“My teenage daughter just came out to my husband and me, and we couldn’t be more supportive! However, her aunt (my sister) has been very silent on the subject. My sister and I are very close, and I’m struggling with keeping a connection with her and supporting my daughter. How can I make everyone happy?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Polly Kim
I am so happy that you and your husband are so supportive of your daughter. Your unconditional love will help her have the strength and confidence to face everyone else’s reactions, including your sister’s. Your enthusiastic support of your daughter makes you role models of how to be allies to the LGBTQIA community. Hopefully that will help your sister come around and become an outspoken ally as well. If you are honest and open with her and can resolve this issue of her silence on the subject, you and your sister might even become closer as you share the journey together.
It sounds like it has been a short time since your daughter came out, and your sister is only silent on that subject in particular, not giving you the complete silent treatment. So I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt in my guesses as to why she is being silent, and you probably should, too, unless you already know more about her reasons. She might not know her silence is making you feel bad. Let her know you want to talk about it, and tell her how you feel.
Maybe your sister just needs some time to think, to process, to adjust. As a mom, you may have had clues about your daughter’s sexuality, but maybe it came to her out of left field. She may have been surprised and caught off guard. In time, she may become the cool aunt who wears rainbows and drives your daughter to Pride, but for now, she may just not be ready to talk about it. Be patient with her. She may be totally accepting of LGBTQIA people, but now that it’s her own niece, she’s in a bit of shock. She may still see your daughter as the baby she remembers, and isn’t ready to think about her sexuality. Tell your sister that even though her image of your daughter has suddenly changed, she’s the same girl – your sister just knows something more about her now, and supporting your daughter can bring them closer.
Maybe your sister doesn’t know what to say, or doesn’t know if she should say anything. Maybe she thinks not talking about it shows that it’s no big deal to her, that there’s no reason to bring it up. You can bring it up naturally in conversation. Ask her for support in telling your other family members. Ask her for advice about parenting and about your daughter’s relationships. Show your sister that you still need her and that you value her input.
She may want to talk to you about it but not know how. She may have questions but not want to sound silly or ignorant. She may think asking for more details about your daughter would be intrusive or rude. She may feel it’s not her place to talk about it. Tell her you want to talk even if it’s awkward. You’re sisters – you can talk about anything. Help her educate herself about LGBTQIA issues. Forward her articles and share Facebook posts, take her to PFLAG meetings and show her resources on their website. She is going through a journey too and needs support.
She may be afraid of saying the wrong thing and scaring you or disappointing you. If she’s not happy for your daughter, she might feel you will judge her or think she’s homophobic. She might be worried about your daughter facing discrimination or violence. Let her know you have concerns for your daughter, too. Invite your sister to join you in activism and advocacy for LGBTQIA rights.
Your sister might be experiencing cognitive dissonance – stress and discomfort from holding two contradictory beliefs. She may believe homosexuality is wrong, but she knows your daughter is a good person. She may be avoiding situations that would add to the conflict. She may be confused about how to reconcile her religion’s teachings with her love for your daughter. Luckily, there are many open and affirming faith communities where there is no conflict, and LGBTQIA members are welcome. If the issue is religion, talk to your sister about her faith and help her find a welcoming community.
You expressed the desire to make everyone happy, and to keep a close connection with your sister while supporting your daughter. Hopefully, you won’t have to choose one at the expense of the other. Be honest. Tell your sister how you feel about her silence and ask her why she is avoiding the issue. Hopefully it is one of the more benign possibilities I mentioned and it can be resolved. If it turns out that your sister can’t accept your daughter and you can’t convince her, then you face a more difficult problem. You may be able to maintain a relationship with your sister by ignoring the subject to keep the peace, but this may be hurtful to your daughter. Be sure to explain to your daughter that you love and support her, and her sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of or hide.
Polly Kim is the mother of 20-year-old twins, including a daughter who came out at age 15. Polly joined PFLAG Los Angeles soon after and is now a board member. She has been a science teacher for over 25 years, teaching high school biology, elementary school science, and high school science research.
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