Wood's Homes Blog

This Valentine's Day, give the gift of gleam: Shine the light on acceptance for your children to love who they love!

February 14, 2018
By Dr. Angelique Jenney, Wood's Homes Research Chair in Children's Mental Health
This Valentine's Day, give the gift of gleam: Shine the light on acceptance for your children to love who they love!

When I first came to Wood’s Homes, I was shocked to discover the number of children accessing its services simply because of their sexual orientation. Turns out this is a national issue with 25-40% of homeless youth in Canada identifying as LGBTQ2S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or two-spirited). This population is especially vulnerable to homelessness, mental health concerns, substance use and suicide. Learn more here.

Let’s not be mistaken, sexual orientation is not the problem - it’s how these kids are being responded to that is leading to so much heartbreak and personal struggle.  There are actually young people today who are homeless for no other reason than for whom they have chosen to love.   

In a perfect world, our first love is that between parent and child.  We’ve all heard the expression, “you were not yet a gleam in your mother’s/father’s eye” to indicate a desire that is not yet known.  This quickly translates into child development language as children learning about themselves and the world by the simple act of experiencing the ‘gleam in the mother’s eye’ (Kohut, 1971), which tells them that they are worthy of love and acceptance; they can light up the eyes of another. 

Often love is described as belonging to someone who lights up a room, lights up our hearts, lights up our lives –I think these are just variations on the concept of gleam.  It’s not present in every parent-child relationship unfortunately, because there are lots of things that can happen to a person (child abuse, trauma) that can turn off that light in one’s eyes.  But absolutely everyone is searching for it, until they find it.  This is how friendships are made, intimate relationships formed (and sometimes lost), and how lives are lived.   Love it seems, does make our worlds go around.

Now, here is the thing about desires, not yet known . . .  you can’t plan for them.  As Jen O’Ryan sagely points out in her recent post children are beginning to understand who lights them up long before they are in a position to act on those feelings.  Unfortunately for some children, they also understand quite early that if that person is the same gender, this is something they should not be open about.  Of course, times are changing, but for many young people today, society is far ahead of the way in which their own family feels.  Countless stories of familial rejection have been told and continue to be told today. 

Same-sex relationships and rights are not new.  They have been written about, sung about and even legislated.  But that doesn’t stop some parents from struggling with acceptance.

There have been many posts written about how to respond to children when they start to question their sexuality (or even when they are no longer questioning it).  To find out more about all the ways you can support your child check out this article and the excellent Canadian resources it contains.

Today’s post is simply a message of love and a reminder to everyone out there, that rejecting someone for who they love doesn’t make them any less likely to be in love.  It does make them less likely to feel loved and accepted and worthy of the kind of love we all deserve.  It also runs the risk of limiting the gleam in their eyes, which leaves us all with a little less light in the world.