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.
Updated December 2020
This is our story. It was originally part of an article published in Better Magazine in October 2018. I updated it to read in Episode 002 of my podcast in November 2019 and have added to it to keep it recent. It is definitely 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 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. After a major jaw surgery and being 30 pounds lighter, we realized the therapy he was receiving was barely scratching the surface. While maintaining good grades at school. He began to spiral: self-harming, smoking pot, drinking, vaping, and engaging in very dangerous behavior with the help of Grindr 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 two days later. What began as six weeks max turned into 7 months as we were advised that Connor was not ready to be at home – just days before Christmas 2017. We quickly researched and tapped the brains of professionals around us and decided on a therapeutic boarding school in Asheville, North Carolina. While communication broke down between the three of us, and Steve and I struggled to connect with the therapist, a silver lining appeared, revealing a mentor and therapist who also happened to be gay men. While these 5 months were 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. A gay male therapist, and a family therapist. When he turned 18 in mid-July. We began to loosen the reigns on some of the agreed-upon rules and allow him to reintegrate socially for his senior year. College applications, and acceptance on a highly competitive community service board at his high school. And an early Christmas gift of acceptance into NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering helped all of us move through those months gracefully with only minor setbacks – relatively speaking, of course.
As 2019 grew warmer, Connor shared that he was dating someone. Knowing that this man was likely 10+ years older, we asked that he proceed with caution. With fewer than 6 months until he left for college, our job became more to prepare him for the real world than to protect him from it. When you have a kid who will sneak out of his window in the middle of the night, encouraging safe behavior, transparency, and adherence to curfew are the few tools left.
And then, in a matter of a few days, it all changed. First, a car accident in which he totaled our kids’ car. Then, three days later, while grounded, I received an accidental call at 5 am. Fuming and terrified, Steve and I learned that the boyfriend had broken up with him. So sending him into a horrific downward spiral of depression that relied only on the maladaptive coping skills of drugs, lies, and sex.
Once again in crisis mode, but much better armed with information and competent professionals. We managed to get him excused from the rest of the school year with the ability to graduate. And then got him into an outpatient addiction program with a brilliant psychiatrist.
Once again centered and focused on the goal of attending NYU, Connor finished the program and moved through the remainder of the summer.
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. Also are better communicators. We laugh a lot and authentically love each other – unconditionally.
It will be four years in February 2021 since our journey began in earnest. 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 and workshop presenter, 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 and teach your children to be good allies
I am also the vice-chair of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) Parenting Network’s Sub Network: LGBTQIA2+ Family members, Allies, and Advocates.
My mission is that NO ONE should feel alone at any point on this journey!
LOVE THIS PODCAST!! 🙌🏼🌈
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, Apple Podcast
I have loved and admired you and your family for over 30 years now. But the honor I have always felt to call you a friend truly quadrupled yesterday after listening to your podcasts. Every word was true and authentic, and real, and beautiful-even those that made me cry to the point where I had to pause for a bit before continuing.
I know the last few years have been pure hell. Yet somehow you, Steve, and your kids somehow managed to navigate it with grace, dignity, love, vulnerability, and acceptance. I am in awe of each of you...you are showing the world how beautiful life can be if we find a way to embrace it and breathe. Thanks to all of you for sharing your story and resources-it WILL make a difference for so many others.
~ S. Geidner
When I was Connor's age, I don't think Ellen DeGeneres was out yet. The world has changed so much since that time. I'm glad I'm alive to see it. I find myself cheering on parents like Heather who are willing to step out of their own comfort zone and reputations to stand by LGBTQ children and love us - out loud! This is such an important show [the podcast]. BIG LOVE for this courageous family in the Midwest! Yay YOU!
~ J. SluMac
Powerful, profound, so needed... What a breath of fresh air this show [the podcast] is. So many LGBTQ people, especially youth, struggle with the devastating impact of faith-based family rejection. Parents are searching for a better way. A way to love their LGBTQ child without compromising their faith. It takes opening what box you have God in - thank you for helping people do that! What a gift this podcast is!
~ R. Cottrell
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 ❤️
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.
This podcast will help you feel safe - calm and loving
This podcast is truly something everyone needs in the coming out journey. Listen in for a reassuring dose of Heather's loving expertise!
~ CandyMot, Apple Podcasts
This podcast was unbelievably helpful. The frank discussion and honesty -completely helped me begin my journey with my son and I have shared this podcast with everyone in our family Truly look forward to more episodes.
~ Blueflip via Podchaser
Amazing!!! This is so incredibly well done and your thoughtful approach is undoubtedly helping tons of families. What you’re doing truly matters! Your son is lucky to have you and vice versa ;)! Thank you for sharing w us!
~ NickPe13, Apple Podcasts
Helped so much!! I have learned so much and feel so much less alone after listening! Thanks so much!!
~ TSwynacht, Apple Podcasts
Must-Listen! This podcast is a must-listen for those wanting to learn how to best help the LGBTQ teen or young adult in their life. Heather is a thoughtful host who offers great information and support. Such a great podcast with great information!
~ DrMMcNally, Apple Podcasts
Thank you. Exactly what this momma needed.
~ zbkai189, Apple Podcasts
Right on ... so needed. 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.
~ MrsWeiselNMS, Apple Podcast
Eager to get into this. Thank you for clarifying that it's not just for parents. I think anyone involved in raising a child even if that's just part of an extended support community should have access to these resources.
~ Cameron Jones, Castbox
Attn Parents! Listen, absorb, learn, and breathe thru this podcast. So helpful us (child and parents) as we go thru this journey together.
~ Mom or them!, Apple Podcasts
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