Posted in Articles

Parenting kids who come out

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Navigating a child’s development can be a daunting task for parents. Each child brings unique potential and qualities into the world-and sometimes, parents need help from those in similar situations to understand how best to nurture that child, and help him or her become an integral part of the community.

Hannah*, a Jewish professional from Chicago, is the mom of a young child who is gender non-conforming. “Most little kids who are gender non-conforming are not transgender,” she said. “We’re doing the wait and see approach.”

Joan’s* daughter came out as a lesbian as a young high school student. “We kind of knew,” Joan said. “It’s not really been a hurdle that we had to overcome.”

Hannah and Joan are members of Response Center’s Parent Family Connection, a support and education group for parents and family members of Jewish Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer (LGBTQ) individuals.

“Our monthly support meetings are for parents looking for a safe space to talk about their experiences, questions or concerns,” said Rachel Marro, Response Outreach and Prevention Specialist and PFC facilitator.
“I like that PFC is a specifically Jewish group. We can talk about all this gender stuff within Judaism,” Hannah said.

Parenting a gender non-conforming child can be challenging, she said, especially when it comes to dealing with comments from family members or people at school. “Then there is your own pain and questioning. Where is this from? How do we support our kid?”

“The Response PFC provides a safe, confidential place to voice concerns and to learn about LGBTQ youth issues,” said Debbie Dresner, Response Advisory Committee member and Parent Family Connection Co-Chair.

Now in its second year, the PFC includes parents and grandparents whose family members with gender issues range from as young as five to in their 20s. There is no fee to attend the meetings, and everyone is welcome. Group members can receive additional support through a mentoring program.

“The group gives people the opportunity to slow down, ask questions, reexamine their feelings, and maybe reframe the context from which those feelings come that causes them to have difficulty with a person they love,” said Hollis Russinoff, a Response Board member.

Although her daughter has experienced acceptance from family members, Joan worries about intolerance. While her daughter was walking in their neighborhood, someone called her a “faggot.”

“She said, ‘I’m a girl,’ and moved on,” Joan said. “But, I am always concerned about her safety.”

Hannah hopes her child will become secure and confident, that he will have friends – and that he will find a place within Judaism. “I guess that’s everyone’s concern, but maybe in my case it’s heightened or slightly different because of the high rates of LBGTQ youth who try to commit suicide. A large percentage is bullied. You see the statistics and you worry.”

“The age of someone coming out is getting younger, and there is a growing need for parents and families dealing with this reality to know where to turn,” Dresner said. “Many surf the Internet for information from organizations like PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays), but nothing was out there from a Jewish perspective.”

“I appreciate meeting other [Jewish] parents and just hearing from people in different stages of life and how they’ve approached things. I look forward to the meetings,” Hannah said.

Last fall, PFC partnered with Emanuel Congregation and Congregation Or Chadash, to sponsor a film screening and panel discussion of “Melting Away,” the first Israeli film to depict a family and their transgender teen. Response provides many other LGBTQ-focused programs that include training sessions for working with LGBTQ youth for professionals and parents; Hineini, a workshop that includes a documentary film and discussion focused on LGBTQ Jewish teens; and Summer Alliance, a weekly summer group for LBGTQ high school students and allies.

“Our staff at Response has been through multiple trainings on working with LGBTQ youth, so our counseling services, sexual healthcare clinic and leadership programs like Snowball are fully inclusive,” Marro said.

“There is growing acceptance in Jewish and secular communities. We have come a long way so all children, teens, and young adults can experience much more of their lives in the open,” Dresner said.

“I am so proud of the Jewish community, that we have this resource and support each other in this way,” Hannah said.

For information on Response or the Parent & Family Connection, call (847) 676-0078 or visit the website at

Response is supported in part by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

*Names have been changed.

When a teen comes out to you

“Coming Out” is when a person tells someone else that he or she is gay, lesbian or bisexual. This means that person trusts you enough to be honest. What can you do to support that teen?

  • Let the teen know that you still care for him or her. The main fear for people coming out is that they will be rejected by their family and friends.
  • Do not say, “Are you sure?” When someone comes out, he or she has gone over this question thousands of times in his or her own mind.
  • It’s OK if you feel uncomfortable or upset – but it’s important to separate your own feelings of discomfort from what you convey to the teen.
  • Respect the teen’s confidentiality. Telling others, friends or family must be done on the teen’s schedule.
  • Recognize that this is not something that needs to be reported to parents, clergy or your superiors. It is neither your responsibility nor your right to tell others.
  • Learn about organizations (like Response) and publications that might help provide support to the teen.
  • If someone came out to you and you feel badly about how you handled it, you can go back and try again. It’s never too late.

Source: Keshet of Boston

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 edition of JUF News.

Posted in Columns

Clean room, parental gloom

I remember dreaming of the day that the floor in my son’s room would be visible, that I wouldn’t need a shovel to clear a path in order to set something on his desk.

