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A mum has opened up about accidentally outing her child during a routine search through her child’s phone messages.
She said recently her youngest child had been acting out, so she asked to look through her phone. But the 12-year-old was “very hesitant” to hand it over.
When she eventually did, the parent swiftly realised why. “I forced her to hand it over and I saw a conversation between her and one of her female friends. In that conversation her friend asked her if she has feelings for her and my daughter responded yes,” said the parent.
“The conversation continues and the friend asked my daughter if she’d be her girlfriend and my daughter said yes.”
She then asked her daughter whether she had feelings for her friend, and her child started crying and admitted she did.
“I basically forced my daughter to come out and I feel TERRIBLE that those were the circumstances that had her tell me,” continued the parent in a post on Reddit.
She said she wished she could “turn back time to that moment and not ask” and added that she also told her daughter that she loves her and supports her, but still feels bad about the situation, saying: “I screwed up and it’s killing me.”
What to do in this situation
Therapists recognise that this is a difficult situation to be in for both the parent and child.
“There are no right or wrong answers with how to deal with these type of situations and it’s dependent on so many personal and environmental contexts that is out of anyone’s control in any specific moment and time,” says Counselling Directory member Tina Chummun.
“What is important to remember is how we work through what can be described as a ‘rupture’ within any of our relationships. As a parent, she did the right thing to advise both her children of the boundaries they are to maintain with having mobile phones at the start, and then the parents enforcing them when it’s needed which is what she did.
“It’s the communication surrounding this that needs to continue and in the context of her daughter having had to come out.”
Keep the lines of communication open
Chummun, a psychotherapist and trauma specialist, advises the mum to have “regular honest and open conversations with her daughter” going forward.
The first one might be about admitting how terrible she feels with how the situation turned out, which meant her daughter had to come out to her.
“The mother will need to explain the reasons for checking the mobile phone and relate it back to her being concerned as a parent for her daughter’s wellbeing especially as she had noticed how her daughter’s behaviour had changed,” says the therapist.
“The mother should continue to have regular conversations with her daughter where she reinforces to her that she will always love and accept her for who she is and that there isn’t anything she can do that would mean she would be loved any less.”
Work on building trust
The therapist also advises parents in this position to work on building more emotional safety and trust with their children.
“This can be done through spending more time together, asking questions to find out more about her daughter and her relationship, checking in with her regularly to see how she is feeling and how things are going with her new relationship, reassuring her that her parents will always be there for her to support her no matter what, doing things like creative activities that they both enjoy and also by doing reading and writing exercises which will promote more honest and open communications between the two,” says Chummun.
Counselling Directory member Leanne Barrett, a psychotherapist who works with young children and adults, advises the parent to ask open-ended questions that invite her child to share her thoughts, feelings and needs.
She might want to ask: how can I best support you right now as you navigate this part of your life? What do you need from me to feel safe and comfortable discussing your feelings?
“Supporting a young person in coming out involves creating a safe and accepting environment,” she adds. “Listen without judgement, validate their feelings, and let them share at their own pace. Encourage open communication about their feelings, educate yourself about their identity, and offer unconditional love and support.”
Help the child to be in control in other instances when they decide to come out
Therapist Laura Wood-Holden says: “The fact that this parent feels guilt shows that their child is loved and that the parent’s remorse is because they truly want their child to be supported and happy.”
As the parent clearly knows the importance of their child’s autonomy on disclosure of their sexual orientation, the therapist suggests perhaps she could support her child to be in control of other instances of when they decide to come out – for example, to other family members.
And hopefully the parent’s guilt will ease up over time. Wood-Holden concludes: “The parent gave unconditional love and support to the daughter which was the best thing they could have done in those circumstances.”