The world as we know it is becoming more diverse and so are families. Working as a pediatric healthcare provider allows us the opportunity to experience family structures beyond the traditional Mom-Dad unit. This may be challenging for some of us who are new to this dynamic. We, as humans, have surely evolved into better understanding beings and perhaps this is possible because many of us have consistently challenged ourselves against our old belief systems. Nations, cultures, and races continue to intertwine giving birth to brilliant new ideas and beautiful people.
Despite this evolutionary process, there remains a community that absorbs the backlash of healthcare discrimination every single day, and that is the LGBTQ+ community. It is therefore our duty as healthcare providers, to deliver culturally sensitive care to all those we meet despite how an individual or family may identify.
We all want to provide the best possible experience for everyone we care for but sometimes we simply do not have the necessary skill set to do so. Let’s discuss three ways to provide affirming care to LGBTQ+ parents of hospitalized children:
Refrain from Assumptions
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community and a certified LGBTQ+ clinical nurse educator, I advise everyone to practice new questioning instead of old assumptions. When we meet families, we may occasionally discover parents with family structures that vary from our upbringing and traditional beliefs.
Instead of assuming, simply ask “what is your relationship to child x?” You may hear:
“I’m/we’re the mom(s)/dad(s), I’m the birth mom, I’m the surrogate mom, I’m the donor dad. We are the chosen dad or parent, etc.” Be open to receiving all types of answers knowing that family structures are ever changing. What is most important is that the child has loving parent(s) and it is our duty to provide excellent care to each of them.
The child could be living with:
- Foster parents
- Parents who utilized a surrogate
- Cisgender male or female couples (gay parents)
- Transgender parents
- Nonbinary parents etc.
It is good practice to communicate with parents bearing in mind that various family dynamics can exist. Further, some children may have been conceived in a heterosexual relationship or one partner may have divorced and later partnered with someone from the LGBTQ+ community.
Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or family structure. LGBTQ+ individuals and families often experience discrimination and bias in healthcare settings, which can lead to negative health outcomes (Darwin and Greenfield, 2023). As a healthcare provider, it is essential to remain non-judgmental and open-minded.
This means avoiding any negative comments or actions that may make the parent or child feel uncomfortable or discriminated against. Instead, approach them with empathy, understanding, and a willingness to learn about their needs and concerns. By doing so, you can create a safe and welcoming environment that promotes inclusiveness and belonging.
Follow the Parents’ Lead
Every family is unique, and it is important to respect the parents’ lead when working with LGBTQ+ families. Research indicates that when healthcare providers follow the lead of LGBTQ+ parents, they can increase trust, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve health outcomes for both parents and children (Kerppola et al., 2019).
Allow the parent to guide the conversation and to share information about their family structure and the child’s needs in a way that feels comfortable for them. For example, if they prefer to be addressed as “Mom” and Dad,” it’s important to honor their wishes and avoid using terms that may be insensitive or confusing.
Additionally, it is crucial to listen to their concerns and to respond in a supportive and non-judgmental manner. By following the parents’ lead, you can help to build trust and establish a strong working relationship with them, which can enhance the child’s healthcare experience overall.
Finally, it is important to educate yourself on the issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community. Reading and sharing an article like this one is a good place to start. If you see or hear something that goes against what you’ve learned, say something. Approach the situation in a loving manner, and don’t just let it slide. It behooves each of us to embrace change and educate ourselves in all areas of our practice. Doing so allows us to be better clinicians which in turn allows us to provide better care. Because as my Mom says, once you know better, you do better.
- Darwin, Z., & Greenfield, M. (2023). Diversity of Family Formation: LGBTQ+ Parents. In Perspectives on Midwifery and Parenthood. Cham: Springer International Publishing.
- Kerppola, J., Halme, N., Perälä, M. L., & Maija‐Pietilä, A. (2019). Parental empowerment—Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer parents’ perceptions of maternity and child healthcare. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 25(5), e12755.
Dr. Shannon Whittington she/her DNP, MSN, CCM, is the author of the bestselling book: LGBTQ+: ABCs For Grownups, as well as Kindergarten For Leaders: 9 Essential Tips For Grownup Success. She is a certified speaker spreading the message of LGBTQ+ Patient-Centered Care, and LGBTQ+ Workplace Inclusion. Her mission in life is to transform how healthcare is delivered to the rainbow community. For bookings contact Dr. Whittington at hello@WhittingtonConsulting.com