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We have a 34-year-old son who is gay and is active in his gay community. He is a positive, loving person who brings much to our family and we are trying to keep connected and strong as a family unit.
I have been concerned that perhaps I try too hard. I have a good relationship with my son, and we can talk about most things. Sometimes I feel the imbalance between what he will share with me, and what he shares with my husband. I am a good listener, and my husband is, too, but there has been friction at times between them over my son’s choices such as being sexually active as a gay man and to oppose the LDS church and it’s policies about LGBTQ issues, especially after my husband became a bishop. My son also has problems with money, pornography, and sexual addiction.
Sometimes I feel that I am overprotective and too accepting and loving and I don’t acknowledge his accountability to the Lord. How do I balance my approach to this situation so my husband and I are equal in our caring for our son?
I agree that it’s important for you and your husband to work on building a unified approach toward your son. Even though each of you is ultimately responsible for your own personal relationship with your son, it’s wise to seek marital harmony over divisive issues. Continue to be patient with yourself, your husband, and your son as you each work through these emotional and relational struggles.
If you believe you’re overcompensating for your husband’s responses to your son, then I would start by identifying how you want to respond to your son. If your husband has difficulty connecting to your son, then this might create more anxiety for you and affect the way you respond to him. Instead, consider how you want to relate to him as his mother. It sounds like you want him to know of your unconditional love and desire to stay close to him.
I don’t think it’s possible to be too loving and accepting of others. Everyone needs to know they’re loved deeply and accepted where they are. This isn’t the same as agreeing with the choices he’s making. The Savior didn’t wait for people to be worthy of his love, attention, and miracles. He lifted them in the state they were in.
Just because you’re listening to your son doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with him. Listening to someone else is the most basic form of love we can offer. Your presence, interest, and connection to your son can’t be conditional on his personal choices. Of course, if he’s aggressive or disrespectful to you or your husband, then that will make it difficult to stay in a close relationship.
You wondered if you have a responsibility to remind your son of his accountability to the Lord. Your son already knows how you and your husband feel about the lifestyle choices that don’t align with your beliefs. And, both you and your husband have heard and understood where he stands as well. While you can certainly continue sharing and deepening your understanding of each other’s viewpoints, it’s not going to help for you to take an authoritative position with your son about what he should be doing.
He gets to be in charge of his own accountability to himself, God, and others, which leaves you and your husband free to love him as your son. I love the example set by Deb Glenn, mother of the lead singer for the Neon Trees, Tyler Glenn. Two years ago he created a music video showing him desecrating symbols of the LDS faith as a protest against Church policies relating to children of same-sex unions. She eventually shared her personal reaction to her son’s video in the following letter:
I have waited a few days to respond to my son Tyler’s new video. I viewed it and don’t like it. I find it sacrilegious. I find it upsetting. I find it dark. I love my son.
I tried changing the perspective. What is it that he is saying, why this depiction, why this imagery? I know Tyler, I know his heart. I have seen and felt the marginalization of the LGBT+.
I’ve been on this journey since he came out to me personally nearly 3 years ago. Our conversations have been deep, revealing, life-changing. Since the November 5th LDS policy, we have talked, shared thought deeper, and seen first-hand his personal pain. The man in the video drew upon some very serious pain, a lifetime of pain. It’s not pretty.
This is NOT about me or my personal faith in God or my belief in the Church. It’s about a young man who in the public eye has discovered himself and doing something with the pain that is real.
I do not want to justify his action turned into what he feels is art. But I do say as my faith has taught me is to love one another. To find fault, to finger point, to hate, to loathe, to judge without understanding is wrong.
The scripture in D&C 121:
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
Everyone has an opinion on this subject. But I choose to follow the prompting of this scripture. I am a woman of faith who will not turn my back on a friend or loved one no matter what they think or how they act.
I choose to act on my faith in God and seek ways to understand, lift, and love. Tyler knows that my husband and I stand with him at the ready to carry him if necessary.
All my love,
If you feel comfortable with your way of responding to your son, then the additional tension you’re feeling might be from the tension between your husband and son. There may be areas where you need to become unified as a couple in responding to your son, especially is he has addictions and money issues. He may be asking you for financial or other types of assistance that might border on enabling further unhealthy behavior. You can still show love and compassion to your son in his struggles while maintaining boundaries with your resources.
You can also offer your husband the same acceptance and compassion you want to offer your son. If your husband knows that you understand his own personal struggles with your son’s life, this may help him respond better to your son. You can hold space for both of these good men as they work to find connection with each other.
Your son may never feel as comfortable sharing the details of his life with your husband as he does with you. If this ever changes, it will be completely up to your son and your husband to figure out a better way. However, I think it’s great that your son feels emotionally safe enough with you to open up about his life and struggles. You’ve earned his trust and confidence, which is a beautiful thing.
Just because you have this trust with your son doesn’t mean that you can’t be unified with your husband in how you respond to any requests that might enable ongoing unhealthy patterns. If your son makes his connection to you conditional on giving into his requests, then it’s important for you to understand the nature of addiction and how to best respond as a family member. LDS 12-step Addiction Recovery meetings for family members can help you learn how to set appropriate limits with love.
You don’t have to feel badly for the connection you’ve built with your son. If your husband is struggling to work through his feelings about his relationship with your son, you can give him your love and support. He needs to know you understand and support him in his process. You don’t have to be the mediator between the two. You can relate to each of them with the same patience, love, and support they both deserve.
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 St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.