My son – my only son – is Gay and Fabulous! I don’t care if the whole world knows about it. I think it’s fabulous and I think he is fabulous. And I sincerely hope my fellow readers who have children, whether young or old, also accept their children for who they are, what they aspire to be and what they will become. It all sounds so nice, so effortless, so basic. Yet many of us may not realize that we often judge our children and do not accept them for the people they currently are or who they become. They are, after all, the image we created. And we all have dreams and expectations for our children, but at some point we have to let go of our own dreams and let our children live their own lives.
My son was fortunately (or unfortunately) born to two unconventional parents. And I don’t mean unconventional in a bad way, necessarily; we both embrace our “weirdness“ with self-acceptance and ardency. However, my husband and I are pretty much square pegs. We were not the “normal” kids, nor were we the “normal” parents. We had our son as young parents, much younger than most of our peers; we both worked in very conventional work environments, but were not part of mainstream culture. We did, however, make sure our son did most of the so-called “normal” things a child of the 1990’s did. We sacrificed owning a home for many years to send him to a private elementary school, sat in the pouring rain every Saturday morning in Pacific Northwest autumns at soccer practice, had the obligatory horrid McDonald’s birthday parties, had him baptized (so he could make the choice later on if religion was for him or not), and had screaming little kids over for sleepovers. But he also partook in things that many of the mainstream kids he went to school with did not. On many weekends, he went to vintage and hot rod car shows, all-ages punk rock shows, and late-night bowling with the big kids, i.e., Mom and Dad and their fun, kooky, tattooed, brightly colored-hair friends, and he got to hang out in tattoo parlors (GOD forbid!). In short, he got to see quite a bit of diversity as a young kiddo growing up.
Both my husband and I promised ourselves we would try to break free of the constraints and dogma that our parents enforced upon us. I am not discrediting either of our families, just saying that there was a lot of dysfunction in both of our families, which resulted in a lot of excess baggage that we have had to both work through over the years (yes, there has been therapy). Our parents did not exactly shower praise upon us and as young adults we did not “grow” out of the aberrant phase our parents thought and hoped we would. As Brene Browns says:
“We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing.… We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency.”
Think about the above quote. We really do tend to be more critical of others, especially our children and family, if we are feeling inadequate ourselves. It takes practice and patience to accept ourselves for we are. When we do accept our own selves, our own inadequacies and tell ourselves we are worthy of love and acceptance, that branches out to all of our relationships, including our children.
The powerful effect adults have on children
When our children are young, we have a great gift that we can bestow upon them: we have the opportunity to bestow knowledge, and deposit positive memories into their “memory banks”. We all want those memories to be good ones and full of love and positivity. Think back for a moment and remember an adult in your life, who accepted and loved you for who you were as a child. How did that make you feel? And then think about a memory of an adult who was constantly criticizing you. How did that make you feel? As parents, we should not be the disparager: we should be the guarantor.
When our son came to us and told us he was gay in his sophomore year of high school, we were not unhappy…admittedly, I was fearful. Although anti-bullying campaigns had just started in many schools, I knew my son would have a tough road at times with his being openly gay in high school. I unfortunately had to witness discrimination against my son — it was not blatant (although at times it definitely was) but more cloaked in general nonacceptance.
“There were many times in high school I was called a faggot. Sometimes it was whispered as I walked by, other times it was yelled in front of everyone. There were four other openly gay kids in my high school, but that did not really make it any easier. It often became a competition between the four of us. Little did I know this “competition” would foreshadow the future into my adult life as well. It still makes me sad to see gay men compete and undermine each other in hopes of being more accepted by our peers and even strangers. But still, high school was at times a very lonely time for me.” — My son, Camden
The sports teams with which my son previously had a camaraderie with suddenly rejected him. Teachers who had bestowed praise upon him suddenly shunned him and criticized him. As if being a teenager was not difficult enough, he suddenly had the cynical judgment of both peers and adults. I can only assume others’ consternation was a mirror reflected upon my son. But, thankfully, he also had teachers, friends, and our own circle of friends who accepted my son for who he was. I even had a couple of friends exclaim: “I am so envious you have a gay son.” As my son says:
“The immediate response I received coming out was overwhelmingly positive. My mom and dad made sure to immediately tell me they loved me and gave me a huge hug. My friends all thought it was way cool and edgy that I came out so young. However, to this day, I feel an amount of guilt knowing how many men like me have been attacked or killed for coming out, whereas for me it was almost like a social springboard. Looking back on this, I realize it was potentially the easiest part of my experience as a gay man. However, when the “newness” wore off was when I started to experience more adversity.” — Camden
Having a gay teenager was really no different, I suspect, than having any other teenager: the teenage angst, the testing, the pursuit for independence and raging hormones were all still on exhibit. Perhaps growing up in a counter-culture environment, being ridiculed so often myself growing up, having gay friends, and being the odd bird I am, it prepared me for having a gay son — I really did not need to find a way to accept this, nor did my husband. Our son was just our son, and honestly, to us, his being gay was not a condition for him to be accepted: he was always accepted and always will be. Camden says:
“I think what was the most helpful in my development into someone who is confident was being raised in such a creative household. My dad is a BRILLIANT artist and my mom has fashion sense that would make any Pinup Girl proud. They always raised me to be unapologetic, colorful, and as vibrant as I please with my creative choices. Growing up in a suburban area, this drew a lot of negative attention to my family, but we never caved into the pressure to lead boring or typical lives like everyone around us. This kind of attitude really helped with my confidence in finding out who I was.” — Camden
I know for other parents who have had or in the future who will have a LGBT child, it may require letting go of fears, understanding your child’s personality, and conceding your own hopes and dreams. While it was a non-issue for my husband and I, we did of course have fears for our son’s safety and the adversity he would face, but it was never an issue of acceptance.
