EMBRACE EDUCATE EMPOWER LOVE
Learn how Connor’s bravery prompted an incredible journey for our family filled with truly terrifying twists, heartwarming turns, and humor throughout that reshaped our entire dynamic, deepened our love for one another, and gave us all the gift of authentic connection.
This is our story. It was originally part of an article published in Better Magazine in October 2018. I updated it for Episode 002 of the podcast in November 2019 and have added to it to keep it recent. It is a summary and intentionally vague.
When Connor came out to us in February 2017, he was 16 years old, While Steve and I were blindsided. we quickly snapped out of our shock and jumped into learning as much as we could and supporting him in every way possible. We learned that he had known since he was 13 that he felt “different.” Also learned that the anxiety that we thought was sports related was really him trying to mask his true identity. We learned that our son, the oldest of four, the high-achiever, and ever the rule follower and people-pleaser, was absolutely brilliant at living two lives.
Between February-October 2017, unbeknownst to us at the time the stakes are raised in this duality, causing his anxiety to skyrocket and his depression to deepen. We realized the therapy he was receiving was barely scratching the surface. While maintaining good grades at school. He began to spiral: self-harming, using substances, and engaging in very dangerous behavior to ease the pain and intensity of his inner struggle. He was disappearing before our eyes, tortured and filled with self-loathing. Terrified and wrought with worry, we naively thought we could love and support him enough to rescue him from his desperate hell. We quickly realized, however, that we needed professional guidance.
After surviving a suicide attempt, we took him to an intensive residential therapeutic program in California. What began as six weeks max turned into 7 months as we transitioned Connor to a therapeutic boarding school in Asheville, North Carolina. While communication broke down between the three of us, a silver lining appeared, revealing a mentor and therapist who also happened to be gay men. While this time was filled with frustration in many ways for all of us, Connor began to accept who he was, allow healing to begin, and learn numerous coping techniques that would prove useful in the coming months and years.
We brought Connor home in June 2018, much to his siblings’ delight. Nervous but cautiously optimistic, Connor, Steve, and I moved forward with the help of a commitment to rebuild trust, adding a gay male therapist and a family therapist to our support team. An early Christmas gift of acceptance into NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering helped all of us move through those months gracefully.
As Connor's high school graduation day grew close, we once again found ourselves in crisis mode. This time we were much better armed with information and competent professionals.
His transition to college was like most freshmen, bumpy and not what he expected, with glimpses of positivity here and there. And, as with all things, Connor likes to learn from his own mistakes, and he likes to go big. Like life-threatening big. When Steve and I visited for parents’ weekend we knew he was struggling, and we made several great communication breakthroughs. Connor shares a ton about this time in our three-part podcast series, so take a listen if you are interested in the details. By the time he came home for the holidays in 2019, I knew he was turning a corner.
Even though Covid hit and he had to come home in March for five months. He continued to do the work, to figure out what lights his soul on fire and who he wants to be in this world. Honing in on his major and actually wanting to succeed academically was just one piece of his puzzle. It has been a truly beautiful process to witness, especially as his mom, and has been so close to every other experience!
I feel it is important to note here (although I will add more in greater detail on the mental health page). That the pandemic has pushed both of my daughters’ mental health struggles to the forefront. Between remote learning, isolation from friends, uncertainty, the loss of their beloved grandfather, and typical teenage development (mental, physical, and spiritual). They have both been hit hard.
Late summer and most of the fall has been spent trying to figure it out. How to best support them – with talk therapy, medication, and understanding and validation from us. It is not easy to be an adolescent, teenager, or young adult right now.
Even with all of this, though, I can say I am grateful. I know that sounds nuts, but I am. We have become closer and stronger as a family. We are all much more aware. We laugh a lot and authentically love each other – unconditionally.
Connor graduated in May 2023 with a degree in Integrated Digital Media from Tandon at NYU. Isabelle is loving her days at the University of Michigan as a mechanical engineering major. Gray is beginning her college decision journey with a dream of on-camera acting. And Rowan is thoroughly loving being an athletic, funny teen boy in a family that has created such a colorful environment for him!
It is lovely to recognize how much we have ALL grown since then. And celebrating it, messiness and all.
My name is Heather Hester, founder of Chrysalis Mama and creator of the podcast, Just Breathe: Parenting your LGBTQ+ Teen.
I am a speaker, corporate consultant, and coach, focusing on:
Ways to support your LGBTQ+ child on their coming out journey
Teaching strategies that allow YOU your own process
The Language of LGBTQIA+ - Never feel foolish or tongue-tied on a conversation again!
How to be a good ally
Redefining compassion and inclusion in capitalism
I was the original vice-chair of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) Parenting Network’s Sub Network: LGBTQIA2+ Family members, Allies, and Advocates, bringing education and awareness to the forefront.
My mission is that NO ONE should feel alone on this journey!
Heather was a passionate and informed speaker on the topic of LGBTQ2S parenting. Heather shares her personal and professional experience through family storytelling and is able to connect to the audience in this candid way. Heather provided thoughtful and supportive feedback to parents’ questions and employees shared positive feedback after her informative session.
~Kallie Jackson, CN PRIDE ERG Co-Chair
Canadian National Railways
I am very happy to know that Heather is available to serve as a resource for parents of LGBTQ+ kids, and really to any parents at all. Everyone talks about being "inclusive", but Heather lives it. Heather is able to accept whatever comes her way and use the power of unconditional love and kindness to turn challenges into gifts. We can all learn a lot from Heather.
~Adam Simon, Executive Director
Odyssey Teen Camp
Heather was the calming voice in a world that was otherwise in upheaval. Heather was there to pick me up (although she didn't know it) and she was the best friend in my head helping me process and get through some difficult stuff. I loved that she gave ME permission to process and mourn my story now that it was being rewritten...Heather gave me the time I needed to get to the next step. Heather didn't judge me. I would download a podcast every morning and listen to ther during my walk. Her voice fixed it for me. Her voice soothed my heartache. Her voice helped me get to the next step of processing and her voice helped me move on. Heather helped me have difficult conversations that were based in kindness. She helped me to breathe. And I love her for that.
~Anonymous and thankful
I was searching for resources to be the best supportive mom I could be to my pre-teen (now teen) and found this amazing podcast! It was just what I needed! I knew I needed some guidance from a parent who had experience through a similar journey and Heather was there with perfect content and even talked with me personally through email. The community Heather has built through this podcast and Facebook page has given me the confidence to not be fearful through this journey but rather to embrace it and encourage my teen to be their authentic self!
~ Lauren Bo21
Heather is real, relatable, thoughtful, educated, and inclusive of every teen parent scenario in her talks. I love being able to hear first hand from someone who has gone through the “Valley of Darkness” and come out the other side a better person, informed, and able to help others right where they are.
Your centered, calming voice and demeanor help me to feel more peaceful. I experience you as therapeutic & your journey gives me more hope that we can love [our son] well. Thank you for giving your life away to me through sharing your story and the guests you interview.
I love your raw, real vulnerability. I am brand new on this journey and stumbled accidentally across your podcast on a road trip. I listened for 8 hours of driving and didn’t want to get to my destination because I wanted more. Using your own journey to help and support other parents is so brave and I am grateful to you and your family. Connor is so fortunate to have you ❤️
I INVITE YOU INTO THE CHRYSALIS WORLD!
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