Heidi Stevens: A reminder to give our kids the space to dream big about their one precious life -- including who they'll love

Heidi Stevens, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

When I was 20 years old, the summer after my junior year of college, I interned in Washington, D.C., at The Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit that works to protect press freedom for high school and college journalists.

I learned a lot about First Amendment law. I learned a lot about public transportation. I learned that people who aren’t from the Midwest (the other interns) make fun of people who are from the Midwest (me) for saying “You wanna come with?” (“Come with who…” It was a whole thing.)

I learned to start taking mental notes about what I wanted my one precious life to include.

One night a few of the interns went to see Sarah McLachlan perform at Merriweather Post Pavilion, an amphitheater in Columbia, Maryland, where we sat in the lawn and sang our melodramatic hearts out and one of the law student interns cried because she was recovering from a tough breakup and I thought: This. This is the stuff I want in my life.

Crowds. Music. Starry nights. Friends. People I can laugh with and sing with, but also people I can cry with because that probably means we’re telling each other the truth and sometimes the truth makes you cry.

Other stuff would fill in the margins eventually, I figured. But those things sounded like a good core.

This month, 29 summers later, I went to see Sarah McLachlan perform at Huntington Bank Pavilion, an amphitheater on Chicago’s Northerly Island, where eight friends and I sat on folding chairs and sang our melodramatic hearts out and I’m not sure if anyone cried. (It was dark.) If one of us did, the tears might have been from watching our kids navigate friend drama or losing a parent or recovering from a health scare or recovering from a tough breakup or any of the other stuff that came up before or after or during the show.

Life stuff. True stuff.

McLachlan talked about her daughters, now 17 and 22, from the stage. She sang a new song, “Gravity,” which she wrote, she said, about coming to terms with some of the conflict and heartache that tag along with the good stuff when you’re parenting. She sang this line again and again: “I won’t give up on you.”

And that got me thinking that of all the gifts we can give our kids, maybe the greatest one is the space and time and permission to think about what they want their one precious life to include.

Not what they think it’s supposed to include. Not what we want it to include. Not what it will need to include on the margins so they can pay their bills.

What they want at the core.


Accompanied, of course, with our reminder, again and again: I won’t give up on you.

I think it’s an especially meaningful, I’d even say critical, gift to think about during Pride Month, which, despite being a 55-year-old tradition at this point, continues to bewilder and divide us.

Target recently announced it will keep Pride apparel out of about half of its stores this month after customers hurled threats at employees and destroyed LGBTQ merchandise during Pride Month last year. NFL kicker Harrison Butker’s tradwife-touting commencement address included a dig at “the deadly sins sort of Pride that has an entire month dedicated to it.” Book bans on LGBTQ titles and authors have been on the rise since 2022, and a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills— at least 510 — were introduced across the United States in 2023, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

It’s a tricky time and a hostile place to be a kid whose tender heart falls for someone of the same sex. A supportive home can make a huge difference. Research continuously finds that LGBTQ youth with high levels of family acceptance have better mental and physical health outcomes and a lower suicide risk.

And yet. More than 70% of LGBTQ youth experience some degree of parental rejection, according to National Library of Medicine research.

I think we can do better.

I think we can make the world safer and happier and healthier and more inclusive for anyone brave enough to engage their heart, when it’s so much easier to keep it under wraps.

I think we can do more to help young people—ours and other people’s—know that who they love is central to who they are, central to what they want their one precious life to include, and we see that love as something to celebrate. Not legislate. Not eliminate. Not tolerate. Celebrate.

I think that’s part of the deal when we are gifted with kids—to love them exactly the way they are. That goes for our LGBTQ kids and our straight kids and our kids whose paths look just like we'd mapped out in our minds and our kids whose paths look like nothing we could've conjured.

And then I think we get to watch in wonder as they take that love and multiply it in all kinds of beautiful ways. In their one precious life. And that’s their gift, maybe, back to us.

©2024 Tribune News Service. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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