This is Life, Based on a True Story  

When your kid comes out

It’s a typical weekday evening after work. You’re prepping supper and the news is on in the background.

Your teens are doing homework and playing on their phones in their rooms. As you take a sip of wine, you see your son approach.

He seems fidgety and timid. He can’t quite look you in the eye when he says he needs to talk.

Your mind goes to every awful place it can go to and you shift your focus from dinner prep to him.

He has a hard time saying whatever it is he wants to tell you and he starts telling you a story about some kids at school who were bullying him and his friends.

Your son and his friends are being bullied because one of them is gay. Your son is very indignant that it shouldn’t matter and why can’t kids just mind their own business.

As he looks up to meet your eyes, you see tears in his. Your cool, typical teenager, confident boy is suddenly a small, unsure, scared child desperately seeking approval from you. From anyone.

It’s at that moment you know. Your son is trying to tell you he’s gay.

And he’s hurting.

And he needs to know he has a safe place to land. And he needs you to be that safe place.

But his fear of telling anyone, even you, his most closely guarded secret, has outweighed any logical thoughts for him.

And now it’s come to a point where he needs to be open with those who love him the most.

If this were you: 

  • how would you have reacted?
  • what would you say to your child?
  • what would your body language display?

In this day and age of acceptance, this scenario is becoming one many parents are facing. Maybe you’re one of them.

As a parent, it’s a difficult thing to hear and accept. Simply because we all want what’s best for our kids.

Despite the ever-widening acceptance of our LGBTQ communities, gay people still a harder life. And what parent in their right mind would wish for something to be harder for their children?

The good news is that kids/teens are becoming more open about their sexuality earlier and feeling more secure about telling their inner circles.

While there has been some debate about someone in their teens or younger being too young to know with certainty what their sexual preferences for a lifetime will be, I stand strongly behind the belief that it’s not up to parents to make this decision for our kids.

Mostly because it’s not a decision; it’s who they are.

Anyone who identifies as LGBTQ knows that they’re likely going to be subject to a lifetime of judgment and sometimes disdain … but only by those who refuse to understand or open their minds.

So if they know this, why would they choose this? Especially as teens or younger.

These are the ages when they’re dying to be like their peers. Why would they want to stand out as different?

So back to my original question: how would you react to your child telling you they’re gay?

Well … I can only draw upon my own experience.

While the scenario I first described is different from how I found out, the emotions behind it and the questions I feared and faced, were all mine.

I chose to love my son for who he is.

He is an amazing, kind, loving, ridiculously smart, funny human being. He chooses to love without condition, accept with abandon, laugh with freedom and genuinely be who he feels he is.

His friends adore him. His family more so. If he had a fan club, there would be too many fans to count.

He is as unique and brave as one can be in this situation. It has made him wiser and more empathetic for anyone in any situation facing adversity.

So how would you react?

My hope is that it would be with a hug … or a high-five.

Thanks for reading.


Parents' worst weekend over

To quote one of my friends, “the worst, most-dreaded weekend of the year for parents of teens is finally done.”

She was referring to COG – a.k.a: Center of Gravity.

I’m not calling out COG itself. If it weren’t COG, it would be something else. Remember Thunderfest? Same thing, different year.

I had to agree with her sentiments about that weekend though.

Both my teens were there that weekend. And although I trust them and do believe they make smart choices and decisions, as a parent, you still worry about their well-being when they’re away from you being, well … teens.

When news of the 17-year old girl who lost her life at COG came out, parents everywhere shared a collective broken heart for her parents and that young lady.

I can’t even imagine having to get that phone call telling me what is every parent’s worst nightmare.

The cynics out there will say we should always know what our kids are up to and it’s a sign of our parenting when our kids experiment or participate in illicit activity.

To a small degree, this is true. But even the best parents will never know everything their kids are up to.

Add to that fact is that kids will stretch the truth or avoid it completely, if it serves their purposes.

Put all of this together and throw in a festival-type atmosphere like Centre of Gravity, and, unfortunately, tragedies will occur.

When people of any age group are together, there’s a mob-mentality way of thinking that takes over.

