Although it shouldn’t make a difference, as parents should love their children unconditionally, it does. Why? If you’re a supportive parent, you owe it to your child to be as prepared as possible in order to help your child go through the difficult times; but you should also be ready to celebrate some beautiful moments with them. Below are some very basic things to remember:
Love them as much as you can. Maybe you do already, but you need to show it more. What I mean is that too often what we think we demonstrate and what people interpret may be two different things. So, if you haven’t told them lately, tell them! Even if it’s an awkward, sappy moment don’t let your son go out there uncertain of the love you feel for him.
Praise them as often as you can. For anyone, the early years provide us the lens from which we gauge the world. A healthy individual who loves himself and is confident can always look back to loving parents who offered praise generously. This does not mean that you have to praise bad behavior; however, you shouldn’t seek to find fault in all that he does. (Some of us, older gay men, had the trajectories of our lives derailed by a lack of praise or by punishment of that which ought to have been praised.) Observe their natural talents and affinities and protect them and feed them–there’s no telling where a well-supported innate talent may lead.
Listen with curiosity, and don’t be judgmental. Too often, children and young people test the waters by evaluating the parent’s response to their anecdotes. If they express an interest in anything, listen and be genuinely interested. If you don’t understand, ask them. Careful with all those non-verbal communicators! Be open and receptive. If you don’t know something, it’s okay. He may even appreciate your candor in clarifying that you don’t know everything. Tell him you will have to do some research. Don’t make idle promises; follow through. Find a reliable source of information. And as dinners don’t happen as frequently anymore, carve out some time to spend with your child to listen to him.
See to it that he’s included; but be cautious of how you go about it. Many gay men have grown up within an American framework where sports and athleticism are the metaphors for the sort of social Darwinism that this society rewards. As such, many have also experienced a lot of exclusion and have painful recollections of being the last one chosen. Parents should seek those activities that the young gay man will excel at so that he can have a healthy perspective of himself. If he has male siblings, they too should be part of this plan. BUT, coercive inclusion is not good for either of these relationships. It is especially damaging to have the gay child hear how the mother or father has to force their inclusion. If at P.E. he is being picked last for a particular sport, you may want to help him develop the skills to become a coveted team member. This doesn’t mean you have to change the child from what his natural affinity is; it means that any skill can be acquired, just that the intimidation of performance hinders the ability do it with the same ease as those who are more able in that particular skill.
Be cautious and aware of egotism. We’ve all seen the narcissistic person who loves himself too much. That sort of egocentric behavior is frowned upon; and, more often than not, leads to a person being marginalized for other reasons: he does not play well with others; he’s good in small doses; he’s too full of himself etc. Balance in all things. Your child is special; but his right to be special ends where the right of others’ begins.
Most importantly, grow with him. Share your experience with other parents. Too often supportive parents feel that they cannot speak of the accomplishments of their gay children. You can and should celebrate their successes. And you should speak of them to the people you are friends with. This is an opportunity for transforming the way people perceive gay individuals. If you see other children who might be gay, reach out to the parents. Make your home a home that invites gender diversity. Gays, if statistics are accurate, are a small group of the population. And even within this subculture, there are further subcultures. (I will cover these later, more clinically to provide you with practical knowledge.) As such, you owe it to your child to find him all the friends you can so that he can have a healthy outlook on social spaces. This will also provide him a space to talk about more intimate matters or to hear new things he may need to talk to you about to learn. Again, listen with curiosity and don’t be too quick to judge.
Have fun! I like to think that life is about having fun and enjoying how different we are. The fact that you have a gay child should not be a burden; rather, it should be a reason to celebrate. Whether he’s the quarterback of the team or the head cheerleader, you will be amazed at how proud he will make you if you will give him what he needs to be happy.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to submit them! I’ll try to find answers and respond in a timely manner.