So I've Come Out to My Christian Parents... Now What? Things to Remember About Yourself as an Adult Child

1. It is not your job to avoid hurting your parents' feelings.

Though our kids (I will call them kids, but they are all adults now) do their best to be respectful, as they would in any relationship, often they have difficult things they need to say to me. They need to tell me how I have hurt them, annoyed them, neglected them in some way, or made them feel unimportant. Sometimes they express these feelings beautifully, and sometimes it comes out in a rush, and it is very messy. Either way is OK. I am their mom, and it is my job to hear them, however they communicate. If my feelings are hurt, that is between me and God. If they have truly said something that was mean or spiteful, I can bring that up, but my first priority is to truly listen, mirror them and ask forgiveness if necessary. (It usually is.) If I don't respond well, it is not their fault or their responsibility.

2. It is not your job to avoid causing your parents pain.

Actually, pain is a good thing for us as parents. It causes us to look inside, examine our own hearts, and really grow as individuals. When Ryan came out to us, it was an enormous gift. At the time, my relationship with God had grown rather stale, but after he came out, it was anything but. Thanks to Ryan's honesty, both my husband and I have been challenged to stretch and change, and we are better for it.

3. It is not your responsibility to protect your parents from trauma or illness.

Many of you are afraid, or have been told, that your sexuality will cause your parents a serious health crisis. When Ryan came out to us, I threw up for days. I lost weight, and I was already thin. I didn't sleep. But the truth is this: That was not Ryan's fault. It was mine. It was about my fear, my ignorance, my lack of faith, my inability to trust God to love Ryan more than I do.

4. It is not your job to make your parents happy by being a "good" daughter or a "good" son.

Nobody can make anyone else happy, but you can almost kill yourself trying, as I know all too well. If my happiness depends on the choices that one of our children makes, then I am in big trouble. Not only will that not work (they'll never keep me happy), but it will push our kids away from us faster than I can say the word "happiness." Our kids have to know that they are free to make any choices, follow any dream, disagree completely with us as parents, and even disconnect from us completely, and that we will still love them just because they breathe. Our happiness cannot be based on them; it must be based on our own lives, our own connection with God, our own marriage, our own friendships.

5. It is OK to tell your parents what you wish your relationship with them could look like.

If you express to your parents your desire that they really know you and love you, that is what our family calls "leaning in" to the relationship, moving toward them because you love and value them. As you know, parents aren't mind readers. If you'd like them to ask about whom you are dating, let them know that you'd love that, when they are ready. If you'd like them to treat you just like they treat your straight siblings, tell them that. It always works great to start these kinds of statements with phrases like, "It would mean a great deal to me if...," or, "One thing that would speak love to me is...," or, "You are very important to me. I want to be close to you. It would help me be closer to you if...."

Just remember that what you desire cannot be an expectation. It can't be something you demand, because you don't control your parents (as you well know). But do tell them what you need. This has been one of the greatest gifts our adult children have given to us.

6. The best thing you can do for your parents -- and for yourself -- is to separate from them.

Become your own person, not dependent on their approval or their favor. In the end, this will result in a better, realer relationship with them, if they desire.

When Ryan returned to our lives, he was an adult gay man who had walked away from his faith. He had made choices that were very different from ours, but they were his. He was completely honest about those choices, both the good ones and the bad ones. Our new relationship was built upon mutual respect, complete honesty and joint willingness to admit wrongs and ask for forgiveness. There was a clear acknowledgement that he wasn't asking us to dig him out of the legal, financial and moral holes he'd found himself in any more than we were asking him to help us feel "good about ourselves" as parents. This new relationship was pure gift. It was authentic and open and delightful. There were no assumed expectations, and Rob, Ryan and I each had complete freedom to be ourselves, and love flourished.

Note: If your parents are among those who are plain cruel and vicious and therefore toxic to your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health, you may have to separate completely. Too many of you have had to draw very hard boundaries in order to protect yourselves, just as you would in any abusive relationship. If your parents aren't willing to learn, to be teachable, to admit that they can be wrong, and if they continue to break the boundaries you've set, then for their good and your own safety, please do not continue to subject yourself to harm.