My son just came out to me and I totally mishandled it. How can I make it right?
It’s not too late, says our elder. Start by asking questions and listening carefully to his answers.
So, yesterday morning, my oldest son came down for breakfast and announced to the whole family that he was gay. My husband and I looked at each other and neither of us knew what to say. It’s not that we don’t like gay people; it’s just that it came as a shock to us. I’ll admit that we didn’t react the right way – we were so shocked that we tripped over our words and I told him that if he was saying he’s gay to stand out or to fit in that he didn’t have to become someone he’s not and I guess he took it the wrong way and he’s been in his room all day and I even heard him crying a little.
I am so ashamed of myself for hurting my son, my baby like that even though it wasn’t intentional; I just wanted to reassure him that he didn’t have to be someone he wasn’t if that was the situation. I don’t know how to feel about it. I have nothing against gay people, but it is strange since my son never showed any signs of being gay before and as far as my husband and I knew, he liked girls and even had a girlfriend when he was younger. I’m also scared for him because there are still people in the world who aren’t open-minded to that kind of thing and there’s just so much hate in the world that I don’t want him to have to go through. Last year my other son told me that there was a bunch of boys who beat up a gay kid at school and I keep thinking, “What if that were my son?”
I also want to ask my son how he knows he’s not just confused. I mean, he’s only 16! how can you know that young when you’ve barely experienced life? I have so many emotions rushing through me. My husband and I don’t know what to do and I want to be the loving and supportive mother that my kids trust and I want to fix things with my son. How should I talk to him? What should my husband and I do?
I understand that you are kicking yourself right now because, in hindsight, you feel you could have handled your son’s news better. You were totally caught off guard, though; neither you nor your husband had any inkling that your son might be gay, so the first things that came to mind to say to him was he didn’t have to be someone he wasn’t in order to stand out or fit in. Later, you heard him crying in his room and felt ashamed of yourself for not having been more supportive.
I understand your confusion and concern. You were just trying to let your son know that it’s OK for him to just be himself. Unfortunately, though, he didn’t take it that way. He had probably wanted to tell you that he was gay for a long time and had finally worked up the courage to do so. So, when you reacted by expressing doubt, it made him feel like the loneliest person in the world. That was just your first surprised reaction though. Happily, it’s not too late for you to correct your first reaction and to be there for him.
What your son needs from you right now is understanding and acceptance. As his mom, you might find the fact that he is gay confusing or surprising, and that’s fine. Your confusion though isn’t a weight that you should put on your son’s shoulders. It’s perfectly OK for you to ask your son questions to find out what he needs from you. Ask questions like, “How are you feeling?” and “What can I do to help?” And even, “When did you first realize you were gay? And then listen carefully to his answers. It’s really that simple.
As I am sure you know, being a parent is all about expecting the unexpected. I am so sorry your son’s announcement took you by surprise. At age 16 though, his sexual identity is probably something he’s been struggling with (and maybe even hiding) for years. Now that he’s trusted you and his dad enough to come out to you, you will be able to learn more about your son’s experience and how he came to understand that he was gay.
I get that you are afraid for your son. Especially since you don’t think he is old enough to be sure he is really gay (and not just confused), but I think you would be wise at this point to trust that he knows his own feelings. Being gay means that a person feels some sort of attraction toward the same sex. Your son is not likely to be misinterpreting this attraction. If he feels it, it’s probably there. Even if it happens to be a phase, which it rarely is, it still shouldn’t be ignored or minimized. Allowing your son to the experience this phase (if that is what it is) will help him to grow.
I hope this helps. I am always here if you’d like to talk more about this. Please write back if you can to let me know how things work out for you and your son. I will be rooting for you both.