This is part of a series of letters to those who may feel lost. Sometimes when we are down, discovering something in the mailbox is just the thing.
It reminds us that we aren’t as alone as we think.
Today I write to parents who are in pain because their child is in pain. Dealing constructively with same-sex attraction is uncharted territory and everyone is stumbling their way through.
Let’s call them Charlie’s Mom and Dad.
Dear Charlie’s Mom and Dad,
You are tired.
I know that your knees are bruised and bloody, not only from stumbling and falling through this uncharted journey, but also from hours spent in pleading prayer.
You can’t kiss Charlie’s hurt and make it better this time.
But then, you may not be sure you want to.
Ah, perhaps this is the place to begin.
How do YOU feel about having a child attracted to the same sex? Angry? Repulsed? Confused? Pity? Overwhelmed? Apathetic? Powerless?
Let me try to help you remove some of these unhelpful emotions. The following points may seem abrupt, but I’m just not sure you have the time to gently work through some of these things.
Do you sincerely support our prophet and the clear direction regarding SSA? Until you are at peace with your answer, then the rest won’t matter much. Your choice to complain or sustain, and the way you do it, sends the strongest message to Charlie about where your heart is. And where he lies within it. The only real apostasy we can prevent is our own. So, make sure you prevent yours.
It really doesn’t matter what other people think. If others are whispering or avoiding, that’s their problem. Shame on them. Forget it and move on. Charlie senses hypocrisy acutely and your feelings of shame only cloud the real issues he needs to deal with. Seeing you stand strong and calm against the naysayers will help Charlie do the same when the world tells him the gospel just got this wrong. And they will.
This is not a reflection on your parenting skills. In fact, it’s not really about you. Mourning your “failure” as a parent sends Charlie the message that somehow your self-worth is dependent on his actions. It’s not. This is a pretty important truth to establish in your home. Charlie has to learn to find his own self-worth independent of your actions. He’s going to need it to continue his fight long after he leaves home.
Charlie isn’t broken, nor does he have a disease. Same-sex attraction isn’t contagious and you can’t be contaminated through close contact. Some parents have tried to keep siblings away from an SSA teen. This is only going to confuse your other kids and confirm Charlie’s insecurities that he is, in fact, broken. One of the fastest ways to shut down communication is for the family to act uncomfortable around him. Include Charlie in all the family councils and home evenings and games just as you did before. It’s important to still remember all the things on which you do agree.
Charlie’s problems aren’t any more or less important than those of his siblings. Especially not to them. Certainly the Savior left the 99 to go after the one. But your “99” are still tender lambs too. It may seem counter intuitive, but don’t let yourself get so focused on the tree that you forget there is still a forest. You may actually be encouraging estrangement between Charlie and the rest of the family by letting him slide on house rules because he’s “having a hard time”, or being your constant preoccupation, leaving little focus for other family matters. Charlie’s still “one of the gang” and has to obey curfew and take out the trash.
Recognize that you are in a unique but critical place in history. Your own parent’s reaction to homosexuality is most probably one of issuing a punishment; Charlie’s peers and siblings reaction would probably advocate permissiveness. Don’t give in to either; neither is going to help Charlie. Your generation is the only one truly empowered to help bridge these two extremes and find the common ground in the middle.
Conflicts and arguments are going to happen. Make sure you understand what exactly it is you are disputing. Don’t lump everything into one big “gay” pot. Charlie’s possible open rebellion and anger certainly require normal discipline; however, honest confusion over what is and isn’t a sin requires open and trusting communication, not necessarily an argument. And on those impasses? Agree to disagree for the time being. Don’t keep having the same argument or trying to pound your point into his head. Ask how you can move forward for now, and then take the step.
After all the tears and praying, Charlie may choose a gay lifestyle for a time. No, it’s not okay. It will shred your heart in tiny pieces. There will be days that you feel you can’t even breathe. But in the meantime, just keep in perspective: it’s not really reasonable to ask Charlie to overcome his trials if you can’t overcome yours. Show him the strength you have found through the Atonement. Example is the very best teaching tool we have.
So, NOW how do you feel about having a child who is attracted to the same sex?
The goal would be to replace anger with calmness, revulsion with compassion, confusion with openness to learn, pity with renewed clarity of gospel direction, feeling overwhelmed with courage to take just one step at a time, apathy with humility, and powerlessness with trust that God loves Charlie even more than you do.
Perhaps having a broken heart and a contrite spirit describes it best.
Accept that you can’t do force Charlie’s decisions on this, they are just too big and too hard and too painful and the consequences are far too critical.
Now you are ready to begin.
Together, all of you really can do this.