After our children leave the nest and embark upon their own dreams and careers, we have to unconditionally continue to accept them. It can be hard. I had assumed my son would immediately enter college. In fact, he was offered a partial scholarship at a performing arts school, and I was pretty sore he didn’t take it. He instead chose the path to immediately enter the work force. I then had to do a little self-reflection and realize it was actually my fear of my son possibly not being able to get a well paying job, and my own hunger for wanting a scholarship when I was that age. I soon realized that I was pushing my own dreams and expectations upon my son and that was not fair. It was not acceptance and I had to do some pretty heavy analysis. I’ve personally come a long way down that acceptance road, and I continue every day to work on my own self-acceptance which in turn helps me continue to accept my son and his choices, and peers and family members as well. Continuing to accept your grown children’s choices can be difficult. Really, unless there is a threatening situation or your child is being hurt by someone, or hurting themselves or others, all you can do is let them live their life and be there for them.
Helpful hints for accepting your child
I am by no means a Psychiatrist or Counselor, and am just bestowing a little Old Ladies knowledge with you all. A few helpful tidbits to to be cognizant of for accepting your children and for that matter accepting ALL people in your life are:
- Everybody is different: don’t listen to a song because it’s popular; listen to it because it makes you feel the way your want to feel. We all have different tastes. Accept that and realize we are all different and that’s a good thing!
- Use positive affirmation both with both yourself and with your child(ren): To enhance your child’s confidence (and your own) replace words that show self-doubt with words that display confidence and use present tense and not the future tense, (“I am”, not “I will”); Avoid negative forms like “would, could, should, might” or “try, hope wish”, or even “maybe, perhaps” and instead replace them with positive words such as “I will”, “absolutely”, “definitely”, and “without any doubt”
- Take time to understand your child’s personality: take the time to find out about your child’s personality and understand how they relate to you and others, and learn how they are different than you.
- Let go or adjust your own expectations and dreams: pushing your own expectations onto your children just isn’t fair. Set aside your own agendas, get out of their way and learn to respect and honor their independent choices.
- Accept that fear is a normal emotion and learn to let go of fear: easier said than done. We all have fears that others will judge us and our children as well. Learning to let go of those fears that get in the way of acceptance is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on our children.
- Don’t give unsolicited advice: We don’t like advice that is given with condemnation or that is given unsolicited, so why would our children? If you want to give some advice, be courteous, ask first, and if your child says no, simply let it go.
- Let your children know your love is unconditional: unconditional love means loving your child in their essence, as they are, no matter what they do or fail to do. Unconditional love is an action, the choice to strive for the well-being of your child.
The circle of life and aging is inevitable. One day we will not be here any longer and we need to prepare our children for life without us. This does not necessarily mean carrying on our legacy, but letting them create their own legacy and them knowing that they were accepted and loved.
Let them create their own aspirations
Our children must create their own aspirations, and when they are young, we must nurture them to become confident, independent little people. When they become adults, we must continue to support them, accept them and let them find their own way in the world.
Some of the most well-adjusted, confident, loving and successful adults I have met all credited part of their success to having parents or family who accepted them and gave them the free gift of unconditional love. Even if we were not given that ourselves, it is not too late to endow that to both ourselves and to our children. It is never too late for understanding, letting go of fear, and loving unconditionally.
by Cheryl aka Sassy Morris
Sassy packed up and left the gray gloomy skies of the Pacific Northwest along with her ungratifying, soul-sucking corporate job and moved to the sunshine and desert breezes in beautiful Southern California. Canadian Ex-Patriate, Wife, Mother, Fur-Baby Mother and Entrepreneur, Sassy now sells Vintage for a living after a life-long love and passion for rescuing old things. Sassy, sometimes serious, always honest and usually outrageous, she is embracing the “silver” years with a sense of humor, adventure, and seeking that path to enlightenment along the way. Visit her Etsy shop!