This is my attempt to answer the questions I've been getting from LGBTQ "children" about trying to forge healthy, honest relationships with their conservative Christian (including Catholic) parents. In this blog post, I want to remind you of some things that you are probably going to have to remind yourself of many times as you work through this with your parents, especially if they aren't proving to be as accepting and affirming as you had wished, and even more so if they are downright cruel. I'd like to share with you what I, a 49-year-old woman, am learning in my own life with my adult children, and through a lot of therapy sessions with an incredibly gifted psychologist and spiritual director.
1. It is not your job to avoid hurting your parents' feelings.
Though our kids (I will call them kids, but they are all adults now) do their best to be respectful, as they would in any relationship, often they have difficult things they need to say to me. They need to tell me how I have hurt them, annoyed them, neglected them in some way, or made them feel unimportant. Sometimes they express these feelings beautifully, and sometimes it comes out in a rush, and it is very messy. Either way is OK. I am their mom, and it is my job to hear them, however they communicate. If my feelings are hurt, that is between me and God. If they have truly said something that was mean or spiteful, I can bring that up, but my first priority is to truly listen, mirror them and ask forgiveness if necessary. (It usually is.) If I don't respond well, it is not their fault or their responsibility.
2. It is not your job to avoid causing your parents pain.
Actually, pain is a good thing for us as parents. It causes us to look inside, examine our own hearts, and really grow as individuals. When Ryan came out to us, it was an enormous gift. At the time, my relationship with God had grown rather stale, but after he came out, it was anything but. Thanks to Ryan's honesty, both my husband and I have been challenged to stretch and change, and we are better for it.
3. It is not your responsibility to protect your parents from trauma or illness.
Many of you are afraid, or have been told, that your sexuality will cause your parents a serious health crisis. When Ryan came out to us, I threw up for days. I lost weight, and I was already thin. I didn't sleep. But the truth is this: That was not Ryan's fault. It was mine. It was about my fear, my ignorance, my lack of faith, my inability to trust God to love Ryan more than I do.
4. It is not your job to make your parents happy by being a "good" daughter or a "good" son.
Nobody can make anyone else happy, but you can almost kill yourself trying, as I know all too well. If my happiness depends on the choices that one of our children makes, then I am in big trouble. Not only will that not work (they'll never keep me happy), but it will push our kids away from us faster than I can say the word "happiness." Our kids have to know that they are free to make any choices, follow any dream, disagree completely with us as parents, and even disconnect from us completely, and that we will still love them just because they breathe. Our happiness cannot be based on them; it must be based on our own lives, our own connection with God, our own marriage, our own friendships.
5. It is OK to tell your parents what you wish your relationship with them could look like.
If you express to your parents your desire that they really know you and love you, that is what our family calls "leaning in" to the relationship, moving toward them because you love and value them. As you know, parents aren't mind readers. If you'd like them to ask about whom you are dating, let them know that you'd love that, when they are ready. If you'd like them to treat you just like they treat your straight siblings, tell them that. It always works great to start these kinds of statements with phrases like, "It would mean a great deal to me if...," or, "One thing that would speak love to me is...," or, "You are very important to me. I want to be close to you. It would help me be closer to you if...."
Just remember that what you desire cannot be an expectation. It can't be something you demand, because you don't control your parents (as you well know). But do tell them what you need. This has been one of the greatest gifts our adult children have given to us.
6. The best thing you can do for your parents -- and for yourself -- is to separate from them.
Become your own person, not dependent on their approval or their favor. In the end, this will result in a better, realer relationship with them, if they desire.
When Ryan returned to our lives, he was an adult gay man who had walked away from his faith. He had made choices that were very different from ours, but they were his. He was completely honest about those choices, both the good ones and the bad ones. Our new relationship was built upon mutual respect, complete honesty and joint willingness to admit wrongs and ask for forgiveness. There was a clear acknowledgement that he wasn't asking us to dig him out of the legal, financial and moral holes he'd found himself in any more than we were asking him to help us feel "good about ourselves" as parents. This new relationship was pure gift. It was authentic and open and delightful. There were no assumed expectations, and Rob, Ryan and I each had complete freedom to be ourselves, and love flourished.
Note: If your parents are among those who are plain cruel and vicious and therefore toxic to your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health, you may have to separate completely. Too many of you have had to draw very hard boundaries in order to protect yourselves, just as you would in any abusive relationship. If your parents aren't willing to learn, to be teachable, to admit that they can be wrong, and if they continue to break the boundaries you've set, then for their good and your own safety, please do not continue to subject yourself to harm.
* * * * *
So if you aren't responsible for making your parents happy and making sure that they are never hurt, then what is your responsibility? Since I am a Christian, I take it seriously when the Bible says to "honor" our parents. However, I have really struggled with what that means. I am still wrestling with this, but this is what I know:
For me, honoring my parents means that as their child, I am honest with them. I strive to be truly myself in my relationship with them, as I do with my closest friends. I honor them by being truthful about all my feelings, whether those feelings be anger or hurt or disappointment, just as I do with my husband and my closest friends. I do not slander my parents. I do not intentionally cause them harm with malice or bitterness.
I can honor my parents by setting healthy boundaries for both of us. Our youngest son has done a great job of this lately, as he recently married. He has set some new boundaries for us, since he is leaving us and cleaving to his wife. Those boundaries have been truly honoring, because he is doing what is best for all of us.
I can also honor my parents by making my marriage and my closest friendships a priority in my life, because I am following God's call for my life. Our children honor us when they make God's call in their own lives their first priority, even if we aren't a primary part, or even a small part, of that call.
To conclude this not-at-all-exhaustive "guide" for gay children with Christian parents (God willing, we'll keep learning and will add to this list as we continue this journey together), remember this: You do not have the power, by yourself, to ensure that you have a wonderful relationship with your parents. They do not have the power to keep you from having a flourishing, wonderful life full of God's blessings. Most importantly, you have the power to continue to listen to God's voice about all others.
With or without your parents' love and approval, I am praying tonight, and trusting, that God, your Heavenly Father who loves you far more than you could ever begin to fathom, will be more than enough for you.
Linda blogs at JustBecauseHeBreathes.com.
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