Written by Lisa Fields
Conversations about gender and sexuality can bring up a lot of different emotions. Anger can be one of them. But it’s important to remember that anger is not a primary emotion, but a secondary one. If you feel anger when you talk about these subjects, it can sometimes be the result of unmet expectations.
When our expectations go unmet, we may experience anger. Of course, we are not limited to that emotion; we can experience sadness, disappointment, betrayal, etc. All these are part of the human experience.
If we are going to have conversations with our children about sexuality and gender, it’s important to understand the emotions that stem from our own expectations of our children. Knowing ourselves and our own expectations before we enter into difficult conversations will set us up to interact more productively. If we are unaware of our expectations, we will be unaware of how, or when, our own disappointment can trigger us. This may produce unfruitful conversations that could cause lasting emotional and/or spiritual damage to our children.
Every parent has hopes and dreams for their children. You may hope for a better life for your children than you’ve had. You may hope they have an easier road. You may hope they have a healthy marriage that lasts. You may hope they graduate from college. You may want them to have children, and that you can have grandchildren. You may hope that they become productive citizens in the world.
You may want them to be fit and healthy. You may want them to love God and follow him. You may want them to attend church. You may want them to become the model student or star athlete you always wanted to be. You may see them as your second chance, an opportunity to right all your wrongs.
You may also want them to identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. You may want them to identify as heterosexual.
Take a moment to honestly reflect on your hopes and dreams for your children, and then answer:
- What hopes and dreams (or expectations) do you have for your kids?
As you think about your expectations for your own children, it may also be helpful to think about the expectations your parents had for you.
- What hopes and dreams did your parents have for you? How did those expectations make you feel as a child?
Being aware of our own expectations and the impact of our parents’ expectations on us will allow us to enter into conversations with more self-awareness and empathy. To be clear, expectations are normal; every relationship has expectations. However, not all expectations are helpful. We cannot fully love who our children are if we are too attached to who we expect them to be. What’s more, our children are not the sum total of our expectations—they were created by God with steps that He has ordered for them. The plans God has for them may be very different from the expectations we have for them, but God’s plan for them is always best.
Part of the reason we need to be able to honestly name our expectations is so that we can grieve them when they are not met. Part of being able to love who our children are is grieving who we wanted them to be. Allowing ourselves to go through the process of grief will better position us to have better conversations with our children.
- What does grief over unmet expectations look like for you?
One of the emotions that may rise up during conversations about gender and sexuality is fear. Sometimes our fears can be rooted in our own shortcomings around gender and sexuality. What if my child is struggling like I struggled as a child? What if they are experimenting like I experimented? What if they are just like me? These questions can grip the heart of a parent and paralyze them.
If you want your child to be better than you, the idea that your child may be just like you may haunt you. If you are still battling your own shame and guilt, it may be difficult to navigate a conversation about these things with your child. Before you enter into the conversation, take some time to reflect on your own journey around gender and sexuality.
- What was your journey with your gender identity and sexuality? Did you ever have questions about it, or was it easy for you to fit the role that was culturally expected of you?
- How did your parents respond to your journey?
- What do you wish your parents had done differently?
- How do you think God viewed you in the midst of your questions, desires, or early sexual behavior?
Answering these questions honestly should help you create a game plan around your approach when engaging with your children.
Many parents experience a lot of anxiety around the gender and sexuality of their children. They may wonder what it says about them if their child is gay or identifies with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. They may begin to wonder how their church will look at them. Their dreams of grandkids may start to feel unrealistic. Their dream of the wedding they wanted for their child may start to seem impossible. They begin to fear all their hopes for their child may never manifest.
Can you relate?
- What are your fears around your child’s sexuality and gender identity?
Another challenge around children’s gender and sexual identity is their relationship with God. Some parents may begin to question the salvation of their child based on their gender and sexual identity. They may begin to wonder whether their child is destined for heaven or hell. Panic may grip their heart at the idea of their child not spending eternity in heaven with them.
Has that thought ever crossed your mind?
- Are we concerned about our child’s relationship with God because of their gender or sexual identity, or have we always had this concern?
- Are you more concerned with your child’s sexuality or salvation?
As you answer these questions, we pray that they help you become more aware of your own emotions and expectations around your children, and that you are better able to engage this conversation with grace, empathy, love and truth.