“Uhh, Mom, there’s something I want to tell you.”
Talking to parents can seem like the most daunting prospect ever – imagine verbalizing your thoughts out loud to them, when all you want to do is run for cover. Your palms feel sweaty, there’s cotton in your mouth, and you might just melt into a puddle on the living room floor. You muster up all the courage you have, and --
“Oh, um. We, ah, need more shampoo.”
You convince yourself they’re better off not knowing.
It’s difficult bringing up sensitive topics like mental health, sexuality, career, with your parents, often because you’re not sure how they’ll react. You worry they may get disappointed in you, mad at you, or worse, they might not even take you seriously. It may even be that your parents themselves are one of the reasons why you’re upset.
Many studies suggest that good communication with your parents could increase your self-esteem and decrease feelings of loneliness, since you would feel closer, more valued, and better understood by them. But you already knew that. There’s still so much of a gap in communication, you might as well be speaking a different language. However, it’s never really too late to learn a new language.
When you’re angry about them, or their behavior: Sometimes their ideas on life and yours just aren’t on the same page. They don’t think about relationships or personal choices the way you do, and trying to talk about it proves to be more frustrating than helpful. Psychologists say that sensitizing parents about today’s youth – their mindset, what drives them, and what they concern themselves with – can eventually make them realize that they don’t need to share their beliefs with you but simply understand that times changes and people do, too. So, if you want to tell them that the way they discipline you makes you feel more of a failure than a confident person, begin by telling them what makes you happy and what motivates you. Help them realize that their way need not be the only way, and in time, they will begin to understand and believe that, too.
When you want to talk to them about your mental health: Telling parents that you’re going through depression or anxiety is not an easy conversation. They might not understand the nature of mental illnesses, and you might ask yourself what’s the point. According to clinical psychologist and adolescent specialist Jerry Weichman, Ph.D., your parents initially don’t need to understand exactly what you’re going through – just let them know that you are struggling, so you can get the help you need. Explain how you’re feeling – if there’s something bothering you, tell them how it’s affecting you. They may deny it completely, or dismiss it as something you can “get over”. Let them know that it happens, it is serious and it’s keeping you from doing the things you want to do. Sometimes, it takes a while for parents to get the message, so don’t be afraid to try again. It also helps if you could tell them and how you want to proceed, what they could do to help you. Be prepared for them to ask you more questions. It might feel uncomfortable but will help in the long run to get the support you need.
When you want to talk to them about your sexuality: It’s okay if the thought of coming out to your parents makes you want to stay in the closet. It may be hard for your heteronormative parents to know how to be the best parent to an LGBTQ+child because they may have had very little (if any) experience with such people in general. You must always think to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. Think about the worst-case scenario – will they be angry?
Shocked? Hostile? Will they shun you from the house and leave you in the wild to fend off the wolves by yourself? Once you think about the worst thing that could happen, understand that you should prepare yourself to deal with it. Create a safe space for you outside the family – could be with a friend, or a teacher, or a distant aunt – someone who can provide you with support, should things hit the fan. Obviously, finding the right time is key. As for actually telling them about it, ease into the topic. According to Lori Gottlieb, writer, and psychotherapist, it is important they know that it doesn’t make you abnormal -- help them understand that your sexuality is not something you can grow out of, but is a part of your identity and that you’ve accepted it yourself and there’s no changing you. There will be a lot of questions, a lot of disbelief and you may need to give them some time. After all, they’re seeing the “good” and planned future they envisioned for you going up in rainbow colored flames. Empathize with them, and provide them with the information that they will eventually need to understand you.
It can be difficult talking to your parents, but developing a comfortable relationship with them will give you support you need at a time you need it the most. You will try and you may err, but like all things, it will take practice and it’s never too late to start.
Blogger at Wysa