Parents struggle to adjust for years when their child comes out as gay, according to a new study.
Researchers discovered that many parents who find out their child is gay, lesbian or bisexual (LGB) are still finding it moderately or "very hard" to adjust two years later.
Those responses are the same, on average, as parents who have recently learned about their child's sexual orientation, which seems to suggest that many parents struggle with adjusting to the news for several years.
Previous studies have suggested that parents who do have trouble adapting are more likely to disapprove or adopt negative attitudes that can put LGB youths at risk of serious mental health problems such depression or suicide.
"Surprisingly, we found that parents who knew about a child's sexual orientation for two years struggled as much as parents who had recently learned the news," said David Huebner, PhD, MPH, associate professor of prevention and community health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health).
"Two years is a very long time in the life of a child who is faced with the stress of a disapproving or rejecting parent."
For the study, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, the research team studied more than 1,200 parents of LGB youth ages 10 to 25.
They asked parents who visited a website with LGB resources to fill out a questionnaire asking "How hard is it for you, knowing that your son or daughter is gay, lesbian or bisexual?"
Parents responded using a five-point scale that ranged from finding it “not at all hard” to “extremely hard.”
The results revealed that parents who had learned about their child's sexual orientation two years ago reported struggling just as much as parents who had been told very recently.
There was no real difference between the levels of difficulty between fathers and mothers or parents of boys and girls, but parents of older youths said they had greater levels of difficulty compared to parents of younger children.
The findings also indicated that parents did gradually find it easier to adjust over time with parents who had known for five years or longer about their child’s sexual orientation reporting the least amount of trouble with the fact that their child is LGB.
The researchers are now suggesting additional research should be carried out to observe how the parent/child relationship changes over the months and years after coming out, so that more support could be offered to families.
"Our results suggest interventions to speed up the adjustment process would help not only the parents but also their children," Huebner said.
"LGB youth with accepting families are more likely to thrive as they enter adulthood."
Additional reporting SWNS