Saturday, January 29, 2011

Coming out to the Kids

I think many people would agree that the very worst kind of kid to raise is a rebellious teenager. Fortunately, I don't have one of those. I may have the second worst kind, however. I have a sassy, snotty middle school girl. You know the type. They are often found in packs at shopping malls, over-dressed and full of attitude.

My daughter is 11 which means she has not yet arrived at the ultimate prima-dona age of 13 or 14. But anyone who talks to her for a few minutes can see what may be coming. Often she's a joy but sometimes she's just a bratty pain-in-the-ass.

You may recall that my wife and I decided to keep the kids in the dark about our split, at least for a while. The idea was to give them time to adjust to Gabbie's regular absence as she divided her time between her new place and home. You may also recall that the kids learned of our plan when Rose, the sometimes bratty 11 year old, eavesdropped on a very heated phone call between Gabbie and her mother. I didn't witness the eavesdropping first hand so when I learned what had happened I wrongly assumed that the reason Rose picked up the phone was because she wanted to know what Gabbie was yelling about. Wrong. The reason Rose picked up the phone was to call me. She wanted to complain about how Gabbie had cut the cable bill by eliminating a slate of channels.

Ah, complaining. One of the life skills my daughter has already expertly mastered.

You may also recall that after Gabbie and I confirmed with the kids that we are splitting up, they all were unhappy that we had planned to hide the truth from them for a while. Their concerns were echoed by quite a few readers here who commented and said, in essence, "Don't lie to the kids!"

Don't lie to the kids?

Well that puts me in an awkward situation, doesn't it? That actually puts every gay or bisexual person with kids in an awkward situation. Don't lie to them? Ever?

The fact that the kids don't want to be lied to either would seem to make for a very obvious answer to the question of whether I should come out to the kids now or later.

But wait a minute...

Isn't it human nature to always want to be told the truth? There aren't many circumstances where most people, in all earnestness, wish to be lied to.

So when my kids said, "We don't want to be lied to," isn't that a natural, reflective action? Or is it a commandment every parent should live by?

I expect that many people would argue that talking about anything related to sex before a child is of an age to understand sexual attraction is not appropriate. They're too young. Because children mature differently it's probably not wise to set a hard and fast rule about the age where sex-related conversations should begin. However, in public schools sex education can begin in the fourth grade when some kids are as young as nine. Does this mean every closeted person should come out to their kids before the kids turn 11? Or 12?

Maybe it does. But I'm not sure.

As a parent of three imperfect children I see things differently. I see an often bratty 11 year old. I see a sullen, somewhat reclusive 13 year old. I see a 17 year old, who, despite his good nature, still has a long way to go before he consistently makes good decisions. In other words, I see a clash between the idea of always being truthful and the reality that kids are not adults. Kids are often motivated by the simplest of emotions. They can have poor filters and they generally find it impossible to resist any chance for instant gratification, regardless of what the long-term consequences might be.

Kids don't want to be lied to, but do they really have the emotional and intellectual maturity to handle an unsettling truth?

I think the answer all depends. It depends on the truth, it depends on the circumstances and it depends on the kid. Also, I think it's way easier for a 20-something to look back and tell a parent they should have come out sooner than they did. They've survived adolescence and have already forgotten the daily anguish of their early teen years. Kids are trying to find themselves at that age. They're often engaged in multiple levels of emotional and social turmoil every day. Add a divorce AND a gay parent and it could be very overwhelming.

My experience with kids is that they are very resilient. Mostly, they are able to quickly adapt to change. It's when they don't adapt that life-long problems can develop: the parent who walked out, the move that ruined their life, the death in the family that permanently affected them. As a parent, I feel like I must protect my children from too much change. Yes, most of the time they will be able to cope, but isn't it better to be safe than sorry? Is waiting a year or two to come out to them really that detrimental?

At the moment, I don't find the idea of being honest reason enough to come out to my kids. If was leaving my wife then I'd feel it was important to explain my behavior and make it clear that my wife was not to blame. That's not the case. If I was dating a guy and he was already an important part of my life, then I might want to explain our relationship. At this time, there is no such guy.