A week or so ago, a miracle occurred and my dream came true. The stuff is gone. The only problem: the owner of the room is gone as well.

And I find myself missing the mess every time I walk past his room.

I was almost smug, thinking we’d already launched one of our offspring out of the nest and into college, marriage and even parenthood. We had experience – this time would be easier.

We found out that in this case, experience didn’t matter. We found ourselves caught up in the frantic rush to pack, buy a lifetime supply of soap, shampoo, munchies and other necessities, cram everything into one vehicle – then discover we forgot we needed to fit our 6-foot-2-inch kid in the back seat as well.

We spent a long Saturday driving three hours north then hauled everything he owned up EIGHT flights of stairs (he’s on the top floor of his college dorm, of course), shopped for all the stuff we forgot or didn’t have room to pack, hauled that stuff up the stairs, hauled a metal loft kit up the stairs, put the loft kit together after consulting with numerous other confused parents and their college freshman as to how it actually worked (the directions were useless), found a place for everything, hugged our son and then hit the road for a three-hour drive south.

About five minutes after we left, my mommy world came crashing down. That was it – he was on his own for pretty much everything in a new place.

Without me.

Without his dad.

Without his twin brother or big sister.

In my head and in my heart, I saw the blonde, blue-eyed little boy who filled his days by singing, climbing, jumping, drawing and painting and living in an obviously delightful, imaginary world.

Somewhere along the way, that little boy became a young man who had already determined his own path and was stretching his wings.

I know he’s ready to fly, even if I’m not ready for him to go. He’s doing what we raised him to do, to think independently, to chase his dreams, to work hard, to create his own life.

His brother is doing the same thing in his own time, on his own path, not an easy thing for twins who, by their very nature, tend to be lumped together as one unit. He’s exploring the world, going to school and finding his path. He’s still at home, so the nest is not completely empty. But even with him home – he’s almost never home. So it’s pretty quiet at the old homestead. And his room isn’t as messy as it used to be, either.

One of the most difficult things about parenting is letting go and being able to say, “OK. We gave you all we could and taught you what you need to know. Now FLY!” I want to hang on to their last little bits of childhood, but inside I know that would clip their wings.

I’m learning all over again what it’s like to be a young adult, to choose a path and take tentative steps into my own future. It’s exhilarating to watch my own offspring doing it; it’s exhausting – and a little bit sad – to do it myself, because that means life is changing whether I want it to or not.

It makes me look forward to Thanksgiving – because I know the owner of that really clean room will return – and so will the mess.

And I will embrace them both with open arms.


Posted in Columns

Tonka trucks and tears

Cleaning out the garage can be an emotional experience. I spent Sunday afternoon helping my husband sort through the remaining boxes, crates, bags and other stuff that has been piled in the garage since we moved. He thought it would be nice if we could fit a car or two in the garage, since that would be its original purpose.

While he was involved in sort-ing and alphabetizing his tools and electronic equipment, I started pulling things out of my old toybox. Parked at the bottom were four mud-caked Tonka trucks. I set them outside, hooked up the hose and started spraying them with water to loosen the dirt.

Then I started to cry. Really. My brain took that motherly path from gee-I-remember-when-our-boys-were-little to oh-my-gosh-they’re-graduating-from-high-school-this-year. I could see my sons at three or four sitting on the dump truck, hurtling themselves down the driveway. Now they’re both over six feet tall – I doubt they’ll be riding the dump truck any time soon.

Then there was the time we had a septic system dug at our previous home. The guy was in the yard with his backhoe, working steadily to install the maze of pipes. At the same time, my two boys were playing in the front yard with their trucks, carefully digging their own trenches with a miniature backhoe that loaded sand steadily into the dump truck most of the afternoon.

It’s one of those things about parenting. When the kids are little, you can’t wait till they get big. When they’re big, you wonder how that happened so fast. I almost want to turn the clock back, or at least put it on hold so I can savor each moment – although given human nature, I doubt the savoring would last very long. It would be like final act in Thorton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” in which Emily revisits her 12th birthday after she dies. She watches everyone, especially her mother, hurry through life, not thinking, not really taking it in. Finally it is too much, and she returns to her seat in the graveyard, frustrated and disappointed.

I try hard not to hold on to things, so we won’t be buried in endless clutter. But there are some objects that bring up so many memories, I just can’t part with them. I’m not sure whether my boys care if we saved their Tonka trucks or not; however, they will be parked in their plastic bin garage in the basement until someone wants to play with them. My old toybox with its scratched paint and faded circus images will sit and wait. My dad made the box for my sister and I, and every time I look at it I can see the two of us pulling out every toy we owned so we could climb in and sail off on some sort of imaginary adventure. It’s a simple box, but even as it stands empty, I see it as full because of the memories it holds.

Who knew cleaning the garage could become such an emotional experience. All we really wanted was a place to park the cars. Instead, I took a trip through time.