Lessons Learned From Parenting a Gay Teen

Lessons Learned From Parenting a Gay Teen

One mom shares the surprising ways that having a gay son changed her as a parent.

By Wendy Robinson

When he was 17, my stepson M stood in our kitchen and casually confirmed something that I had been suspecting ever since I began following him on social media. While I finished loading the dishwasher, he told me he was gay and that his friend “Brian” was actually his boyfriend of nearly a year.

For my husband, me, and M’s mom (who found out via a two-sentence text message -- a very modern way to come out, I suppose), learning that M was gay was an important moment in our lives. It didn’t change anything in terms of our love for him or our relationships with him. Given that all three of us have many gay friends and have long supported gay marriage, finding out that we had a gay child wasn’t a moment of crisis. But it did help us know him better. It also felt significant to know he was in love for the first time.

M is 21 now, and in the four years since he came out to us, I’ve watched him grow more comfortable in his own skin and boldly develop his own identity. I’ve also had time to reflect on the ways in which finding out that he was gay affected our experience of parenting him.

It made me more protective of his privacy. I’m a blogger and social media addict, and I’m prone to the overshare. With M, however, I realized that his story was not my story to tell. Coming out is a process, and M wasn’t immediately out to all of the spheres of his life. Opting not to share the news of his relationship with Brian and being circumspect when certain older relatives asked if he had “met a nice girl yet” wasn’t something done out of shame -- rather a desire to make sure he felt safe in confiding in me.

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As my younger children (now 3 and 6) grow up, my experience with M has taught me that I need to pull back on my sharing as their lives become more complex. I realize that I owe all of my children the chance to figure out who they are with a measure of privacy. Even now, I made sure I had M’s permission before I wrote this essay. He is openly out now, but it is still his story.

At first, I thought the fact that he is gay might change the way my husband and I talk to M about sexuality and relationships. Other than dropping our level of concern about unplanned pregnancy by about 99 percent, I’ve realized that it hasn’t changed our basic messages about this topic at all. Gay or straight, our children are told the same things: Respect yourself and your partner, don’t rush into anything you aren’t ready for, take care of yourself and your partner by making sure you are protected from diseases or other unintended consequences, “no means no,” and please, make sure at least one of you kids gives us grandchildren someday.


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Finally, being M’s stepmom has made me realize that our children really are listening to and watching us. For M, I don’t think he had any fear that coming out would result in him being rejected by his parents. He knew how we voted, he saw us dressed up to go to a friend’s commitment ceremony or wedding, he listened when, as part of getting “the talk” when he was in elementary school, we told him that love was love. Period. He never overtly asked us what we thought of gay rights. But I see now that he was paying attention and had been for years. This realization has helped me be more thoughtful about all of the messages, spoken and unspoken, I might be giving his younger siblings. Knowing that they are watching me more closely than I might have imagined, I wonder what they are really learning about body image and marriage and how to communicate in a marriage.

There is, of course, more to M than just his sexual orientation. He is also creative, funny, kind-hearted, and artistic -- a gem of a young man. I am proud to be one of his moms and grateful that he has, I think, helped me become a better parent by coming out.

Have you had a life-changing conversation with your teen?

Wendy Robinson is a writer, working mom, and graduate student. Someday she'd like to sleep in again. She also blogs at www.athleticmonkey.com and is on Twitter as @wendyrmonkey.

Image ©iStock.com/FilippoBacci

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