There will be a day when I come out to my kids. That day will probably come sooner rather than later. For now, I am not convinced that their desire not to be lied to requires me to come out to them. I'm going to take the chance that they won't hold the delay of a year or two against me.

6 comments:

  1. Hey Cameron - I agree with you on a lot of what you say. Had your openly pursuing a man led to the separation crisis that would be one thing, The truth is, Gabbie's attraction to another man is the first big truth, and that is the one to figure out how to explain. I think the next biggest one is she really is willing to cast all aside for a jerk because she has her own ambivalence about being a nurturing Mom. Her big secret that she does not really want to be a mother is a much bigger one than your orientation in my opinion, and of course the kind of thing you never tell a child. So really it is up to you and her to soften that blow. You are right that only if and when this divorce is over and you ease out there, then you might need to say to them something about your dating and that does not have to focus on the sex, but it will have to be about Daddy has some likes he never had a chance to explore before and this was not the reason you and Mommy separated, but now that things have changed we are all needing to adjust to being even more able to talk about how we feel and what we want and who we are. This is coming out lame, but the point is, they don't want lied to about stuff that affects them in the now - and the now is the marriage that is ending. There will be future nows for you to explain later

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  2. You know, lying doesn't mean telling everything. There are boundaries.

    My parents learned when I was very young not to lie to me, and also not to pull the "because I said so" line.

    To me, "not lying" doesn't mean coming out to them point-blank. But it does mean that, if one of them asks if you're gay, they deserve the truth. It means that saying "your mother and I are having problems" is legitimate, and if they follow up with "what kinds of problems" a legitimate answer is "Problems she and I have to work on before we discuss them with you."

    So, no, I'm not advocating that you come out - that's your decision. But I am advocating that you always tell them the truth or at the very least tell them that you aren't going to tell them. Especially with a divorce, you need to maintain trust in the relationship. If one kid point-blank asks if you're gay and you say "no" only to come out later (or, luck of lucks, they find out some other way), you've blown any trust you had.

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  3. I do not envy your position one bit. I never had kids, but I was one. My parents divorced when I was about 11, and I remember it being a big secret. I found out from my teacher at school! The secrets only made me feel more embarrassed about the whole situation. I believe that the more honest and open you can be with your kids, the less anguish you will inflict on them in the long run. I know it will be difficult. Maybe if you tried to have some one on one time with each one and tell them separately. It is important to do it sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the more shame they will feel. And that is one thing you have the capacity to alleviate.

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  4. I agree with Austin that you didn't lie, you just didn't tell the kids everything, in this case that you and your wife might split up. But I also agree with Skipper that you shouldn't hide something from your kids for too long. Kids are smart - they probably sense that something is up. My parents lied to me about something when I was seven, and I didn't realize at the time that they were lying, just that they were acting strangely.

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  5. Hey - I'm kinda "humming"...as I just came out to my own two kids in November as a part of my ongoing divorce...the basic premise we've had & been confirmed by councelors & professionals we've consulted is - don't lie - EVER, but its also ok to "dole" things out slowly - so as everyone (Kids included) have time to process each piece of information and there resulting impact on them. At the day - the kids want to basically know "what does this mean to me" - "hows my life going to change"....they are more concerned that they will not be required to choose between mum & dad, or feel like other or the other parent is at fault. In my case being gay was the easiest way for my kids to understand why my wife & I have to split up - but also why both of us can still be best friends....only tell them when you can honestly answer their questions, starting what does it mean to them, who's living where...who's mum & dad seeing or not...when they can expect certain changes....& then take them into a counciling session. After we told our kids, we had them spend the weekend with just us & they saw they we all still get along just fine - there's a lot of peace - do it when you & Gabby are in a good place....Nick, Fort Wayne, IN

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  6. Hi Cameron, I haven't commented here in a while. There's really nothing I can add to the good and thoughtful advice you have already received from other readers, but I do want you to know I'm rooting for you as you find your way through all this.

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