By Jen O’Ryan
Non-supportive people leave scars.
Being a parent is definitely not for the faint of heart. Juggling priorities and family obligations during the holidays are no exception. While commercials and social media show happy, snow-flaked humans running out to help carry things from the car, reality can be quite different. Instead of the cinnamon-infused joy of holiday perfection, parents more likely find themselves employing negotiation tactics that are the envy of UN Peacekeepers—and that’s just getting everyone in the car with shoes on. Bonus if they have their own shoes on.
Holiday gatherings can be exceptionally joyful; a time to connect and relive memories. They can also be littered with emotional hazards, such as politics and turmoil from long-standing disagreements.
Families often ask too much of their queer kids at the holidays, in an attempt to “keep the peace”. It’s easier to ask your child not to talk about their same-sex love interest than to confront backlash from an intolerant relative. Convincing kiddos to “tone it down” around the grandparents? That dims their spark in ways you can’t imagine.
Easier is not the point. Yes, ok, as a parent sometimes it is, but not in this case. Easier is like velcro shoes. Technically less effort invested, and now you’ve added precious seconds to some quality velcro shoe-wearing time. So, who’s really winning here, amirite?
I digress. Asking LGBTQ kids to “blend” in order to keep the peace is damaging in a couple of ways. First, it shifts responsibility away from the bigot. Queer people are all too often held responsible for the actions of others against them.
Prompting LGBTQ kids to “shift” sends them a very powerful message–they are less than and need to hide. It signals that their emotional and mental well-being are less important than maintaining social balance. Making other people comfortable at the expense of their innate sense of self.
Taking this position also makes it difficult for self-advocacy later. Again, think about the longer-term impact of what you ask of them. Adults spend their lives replicating relationships and behavior patterns established in childhood. Making the bully comfortable at your child’s expense is not a situation that lends itself to healthy adulting.
There is a big difference between a long-standing “turkey or ham” debate, and your child’s right to their identity. Misgendering and referring to your kiddo by incorrect pronouns, or mocking them are all incredibly damaging behaviors. However unintentional or well-meaning, non-supportive people leave scars; they create an internal dialogue that your kiddo will play on repeat. Forever.
As parents, we can develop a myopic world-view; solving only for the short-term when patience is scarce. It makes for bad trade-offs at times.
Here are a few tips to help navigate along the way…
1. Pick your battles and don’t take the bait. This is especially true for an LGBTQ kiddo who doesn’t live with you. Understand, while it may feel good to unleash on the bigot, your actions may be putting a child in jeopardy after everyone goes home.
2. Ask what they kiddo needs and how you can support them.
3. Use their pronouns, name, and whatever other indicators are appropriate.
4. Have a plan. Build strategies with the kiddo in advance. Yes, it sounds calculated, but this provides a sense of empowered confidence.
5. As an adult, use your position of privilege to call out others. Take them aside and talk about how damaging their behavior is to the child.
6. Remove your child from the unsupportive situation. Yes, family rifts and estrangement are difficult. This is your kiddo – advocate for them to have a healthy, enthusiastically affirming environment.