Tips for Parents of Gay Sons and Daughters

What to Say: Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don’t try to talk your son out of being gay. Recognize that trying to persuade him that he’s not — or should not — be gay will surely backfire for him and your relationship and give him the message that he cannot turn to you.
  • Recognize that you do not have the power or capacity to influence whether your teen is in fact gay. You do have the power to influence how he feels about himself.
  • Change the focus from whether your son is gay to understanding how he is feeling, and his concerns.
  • Help your teen sort out his concerns about what you feel and think about him from how he feels about himself.
  • Talk about safety issues in a separate (and dispassionate) conversation in which you are both on the same team. Find out what worries your son and where he thinks he could run into trouble, and share your ideas and concerns. Authoritarian approaches are unsuccessful here.
  • Get your teen’s collaboration and input in establishing protective guidelines and limits (see example in text). Be honest with yourself and aware of any hidden agenda to scare or dissuade him from his sexuality in the guise of being protective. This will cause you to lose credibility and potentially encourage him to do the opposite of what you tell him.

How To Handle Your Own Feelings

  • Get help. Make an explicit commitment to yourself and your son to work toward being open to understanding and accepting him for who he is.
  • Delegate one parent to be the main point of contact with your son. This should be the parent who can best manage feelings and has the best relationship with your son (unless both of you manage your feelings equally well and have a good relationship with him).
  • Contain your feelings and prepare in advance for difficult conversations. Engage in such discussions only when you are in a state of composure.
  • Stay calm and resist your need to get your son to reassure you.
  • Notice your tone and words. Remove yourself from escalating conversations and take a timeout.
  • Refrain from interrogation, blame and lecture.
  • Be aware of your implicit views and feelings on homosexuality and sexuality. Know that these views, and your true feelings about these issues and about your son, are transmitted to your children unconsciously. Shame is contagious.
  • Acknowledge your biases and anxieties as such, rather than acting as if they are facts or truths.
  • Don’t lie or pretend. Lying and keeping family secrets teaches your children to do the same.
  • Create an atmosphere of acceptance and trustworthiness, so that your son will feel a safe haven and be more likely to talk to you. For example, show integrity by taking responsibility and apologizing when you take things personally or otherwise react from your own anxieties. Tell him you know that responding reflexively from your own biases adds to his burden and confusion. Acknowledge that it is your job, not his, to take care of yourself and to manage your own feelings and reactions.

Disclaimer: The characters from these vignettes are fictitious. They were derived from a composite of people and events for the purpose of representing real-life situations and psychological dilemmas which occur in families.