What might help?
The topic of helping children come to terms with having a gay father is a neglected one. However, one study investigated just this. They interviewed 36 children in order to examine their responses to finding out that their father was gay.
How did they find out that they had a gay father?
The study showed that children found out about their dad’s sexual orientation in a number of different ways. Some children described that they had a general realization over time about their dad’s sexual orientation. Others shared that they weren’t surprised by the news, and some shared that they only realized that their dad was gay when they started to think about their own sexuality. Although each child’s experience was different, six strategies seemed to help them come to terms with the news.
1. Getting to know my dad again
Some children shared that they felt as though they had to get to know their dad again, and this time it involved getting to know him as a gay man. Reforming their relationship with their dad helped minimize their fears about what this new information meant for them. It also helped minimize fears about potential changes to their relationship with their father.
This means that helping your child to get to know your integrated self may help them reform their perception of you. Helping them to get to know aspects about your gay self will help create a sense of continuity in your relationship with them. Sharing aspects about your gay identity may also help them integrate this new information into their understanding of who you are.
Reassuring them of the importance of your parent-child relationship will help them while they adjust to this new information. Spending time with them and helping them to get to “re-know” you may be useful.
2. Talking it through with someone else
The children in this study also shared that talking through the situation with someone else occasionally helped. This might involve talking it through with someone outside of the family unit, such as a counselor or a family friend, or it might involve talking to their mother.
Talking it through can help your child understand the whole story. Talking it through may help your child build a healthy narrative of how their father came to be gay. It may also provide them with the opportunity to ask questions and understand anything that might be troubling them.
3. Preparing your child for the coming out
Preparing your child in some way for the coming out news may help lessen their feelings of shock and disbelief when they first find out that their father is gay. Preparing them may involve using implicit and sometimes nonverbal clues over a period of time before the conversation. Also, reassuring them in the lead-up to the conversation may help. For example, it may be useful to reassure them that no matter what changes in their life you will always love them and you will always be there for them.
4. Handle the discussion well
Letting your child know that you are gay may feel like one of the most difficult things that you will ever do. The fear of what you might lose by coming out can be paralyzing for some. However, many gay fathers who have children from a heterosexual relationship feel a sense of relief after they disclose their sexual orientation to their child. Also, with time, many children come to accept their father’s sexual orientation and all that having a gay father brings.
You know your child best and most dads are well-equipped to work out how their child may handle and process this news. Take time to work out the best way to share this information with your child. This will help you handle the situation well.
It might be useful to find somewhere safe and relatively private for the discussion, and allow time for lots of discussion. Be prepared to answer questions. It may initially feel difficult for you to discuss this with your child but remember that coming out is a process and not an event. It might be that your child will find it too difficult to discuss this with you initially. They may need some time by themselves before they feel able to discuss this news with you or anyone else.
5. Explain that it’s not a choice
Some children may think that you have a choice about being gay and that you can choose to have a gay lifestyle or choose not to have this type of lifestyle. This belief may mean that some children may feel like you are choosing the gay lifestyle over being their father and that you are prioritizing this over being part of their family. Help your child understand that it’s not as simple as choosing to be gay. This may help them understand your need to share this important information with them. It might also help them understand why you are choosing to be honest about your sexual orientation, and why you may need to make some changes.
6. Adjusting to their new identity
Your child may also need time to work through any homophobia that they may have absorbed from society. They may also need to express feelings of loss and grief as they mourn the loss of their childhood family and any idealized image of their father or parents. This means that initially they may make statements that might be hard to for you to hear. They may make statements that are hurtful and prejudiced. Remember that they will most probably need time to adjust to your new identity.
However, this will not be the case for every child. Some children will incorporate this new information into their stride and many may have already worked out for themselves that they have a gay father. Others will have noticed that something was troubling their dad and they may even be concerned about the impact of this situation on you, their siblings and or their mother.
Just like most gay parents, many children will need time to work through their, sometimes, irrational and negative thoughts about homosexuality and they will need time to adjust to their new identity. Remember just like coming out is a process and not an event for the parent, coming to terms with having a gay father is also a process for the children involved.
Tasker F. Barrett H. De Simone F. ‘Coming Out Tales’: Adult Sons and Daughters’ Feelings About Their Gay Father’s Sexual Identity. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 2010;31(4):326-337.