Updated: Aug 17
By Alyson Deussen
After my initial shock of him coming out at age 13 – and realizing this wasn’t just a phase – our son was fully loved and embraced for the beautiful young man that he was. I knew if I was going to help our son thrive I needed to have open and honest communication with him. I needed to learn everything I could about the LGBT community and find safe places for him to land. I needed him to feel like he could talk to me without feeling shame and guilt. Loving without condition and choosing to love were the firsts of many beautiful things I gained from my son. I chose love and for that I will be forever grateful. Had my son left this life feeling anything other than love from his family, I feel as if I would have failed as his mother.
In the words of Brene Brown, “When we practice empathy and compassion with someone, there is not less of these qualities to go around. There’s more. Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world.” My son and your children need to know they are loved without boundaries and conditions.
I often likened learning about the LGBT community and my son to drinking from a fire hydrant. He had known about his orientation since he was young and wanted me to catch up quickly. I had to learn to listen and take my son’s lead on many occasions, and found by doing so I had a greater understanding of his feelings and how I could better help him through the process. I realized early on that this was his journey and ultimately it was also his agency that would decide the path he would take for the rest of his life. Along this path I met many LGBT teens/adults who gave me a greater understanding and compassion for the challenges they feel and for the love they so desperately want. This is a journey, not a race; yet as his mother I initially wanted to finish “the race” and fix everything in the path.
I ultimately realized my role needed to be one of cheerleader, loyal ally, advocate, friend, and listener. Above all, I had to learn that it wasn’t my job to impose my beliefs on my child, but to allow him his own beliefs and experiences and be there for him. I realized that by choosing to love freely, my heart was open and receptive to his needs, and my heart expanded. I love this quote by Thomas Merton, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
If your relationship with your LGBT child isn’t where it should be, I would ask that you reconsider where you are and cherish the moments you have with them by your side. Include them in your family and extended family. There should be no reason for our LGBT children to be excluded or left out. My family determined we would not let Stockton’s orientation change the depth of our family connection, nor would we allow it to come between the love that we already shared. There was the fear of the unknown, and how things would move forward, but it was always important to us that there was no separation. As the mother (parent), I was able to set the tone in our family dynamic. My other children knew that there was no question as to how we would love and accept one another, and because of that, our son had a team by his side. It may feel difficult or uncomfortable at first, but if hearts are open and you are leading with love, you will all find a greater capacity to love and better understand your child. I know this because I chose love and found it to be true with my son.
I share some of the following helpful thoughts from one of my favorite bloggers, Jennifer Phillips (jenniferphillipsblog.com), from her blog post titled, “When Your Kids Won’t Bow to Your Idols”. I am going to paraphrase for you some of my favorite takeaways:
Pay attention to your negative emotional responses toward your kids. Often if you are willing to trace these emotions back to their root cause, its not because the thing itself was horrible, but because it has gotten in the way of our comfort and peace. This was a big one for me. Having an LGBT child doesn’t always fit nicely into the perfectly wrapped box. When you are willing to unwrap the box, the dynamic may disrupt your comfort and peace, but in place of that you will find growth and depth.
Pay attention to when you fall into the comparison trap. Be cautious about how you are comparing your parenting/child to others. This is an easy one to get caught up in because for so long we think we are the only parent who has an LGBT child and we compare.
Name good things you have turned into ultimate things. She talks about how when we make good things become demands, we are turning our desires into something that really isn’t about love and changing hearts, but more about force which will never create that sense of love in our child’s heart.
Bring humility to your parenting. By being humble I was able to look at things from Stockton’s perspective and step back from the things that I thought needed to be fixed. Instead I found that I was wanting to impose my “parenting idols” on my son, whom graciously allowed me the space to repent and start again the next day.
As our family dynamic evolved I found that most of the change and understanding had to come from ME. I needed to come out of my “comfort zone” and be willing to engage. I needed to be vulnerable and willing to open my heart to deeper understanding, but I couldn’t do it alone. Like most everyone, I needed to feel a sense of belonging… to be included and wanted exactly how I am. During this time on our journey I found the Mama Dragons organization. I felt as if a weight had been lifted when I was able to connect with other moms who knew where I was on my journey and what I had been experiencing. I also held tight to the times we had the opportunity to meet up and I understood I wasn’t alone. I have had many experiences over the past seven years where Mama Dragons have literally provided the lifeline I needed as I navigated this journey and the loss of my son. Some of my dearest friends were met through this group. Because of this connection I have found so many other people and groups who have provided the love and support I need.
Community becomes very important for our teens and youth. I found that I had less and less influence, and Stockton wanted more and more autonomy. My job started to shift from teaching him everything I thought he needed to know, to preparing him to become a capable young adult. Unfortunately for my son there wasn’t a built-in community that was ready and willing to take him as an openly gay young teen. As much as he was loved at home he needed and yearned for community. It’s important that our teens find a place or activities where they can fit in and belong. Those places may not always be the places we think of or feel comfortable with, but for them it can become a literal lifeline. Our children need to find a way to be spiritual and connect with something bigger than them. Again, this wasn’t the same way I found spirituality. I found that my son needed to connect in ways that helped him find joy, purpose and happiness. In the end, all I really wanted for my son was exactly what I want for ALL of my children – to have what I share with my spouse – a loving, long term meaningful relationship.
Having spent seven years on this journey, I have had regrets, heartache, sleepless nights, worry, joy, love, anger, happiness and meaning – because I have a gay son. I have a greater understanding of unconditional love – a beautiful gift that was given to me by Stockton. I now know that this gift from him has been a refining moment in my life, and something that has sustained me during the days following his death. It continues to be a guiding force for good. My hope is as you move forward on your own journey you will have strength to stand WITH your child. You will be proud to support them and know in the end that you have done your very best. For me, this is what motivates me to keep living, fighting and honoring my son’s life, as I continue reaching out to his tribe whom I have been so lovingly welcomed into.