Theo blogs at The Neon God They Made.
Some background for consideration: I am a homeschool graduate, now in college. I identify (right now) as queer and trans*. I no longer practice my parents’ religion, but I grew up in a conservative-evangelical Christian community. Certain aspects of that culture have not only made it difficult for me to understand and accept myself, but also deeply harmed my relationship with my parents.
I realize that Christian/homeschooling parents may not be eager to take parenting advice from someone like me, someone who turned out very differently than my own parents expected and hoped I would, but — my parents did their best to give me a Christian education. To raise me to serve Jesus.
I became who I am anyway, in spite of their efforts to control my future. I hope that parents in this culture can try hard to listen to the stories my peers are bravely sharing, so we can work together to build healthier, respectful relationships.
Speaking as a member of the LGBT community, a child of evangelical Christians, and a homeschool grad, the best advice I can give parents struggling to come to terms with their child’s differentness is to listen without condemning. Even if it goes against what you’ve been taught. If you want to maintain a relationship with your kid, you’re going to have to learn how to let go of your expectations for them. They’re going to be who they are anyway, with or without your acceptance.
This is in no way an exhaustive list of things you can do as a Christian/homeschooling parent to actively support LGBT youth in general and your kids specifically, however they identify — just a few things that would have dramatically improved my self-image and my relationship with my parents.
(1) Create an environment of approachability.
Employ positive parenting techniques so we can learn how to be confident and capable from a young age. If you teach us to conform or else, you’re teaching us to shut ourselves off from you in order to protect ourselves from what we perceive to be a real threat, regardless of your actual intentions. Our relationship with you will suffer, and we may also suffer long-term emotional consequences.
(2) When you tell us that you love us “no matter what,’’ prove it.
Don’t undermine our trust by simultaneously expressing hateful views of others. If we catch you lining up at Chik-Fil-A to protest federal protection of LGBT employees or cracking transphobic jokes, we will determine that your love for us is very conditional indeed.
(3) If you want to raise us with a knowledge of Christianity, do some research into textual criticism.
Catch up on the latest theological scholarship. Educate yourself so you can distinguish between what’s good and helpful, and what’s overly simplistic, lacking in nuance, or downright harmful. If this is uncomfortable for you, remember that many Christians — in fact, entire denominations — have found that being open to new information has led to a richer, more vibrant faith.
(4) If attending church is important to you, make sure our church home is a loving, accepting community, in theology, theory, and practice.
If it’s not consistently encouraging you to love more, if it’s sending mixed messages or advocates a systemic hierarchy wherein queer people are “rightly” treated as subpar humans, even in subtle ways, it’s not a safe community for us.
(5) Thoroughly research Christian textbooks before you purchase them.
Don’t blindly accept curricula just because it has “godly” and “biblical” stamped all over the cover. (This might require you to confront other assumptions, like theories of origins or structures of society.) Unfortunately, many of the big names in Christian-homeschool publishing are pushing a very specific political agenda that does kids a big disservice by discouraging and suppressing critical thinking skills.
(6) Treat other LGBT people in your life with kindness and respect.
Make our home a safe zone for our queer friends. Stand up for us. When we’re bullied, when we’re discriminated against, when “authority” figures in our world act with arrogance and hate. Be proactive in supporting political policy, at all levels of government, that seeks to protect LGBT people from discrimination and hate crimes.
(7) Don’t interpret any point of divergence as a personal attack.
We love you, but we are not you, just as you differ from your own parents. Everyone has the right to express themselves and make their own life choices. If we grow into happy, healthy, functioning adults, you should see that as a sign of success! You’ve done your job well.
Thanks for posting this! One particular section really stood out to me:
“If you teach us to conform or else, you’re teaching us to shut ourselves off from you in order to protect ourselves from what we perceive to be a real threat, regardless of your actual intentions. Our relationship with you will suffer, and we may also suffer long-term emotional consequences.”
I can totally relate to this. I remember as a kid asking some innocent question about some verses in 1 Samuel that described Goliath’s armor and spear. My thought as a kid was, “If his armor was so heavy, how could he move?” I asked my parents if that passage was really true.
Of course, they responded less than favorably… “Don’t you ever question what the Bible says!” I soon learned that it’s better to suck it up and do what they want rather than rock the boat.
Since I’m straight, I never had to “come out” to my parents. But I can’t imagine I would have been greeted with unconditional love. Quite the opposite, actually.
Ha, yeah. What a great way to pass on a love of learning. And how counterintuitive, if your goal is to instill your faith and values in that child. (Although that’s a whole other issue..)
From what I have been reading here and elsewhere, it seems that by isolating their children as well as training children to fear the big bad world out there and especially those who are different from themselves that parents are setting their children up to eventually reject every thing they teach as false once they learn that the world and the people in it isn’t as scary and fearsome as they were taught.
You don’t have to agree with some ones lifestyle to treat them with courtesy and respect. It seems that if parents spent more time on exposing their children to others who are different from them and in non judgmental way explaining why they may not agree with them (and I don’t mean explaining by way of quoting tons of Scripture) but just talking and listening that the children would learn to have
compassionate hearts, showing kindness, humility, meekness, and patience and not looking down and judging others.
EXACTLY. My friends and I have all faced ridicule and condemnation for various choices we’ve made outside the “safe” structure our parents and church built for us, but the people outside that system have been very kind, understanding, and generous. It’s the ones inside that have reacted with such venom, and it gets..really old.
Of course, if you raised your kids that way from a young age, they’d grow up learning to respect others and make more accurate distinctions, and they’d probably be more likely to demand respect themselves. UPPITY.
“If you want to maintain a relationship with your kid, you’re going to have to learn how to let go of your expectations for them. They’re going to be who they are anyway, with or without your acceptance.”
I grew up in a relatively mild fundamentalist home, and never had to make such a huge break as you did. However, that quote isn’t true just about the big things like sexuality – it’s true about what seem like relatively minor issues that become HUGE to the parents because of those expectations.
Completely agree. I’ve seen families practically torn apart because of relatively minor differences and parents’ inability to accept their child’s individuation. It seems to be part of a larger cultural perspective that sees children as possessions, rather than their own people.
ok I did not even finish reading this. (I am though) I feel so passionate about this…..
“Certain aspects of that culture have not only made it difficult for me to understand and accept myself, but also deeply harmed my relationship with my parents.”
….” listen without condemning. Even if it goes against what you’ve been taught.”
I am a Christian. I may not be a very “good” one according to a lot of people…. Whatever. The whole principle of Christianity is LOVE….. so what if “gay” is sin… so what if “lust” is a sin…. the whole foundation of our faith is love… The Bible states God is Love…. It also states that through Christ your sins are forgiven…. According to our faith no one is perfect. That is the point of forgiveness That is why we must accept one another as we are. ok NOW I am going to finish reading.
I don’t think the problem is “love” here at all. It’s in how you APPLY that love. Love applied wrongly feels worse than actual hate. I would recommend reading the blog Love, Joy, Feminism’s series, “So You Say You Don’t Hate Gay People…” for an interesting and insightful piece about “love” misapplied.
You forgot one:
8) Make homeschooling illegal and remove all children from any parent who believes this is a viable option. By placing adequate, viable and measurable education above some idiotic idea that the “queers, homos, commies, liberals, and Obama” are out to convert your children is tantamount, no, IS child abuse.