I had a message from a mom on the Late Life Lesbian Facebook page this week, and her story reminded me that I wanted to address the issue of coming out as a lesbian with kids.
This is another unique aspect of coming out later in life–in many cases, we are women who have been in heterosexual marriages and we have children. In today’s current climate, many women stay in their marriages for the sake of their children–either because they think it’s best for their kids or they are worried that they might lose custody of them if they come out and leave their husbands. Luckily, the latter is becoming more rare with marriage equality on the rise, but in some parts of the US and the world, this is still a real obstacle to coming out.
If you do choose to come out to your kids, here are some factors to consider:
- Kids’ ages: As with any topic, the way that you talk about your sexual orientation will vary based on your kids’ ages. With younger kids, it’s best to keep it short, factual, and then wait for their questions. Reassure them that you are the same mommy and that your love for them will not change. With older kids, they may understand more and have more in-depth questions. Or they may be completely silent and need time to process the information first. Respect their space and their process. Let them know that you are available for further conversation later. I have often found that talking on car trips relieves some of the pressure of talking face-to-face with teens about tough topics. Try it and see if it works for you!
- Kids’ reactions: Kids may experience a variety of feelings–relief, sadness, anger, confusion, indifference–and may cycle through them at different times. Again, respect their process and let them know that all those feelings are normal. Keep the lines of communication open and be available when they need to talk. You might also find a good therapist or other trusted adult for them to talk to if needed. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone other than their mom during the process.
- Kids’ friends’ reactions: Let your kids decide how and when they want to let their friends and other people in their lives know about your coming out. In some cases, they may not have a choice, but if it’s possible, let them lead the way. If any of their friends or friends’ families react negatively, you might want to talk to the families to see if you can solve the problem together. If that doesn’t work, you and your child may simply have to let go and hope that the friend and/or her family will come around soon.
- Other family members: First, don’t ask a kid to keep a secret from other family members. It puts the child in an awkward position and it’s a recipe for disaster. With younger kids, I would advise telling everyone else in your family before you tell them. That way, they won’t be in that predicament of possibly blurting this out in front of people who don’t know yet. With older kids, you can explain who knows and what their reactions have been. Again, I would never ask a kid to keep a secret, but they can understand why you don’t talk about it in front of Grandma, for example, since she reacted negatively to the news.
In my case, my kids were 18 and 13 when I came out to them. I kept it direct, factual, and honest. Both of them were amazing and supportive in their own ways, and it was one of the best experiences in my coming out journey.
How did you come out to your kids? Or are you still waiting for the right moment to do this? Can you share any tips for those who are still contemplating this part of their journey? I look forward to hearing from you on this important topic for so many of us late life lesbians!