While hosting my radio program, “Let’s Talk with Dr. Gail Gross,” I received a phone call from a father who threw his son out of the house when his son came out as gay. The father was crying on the phone, and to get to the heart of the matter, I asked him, “Do you love your son?”
The father opened up immediately and said how much his son meant to him and how fearful he was that his son was now unprotected on the street. He told me that the schism in this relationship left him bereft and broken.
I asked him what his son meant to him and if, in fact, he believed his son could be defined solely by his sexuality. “No, of course not,” he said as he explained how wonderful his son was, how many interests they had in common, and how sorely this father missed his son.
I reminded the father that his son was still his child — a part of himself — and that the role of every parent is to support his child through the individuation process. Meaning that, as a child grows to adulthood, that child discovers who he is, as his inner voice and vocation evolve into his persona and destiny.
Who we are meant to be
Psychologist Carl Jung described this event as individuation: the coming to wholeness of the person we are meant to be – not the person that society, or even our parents, wish us to be, but the authentic us that lives within the core of our being. If a person is forced to live a life that is inauthentic and unnatural to his psyche, it kills the individual spirit and challenges the sense of self. However, if a child is allowed to be who he is, supported by family, that child then has the chance to find his true gifts and develop into a full, authentic adult.
On the other hand, family rejection lowers our children’s self-esteem, and it is from that place of fear, humiliation, and shame that a child may turn to drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and even suicide. The feeling of being an outcast, not fitting in, and letting our parents down is a terrible burden for a young person to carry. When a child declares his or her sexual orientation, the very act carries the unique texture of something difficult and uncomfortable. After all, heterosexual children don’t feel the necessity to declare their sexual orientation.
Support your child’s path as his own
Valuing your child’s choice in coming out, to be himself, and supporting his path, wherever it may lead, is what parenting really is about. It is the wise parent that acknowledges the power and impact of a child’s tender struggle and, no matter what, advocates for that child.
Our children are not our replication, nor are they reflections of us, but rather, their own unique selves. If you can open up to who your child is and love him for that, then this coming-out step, although stressful, can precipitate a far deeper relationship between you and your child. By recognizing your own humanity, you have a great opportunity to confront your own feelings honestly while listening to the deeply emotional challenges of your child. This will allow him to live honestly and find genuine relationships with both himself and others.
During this process, you should remember to have empathy for one another. The child who is coming out is confronting the entire breadth of his history and fear of rejection, not only from family but also from peers. Yet, if family supports him, that child can be liberated. Then all the energy used to suppress who he really is will come back as creative energy so that he can live life more fully as a whole person.
Seek outside guidance
Counseling and psychotherapy are great tools for both you and your child to reach for at this juncture. Counseling can create the supportive environment necessary for the coming out process. A good psychotherapist or counselor can address the questions that challenge you. Until sexual orientation is understood, you as a parent may question your relationship and the home environment that you have fostered. You may grieve the loss of your expectations and the future that you have imagined for yourself and your child.
Therapy will help you recognize that by letting go of that conceptual framework, you have the opportunity to journey with your child into the future of his choice. Life is a collection of memories, and when we let go of the past, we realize that all we really have are the memories we are making now in the present.
Further, support groups are available for parents and children who are in transition. By taking advantage of this, you and your child can connect with others who know how you feel because they, too, live there.
Come together and grow together as a family
As your family talks through this chaos, you come to recognize that sexual orientation is really not a choice and just a small part of who we are as human beings. If a person has been critically damaged in a car wreck and can no longer have sex with their mate, are they still a man or a woman, husband or wife? The answer is yes. We are not our labels; we are the self that resides within. We can’t be described or defined by our sexual orientation.
In the final analysis, by valuing your child and advocating his choice to come out, you move through a phase of emotional instability into the safe space of a mutual and loving family. By being the kind of parent that can be counted on, you legitimize your right as a parent to parent, to always share your feelings, and to be the resource and lifelong support for your progeny.
Life is an adventure — take the journey together.