What is The Parenting Loop?
I wanted to be a better parent then my parents and it never occurred to me that my children would at times end up parenting me, this is what I call The Parenting Loop. It is when you find your children parenting you in the loving ways you have parented them. It is a gift.
When I came out (later in life) I thought I was ruining everyone’s lives. I felt like I was traumatizing my children, but in retrospect, I can see now how underwhelming my “coming out” was to their lives. Divorce was a much bigger hurdle but even that was manageable in our case. What I know now that I could not know then was that by me being open about my own sexual orientation and choosing to live my life completely openly, gave each of my children the opportunity to examine the chains of their own socialization. I have been amazed at how each has blossomed as a result of me living openly. It was like turning over a key to the secret box and giving them permission to look inside.
The only way to free my children from the oppressive side of socialization was to first free myself by living openly and push up against the cultural expectations of my generation rather than continue to be blinded by it.
Nothing I do or think about children, youth, families or communities are not serious for me. Relationships are my business and care deeply when people are hurt by social injustice, misguided education and especially ignorance.
As a parent, I have learned from my children that while bullying and threats to our children’s safety are still a reality, especially here in the Central Valley of California, there is also a completely different mindset regarding diversity among the majority of adolescents today compared to my generation. I am reassured and optimistic that by the time our children become the majority in the workforce and the voting demographics many of the equality issues that are in the forefront of politics, culture, and religion today will be more balanced and less of an issue for our grandchildren. My children and their friends continually surprise me with the way they accept, appreciate, and embrace diversity. I am learning from my children that many of the fears that I have as a result of my personal experiences and socialization do not need to be passed on to them. Our world is changing and our children are leading the way. As a parent of six children in this next generation, I have to keep my own fears in perspective as I warn my children about the dangers they may face in the world. In addition to imparting my worldly wisdom upon them, I also have to listen to the wisdom that they have to offer me.
Another thing that it is imperative that we understand as parents is that things we may consider “mistakes” for our children, in actuality may not be mistakes at all. Sometimes we can see, as a result of our wisdom and experience, how their actions will result in unfortunate consequences. But sometimes we are wrong. Because we approach the world from our personal frame of reference, based on our own socialization and value system that has been deeply ingrained in us, we fail to recognize that the next generation has a value system and a perspective that is often different from ours. While there are times when our wisdom can be a valuable asset to our children, there are also times when we would be wise to learn from them.
The one thing I know without question is that our neurobiological system, the brain, powerfully trumps the pressure from the environment to “just be straight.” Understanding that no one has the POWER to make someone gay or make someone straight relieves the pressure to try and allows parents to “just love” their beautiful children for who they are regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The most important job I have ever had in my life has been being a parent. It has brought me the most joy, the most fear, the most sadness and stretched my emotional sense of self to the ultimate extremes. There is nothing harder than being a parent and even though we talk of parenting as this fabulous experience because we love our children so much, really we are often scared to death of hurting them, of doing something irreparably “wrong.” Sometimes the worst mistakes we make as parents are errors that come out of our indescribable love for our children and our desire to protect them from pain.
So, although our ultimate goal is to raise responsible, competent, happy people, we are often terrified to allow them to develop into the unique individuals that they are supposed to become. Their attempts to separate from us worry us and sometimes hurt our feelings, and yet we know that it is an important step in healthy adolescent development. We know this from our own painful experience of separating from our parents, but somehow, as parents ourselves, we can lose sight of the process for what it is – a critical developmental stage – and we get caught up in our obsession with being a perfect parent. The ultimate accomplishment of parenting is letting our children grow into the individuals they are supposed to become without taking it personally.
Parents on this issue, you have a free pass. You choose; love or loss, passion or pain, advocacy or ambivalence. LGBTQ+ Youth deserve the most precious allies, their parents’ on their side.