What seems like a terrible idea with just you and your friend becomes a dare with bragging rights when you throw in another half dozen people.

Adults get sucked into this. So how do we expect teens not to? It’s not something we’re going to fix, so maybe we should learn to manage it better

When I heard both my teens were off to COG for the weekend, I told them both to text me every hour – complete with the threat that if they didn’t, I’d be coming to find them myself.

While they didn’t quite send me the hourly text, they both checked in regularly enough to appease me and keep me off their backs.

Even my daughter, who is 18, respected my request. She made a point of not only checking in, but to assure me that despite there being “bad stuff” all around her, she wanted no part of it.

When my son checked in, he basically said the same thing and assured me he was with his older cousin who was keeping her ever-watchful eye on him.

As adults raising these young people though, perhaps we should also demand more of the organizers of these festivals.

  • The most obvious would be to ensure there are more police and security personnel.
  • Have a "no excuses" policy toward under-age drinking and any sort of drug-related activity.
  • Bag checks should be mandatory at the entry gates.

I took my kids to an amusement park one year, and there were bag checks at the gates to make sure no one brought in outside food and drink.

Why? Because the park wanted to ensure the guests visiting there would only be buying the food and drinks served at the park itself.

And the bag checkers were giving really thorough checks of our bags They dug right in searching for contraband water bottles and snacks. No one argued with this; it was just accepted that this was part of the admission requirements.

If an amusement park can do this every single day, why can’t a three-day festival?

Sure you’ll lose some ticket sales, but the people who are going for the entertainment will still go.

Are young lives “worth” this excessive follow-up? I think so. I think anyone’s life is worth that.

But we need to demand it.

And for the parents of that young girl, my heart still aches for them. My hope is that they find some solace in knowing their daughter's tragedy caused many parents to really talk hard — again, with our teens.

Thanks for reading.

Growing up is hard to do

When I was six years old, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. The thought of writing on a chalkboard all day really appealed to me.

By the time I was 14, I decided I’d rather be a doctor – a neurosurgeon or cardiologist. Then, I found out I’d need to be pretty good at math, science and biology …. That ended that dream.

In high school, I figured being a political scientist would be my profession. I wasn’t sure what they did, but I’d heard Connie Chung talking about it once and thought it sounded like, er, fun.

Again, the reality of the amount of education and history I needed to know scared me off. I was more of a gym and music class scholar.

I finally settled on getting my post-secondary diploma in Radio and Television Arts and Broadcasting … stars in my eyes with the confidence of any 20 year old that I would be the next Katie Couric … except that …

I wasn’t willing or able to leave Edmonton to do my practicum … and for some reason, the major television stations weren’t handing out six o’clock news anchor positions to new grads. Go figure.

And so, I obtained the degree in my course, worked for a couple years in the industry before taking my lumps and becoming a receptionist in a completely unrelated field with regular Monday to Friday work day hours and a somewhat stable salary.

I had many moments of “what if” and “why didn’t I,” but you can’t change what has already passed. So I pretended I was more involved in the media industry than I was, by trying to regale anyone who’d listen with stories about my “many” media escapades.

I guess I never really felt like I’d succeeded at anything 100 per cent in my career life. So the life I’d wanted, I’d create with my recounting of experiences. Everything was true – it just sounded better than the reality that actually took place.

Fast forward 20-some odd years. A couple of kids and spouse later, plus my very fair share of jobs. I managed to get some writing assignments purely through luck and the people I knew.

It’s something I enjoy and like any writer, would like to one day pen that perfect best seller – be it as a columnist or a book author or whatever else would allow me the freedom of working from home and using my actual God-given talent.

I currently have a job that provides me with what I need to survive, including friends, laughter and purpose.

But I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

And apparently, I’m not alone in this thought at my age.

I recently had an intriguing conversation about how millennials don’t plan to, nor do they want to stay at any job for more than five years. They feel there is more to life than the same career for 35 years and want to experience a bit of everything.

The old way of thinking that I grew up with – which is your true measure of success goes part and parcel with your longevity at your job – is being shunned by the up and coming generations.

