Our youngest son announced he was gay almost ten years ago. He moved to New York and has been trying to set up a new business for the past year or so. He’s way overextended himself financially. He’s had many gay friends and a few gay relationships through the years in New York but each one has eventually always turned bad and have cut their relationship off with him.
As the years go by our son has become very outspoken in his beliefs about religion and politics. If any of our family members give an opinion on these issues, he definitely fights back. No one wants to talk about anything or any subject with him.
As his mother I refuse to let him go. I bore my testimony to him this last week and told him as his mother and a daughter of God, he needs to treat my husband and me better. What more can I do?
Even though your son has burned bridges in his family and in his new home, I’m moved by your refusal to give up on helping him find a better way to live his life. Your deep commitment to your son reminds me of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s reminder that “no love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child.”[i]
While I don’t know how much suffering he’s experiencing, I can only imagine that he must feel troubled by losing so many relationships. Isolation and disconnection are punishing to us even if we pridefully convince ourselves that we don’t care. Your willingness to maintain your tie to him may be the toughest bridge for him to burn and I can only hope he’ll allow you to be a part of his life.
You’ve set an important expectation that he won’t be allowed to treat you and your husband disrespectfully. We all need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. While you can’t force him to treat you respectfully, you can excuse yourself from toxic interactions that are abusive and demeaning until he’s ready to demonstrate basic civility. Holding this boundary will help you and your husband become less reactive as you work to build a good relationship with him.
While I certainly respect those who speak up for what they believe, it’s hard to stay in relationship with someone who won’t return that same respect. The Savior taught us to “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us] and persecute [us].”[ii] The Lord is first and foremost describing the condition of our hearts as it relates to those who harm us intentionally or unintentionally. I agree with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s clarification that the Lord isn’t saying, “In order to forgive fully, you have to reenter a toxic relationship or return to an abusive, destructive circumstance.”[iii]
Regardless of how much physical and emotional distance you need to maintain with your son, you can always seek to better understand what matters to him. In my experience, those who shout the loudest are often the ones who feel the most unheard. It’s terribly difficult to walk toward someone who is aggressive, so your boundary around mutual respect is an important step to helping him feel heard.
You can let him know that what he thinks and feels matters to you. You can tell him that he doesn’t need to convince you of anything, but that you simply want to know his heart. He’s likely experienced tremendous pain, fear, rejection, and other struggles as he’s navigated coming out, moving to a new city, starting a business, losing friendships, and enduring lost love.
While there may be a future expectation of reciprocity where he can make room for your thoughts and beliefs, perhaps your main objective now is to let him know you want to witness his story from a place of acceptance. Remember that acceptance isn’t the same as agreement. You can give him the space and grace to own his lived experience. You don’t need to defend what conflicts with your deeply held beliefs out of fear or anxiety. Your goal is to create connection, not conversion. Conversion is a private and sacred experience that is born out of feeling connected to God. You can help create conditions where your love invites peace and sacred connection.
Your other family members get to choose how they will respond to him and they will undoubtably be influenced by your willingness to stay connected to him. They will see your refusal to engage in reactive fights and your courage as you re-engage with him when he’s showing the required civility. Your love for him will never expire, but your proximity to him will adjust depending on how much trust he’s earned to have access to you and your husband.
Even though you don’t see things the same way, you can let him know that his thoughts and beliefs aren’t the biggest problem. Your biggest problem is how he treats those who try to relate with him. If he chooses to stay contentious and aggressive with those who want to connect with him, then continue loving him from a distance. Continue sending the signal that your love for him hasn’t diminished even though it’s not possible to stay in conversation with him. Hopefully he chooses to be close instead of wanting to be right.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[ii] Matthew 5:44