,” kids might be less likely to come to their parents if they are feeling down about teasing or harassment. They need to know their feelings won’t be dismissed when they are open with their parents.
Keep in mind that your daughter’s comfort level with being out will probably change as she gets older. Many children who were very out about their families when they were eight or ten begin to get quieter about it as they reach middle school. Later, depending on the school environment, children might be totally out — and in very visible ways by 11th or 12th grade.
However your daughter handles the situation as she matures, try not to take any of her hesitant behavior personally — it’s not about you. Enjoy this stage now while your daughter is happy with you being so involved in her life. There will be times down the road when your daughter will think you and your partner are the most un-cool people ever. That, however, will have nothing to do with your sexuality, and everything to do with your daughter being a teenager.
(I had no idea that third grade cheerleading squads existed. Best of luck with coaching!)