Sara MacKay had a moment of panic the day her 12-year-old daughter asked about a pajama party with another little girl.
MacKay remembered the rules surrounding having friends when she was growing up, but this was a new territory. About a year earlier, his daughter had left him a note: "I am bisexual."
"I did not want to inhibit my son from sleeping innocently with his friends," MacKay said at his home in Pictou County, N.S.
"It's a different thinking process that you have to go through and I had very little information to work on in terms of how to have conversations around the boundaries."
MacKay is a full-time student at St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, N.S., and through a psychology course, she found a study that resonated. He described how parents of children who identify with LGBTQ had anxieties about giving their children accurate information and monitoring their relationships.
Everything seemed familiar.
"I totally embrace who my daughter is and what her identity is, and then I was really worried that if I made a decision without thinking about it I would be creating a sense of shame in her as if she had something to hide or feel And it is nothing it is totally my lack of knowledge and understanding. "
MacKay wrote an article on the subject which, with the help of his teacher Karen Blair, was published in Psychology Today blog
Realizing that other parents with LGBTQ children have similar concerns about access to information, MacKay was motivated to propose hosting a group in their home from January.
Parents need a space to be uncomfortable and ask questions about their children, she said. The prospect of pregnancy, an old fear tactic to discourage sex, may also not apply.
"It's strange for any parent to talk to their child about sex, but when you do not have the experience that your child is likely to have, it becomes a combination of something awkward and almost fear-based because you do not want to give him imprecision information" , she said.
"I do not want to limit her at all in her understanding of what is healthy and what is safe and what is pleasurable, heaven forbid," she said with a laugh.
Parents' questions about support for their children's sexuality and identity are frequent at the Pictou County Sexual Health Center, according to executive director Vania MacMillan.
"They are worried that they can not protect their children when they are not around, when they are in school or even walking down the street," she said.
Parents also want to know how to talk to their children, but are worried about saying the wrong thing or offending them. Some have doubts about sexuality and gender. Others worry about what their friends and co-workers might think.
Children also communicate frequently to express how their parents seem embarrassed or do not feel comfortable talking to them about issues related to sexuality.
"One of the most common phrases is I do not understand." Or "I do not understand." We can all empathize to some degree, but it is difficult to relate to or understand something that you have never experienced. relate, understand or know everything to be able to support someone, "she said. "It's about the child … his sexuality, his gender, his happiness and his life."
This winter, the center is running a program called PhotoVoice for 10 parents and young people. MacMillan said that while the focus is on photography, it is also a way for people to learn about self-expression. Sessions can include invited speakers – from everything from hormone therapy to anti-bullying.
Be prepared to help them survive & # 39;
MacMillan said living in rural areas could pose particular challenges for families because there are fewer resources, a less visible community and more stigma on LGBTQ issues.
But she said it is crucial that parents take steps to ensure they can support their children – as they are statistically more likely to face bullying, mental health problems and school challenges.
"We're not just talking about loving them or saying that it's okay to be gay, it's a lot more than that.Your LGBTQ child will face many more challenges than a heterosexual child with transsexual sex. help them survive. It sounds like a strong word, but it's real. "
She advised parents to look for resources online and initiate conversations at a young age to open discussions about gender and sexuality long before contemplating sexual activity.
"Be there and let them know they will always have a safe place to turn," said MacMillan, adding that her organization is "very proud" of MacKay's efforts to share information with parents.
"She is willing to open herself and her home to people who need support and we encourage her … I hope we can work together to do some things in the community."
The support group has not yet started, but MacKay said he is overwhelmed with responses from friends, neighbors and people living in the area.
MacKay said that when the pajama party arrived, she allowed her daughter to go after them, talking about what they were comfortable with. Confronting her own prejudices and expanding her understanding of sexual identity has changed the way she parents, she said.
"In fact, you're teaching me about my own understanding of how to navigate sex and give me a fresh perspective on healthy and enjoyable sex."
As for the advice, MacKay said that one of the most exciting pieces he received was from a friend LGTBQ who left when he was older. He said that parents should tell their children that they love them – without the proviso of "no matter what."
"Saying no matter what it makes it seem like your child is something that needs to be forgiven. But it's not in my opinion, it's just who my son is … I just say" I love you ", he said MacKay.