When most parents start their journey, they have a vision for their kids, often even before those kids exit the womb. A lot of these visions are based on their personal desires combined their own personal experiences. Often, a custom near--replica is imagined, bearing the best physical and character traits of each parent. Often, traditional cis-het normative images flow dreamingly through a parent's headspace. Parents envision their daughter's wedding day; mother's helping pick out her dress, father's walking her down the aisle. They envision their son's baseball games, and future Letterman jackets. As kids come into the world and grow, we envision preferred paths and maybe even future grandchildren.
Abandon your visions. The absolute best thing you can do for your kids is abandon your hopes and dreams for them—save one. That ONE vision you should have for your kids is happiness‚ whatever that looks like for them. Many parents still have gender biases and expectations based on gender stereotypes and it takes a conscious decision to obliterate something so deeply rooted. I've seen parents devastated that their little girl hated dresses and all things deemed feminine. I've seen parents genuinely disappointed that their little boy hated sports and would rather do something they have zero interest in. I've seen parents literally force their children into interests because it's what they envisioned for them. Putting your child's happiness first means letting them lead the way in discovering who they are. And this means letting go of those envisioned details you conjured, because even though you are their parent(s), this essentially has nothing to do with you. So let them take the lead. Let them be. Even if that means your girls hate dresses and all things feminine. Even if that means your boys want nothing to do with sports or other stereotyped expressions of masculinity. Even if that means they want to take a career path furthest from what you think they should do. Even if that means they have no desire for romantic relationships or offspring. These little people are just that, people. They have their own personalities, their own path, their own thoughts and desires. They deserve their own autonomy.
Sometimes our kids grow in a direction we never anticipated—against the grain of societal norms. Our boys embrace what's traditionally feminine, and our girls want nothing to do with the pink, frills, and princesses. Or they identify somewhere under the LGBTQ+ rainbow, or they're goth, or emo, or they just express themselves in a way that's totally beyond your understanding. If/when that happens: Let them be. Even if you don't really "get it," embrace who they are and let them express themselves in the ways that best express who they are—who THEY feel they are. If they identify anywhere under the LGBTQ+ rainbow, don't just embrace and accept them, but also EDUCATE yourself and your child about their identity, and about the community. You may not fully realize it, but ACCEPTANCE SAVES LIVES. When you don't accept your kids for who they are, you are rejecting them. Your first instinct would be to deny this, but rejection is what it is, pure and simple. Rejection has consequences, including but not limited to:
declining academic performance
"But it's SO hard." Yes, it can be. Most paradigm shifts are, and it can take some time for your brain to rewire conditioned thinking. And we have ALL been conditioned with gender biases and what's considered to be socially normal and accepted. It can be hard to wrap your head around your little boy who wants to wear dresses, or your pre-teen who's "gone goth." We worry for them.
But, if your accept your child wholly and without condition, your love for them will help that shift go a bit easier. Maybe not "easy," but easier. They're support groups of every kind (some online, some in person)—as a parent, you are likely never alone in your experience. Find the support you need. If you don't accept your kids wholly and without condition (and yes, that does happen), you'll need to take a deep, honest look at why you're having such a challenge with acceptance.
"It's just a phase."
I distinctly remember expressing at some point in either near teen or early teen years that I liked girls. I overheard adults say "it's just a phase." Actually, I heard that whenever I expressed ANYTHING that went in a different direction of the current societal norms. Including my "hippy phase," my "emo phase", and any time I had an interest I was obsessed with. Well...I'm over 40, still a hippy, still emo, and many of my interests from 30+ years ago either worked themselves into careers, or continue to be something of interest—and I still like women. My point is: If it specifically has to do with LGBTQ+—it likely isn't a phase. Most LGBTQ+ folks know that they are not heterosexual or/and cisgender from as early as the age of 3. If your child expresses they are not heterosexual or/and cisgender—the absolute best thing you can do is let them know you accept them, love them, and let them be.
(Additionally, you might want to find some LGBTQ+ youth support groups for both your child and yourself.)
"But I just don't get it!"/"I don't understand"/"I can't relate" Truth is, you don't have to get it—whatever it is. You don't have to fully understand. And you don't have to relate—though in most cases you actually can. But you can educate yourself about whatever it is. You can read books. You can join support groups. You can respectfully ask questions. Don't dismiss it because you don't get it. Raising kids is hard. Harder in some ways than others, but it's mostly hard because there's often a constant pushing against one another. They want to do what they want to do, but it's our jobs as parents to guide them and keep them safe. Often they want to jump head first off the cliff and push against us because we won't let them. I get that. They want to be who they want to be, and get pushback from us—but this is where we can flow with them, allowing them to safely discover who they are. This freedom of discovery, when done correctly, only builds greater trust and solidifies the bond we have with our kids. So, guide them, protect them, accept them, support them, nourish them, let them be, and they will be amazing.