Wow! Suddenly I’m successful for having so much “experience.” Who knew …

On one hand, I admire the younger generations for being so open-minded and willing to try out whatever they think might make them happy – even if it takes them 20 years.

But on the other hand, I crave the stability and assurance a long-time career brings.

With that said, I still have no idea what it is I would do from now until I retire if I could only choose one thing.

And as stated previously, I’m not alone. The others I was talking to about this were all within my age range plus or minus a few years, and it was startling to all of us to realize it’s a commonly held feeling among our age group.

I now look back and realize how unrealistic it is for many of us to know exactly what our chosen life path is at the age of 19 o 20. Many of us are still living at home with our parents at that age and the biggest decision we had to make was cereal or toast for breakfast.

All said, I kinda have an idea about what I want to do … the execution is just a bit of hurdle. But in the meantime, I’ll just continue to do what I’m doing … it keeps me engaged, challenges me and provides me with a social circle I wouldn’t otherwise have.

And honestly – I don’t know if I’ll ever know exactly what I want to be when  … or if I grow up.

Thanks for reading.


Grads taking over the world

Another year has come to an end – school year that is. 

For the most part, I’ve always loved the end of the school year. I loved the warmer weather, the no-agenda days and most of all, I loved not having to pack lunches every day (pretty sure I speak on behalf of every parent ever on this one!)

This year was different for me though. This was not only the end of the school year for my daughter – it was also the end of the grade school system for her. She graduated Grade 12 this year.

My feelings over this accomplishment are mixed – in a good way.

I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, parent to experience that utter feeling of pride when watching your child stroll across the stage to receive their diploma.

I had the classic teary moment when they called out her name. It really is true that you live your best life through your children.

Until I had my own, I never really “got” that intense feeling of wanting good things to happen for another person as badly as I do for my own offspring.

And so here I am today, writing this column and I’m still basking in the glow that belongs to my girl.

She’s decided to take some time off, work and play for a bit, maybe/hopefully travel and experience a bit of life, then head off to higher education and conquering the world.

Her dad and I have done our jobs. She’s accomplished a lot in her 18 years and she has much to be proud of.

As I was sitting in the auditorium where the grad ceremony was being held, it struck me that every single one of those kids there that night, were now accomplished young adults – each in their own right.

When the principal was speaking, I knew he was trying to impress upon the graduates his wisdom and years of garnered knowledge.

What he didn’t realize was how much he also impressed it upon me. His words held advice we should all heed: 

  • Leave the world a better place than how you found it.
  • Be grateful. Show gratitude in the big, the small and everyday life.
  • Be accountable for your actions.
  • Make mistakes … but learn from them.

As I looked out over the 300 plus graduates (and that was just half of them. The other half of the alphabet had their ceremony earlier), I couldn’t help but nod along at what was being said.

These are the Y2K babies. Remember the whole Y2K thing? It was spoken of with awe and questions. No one knew what a new century would bring … 

Well, these “babies” have grown up – and now we’re all on the cusp of what they decide.

Their real learning starts now as they head out to forge their paths. Courtesy of the internet, this group of up and comers is one of the most worldly and intelligent generations.

I like this generation of kids. Yes, because I have a couple, but also because these guys are going to change the world.

They grew up fast, but we made them. They have more knowledge at this age than my generation has now in our 40s.

They’re open-minded. They’re accepting. They’re entrepreneurial. They’re outspoken. They’re adaptable. But most importantly, they’re themselves.

They’re what every prior generation has strived to be — and they’re nailing it.

Growing up and maturing is weird. You don’t realize how hard it is till you get through it and look back.

So what can we do to ease them into it? Well, nothing really. Their experiences will be theirs to live, their lives theirs to lead.

All we need to do is let them teach us.

Thanks for reading.

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About the Author

Tanya Gunderson has been writing for the heck of it for many years. Her inspiration comes from her kids, their friends and the craziness of life. She takes great pleasure in exposing life for what it really is and has an open-book approach to her writing.

Her formal education and background include a blink-and-you miss-it stint in the radio and television industry, but it gave her an opportunity to write professionally on a few different occasions.

Email: [email protected]



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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