How to handle non-gay-affirming relatives who have contact with children.

Q:

I am a mother in the process of coming out. My own mother and brother are not accepting at all. My brother has in fact asked that I have no contact with him or his family. My mother, while not local, does visit and I know full well she is going to probe my kids with questions that are personal, and in so doing will leave them wondering “what’s wrong?”

As they get older, (right now all three are under 10) I’m sure my mother will be out-and-out negative about my “lifestyle.” She’s incredibly ignorant and has thus far refused to even attempt to educate herself. She has called me disgusting to another relative, etc. So, can I insulate my kids from that? I hate to cut off contact because that seems to be damaging on many levels as well.

One of my biggest concerns is trying to protect my children from thinking I am wrong or bad for having a same-sex partner. I know that I will give them plenty of affirmation and bolster their own esteem about what their family looks like, but how should I counteract or react to the influence of other relatives?

A:

There is a difference between tolerating a relative’s discomfort with you for the sake of the children, and allowing relatives to be emotionally destructive to your family. The challenge for you is to assess the situation objectively in order to determine if a relative will do more harm than good to your children.

Your disclosure is very new, so give your mother the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she just needs more time to adjust, particularly because, as you say, she is not educated about the issues. Your brother, on the other hand, seems to be much more toxic, so for now I would keep your distance.

Rather than assume that your mother will be negative around the children, speak to her about it as if you are assuming she will be respectful about you in front of the children. It is just not fair to young children to be put in the middle of grown-up tensions, regardless of the circumstances.

Work out some ground rules about what topics are off limit to discuss with or around the children. Make it clear that she is not to ask the children about your sexuality or your “lifestyle.” If your mother has questions, she should feel free to come directly to you.

Explain to her that any words she says that are intended to hurt you also hurt your children when they hear them. It is for their benefit that you are defining these ground rules.

If your mom still can’t play nice, then you or someone you trust should accompany them on limited and supervised visitation, or limit contact to phone calls in which you are on the line with them.

If the hostility continues, consider a separation to cool off and try again in a few months. While I don’t want to alarm you, it might be worthwhile to privately document the reasons for the separation and the steps you took to try to come to a compromise. Hopefully such documentation will never be necessary, but there have been some cases where grandparents have gone to court for visitation rights. It wouldn’t hurt to have a record of your good faith efforts just in case.

Discontinue contact indefinitely only after you have exhausted all other possibilities. Depending on the age of the children, they might initiate a separation themselves if they are feeling uncomfortable.

Regardless of how your mother and brother are reacting, your children need to see that you continue to live your life without shame or apology. You can model for your children that living with integrity is not dependent on other people’s approval.

2 thoughts on “How to handle non-gay-affirming relatives who have contact with children.”

  1. A lot has progressed since we last talked. Too much to really type, but my mother has become more accepting — particularly after meeting [my girlfriend]. My next door neighbor, who I lived in terror of since she has little kids who play with mine, has also been very accepting. Unfortunately she found out through my sister-in-law who saw her in the grocery store and gossiped. However, it worked to my advantage and the neighbor has been great.

  2. It takes times for parents to adjust to their child coming out. I came out to my children and parents at the age of 32. I went through my adjustment and acceptance period prior to that. And they too went through the adjustment period. I am now 40 and my parents are there for me and the kids. They are accepting of my partner who has lived with me for almost three years now. The boys are now 10 and 17. The boys and their happiness have always been the priority in my life and now the life of my partner as well.

    My sister and her husband as well as all of the rest of the family accept my partner. She is included in all family events. And if she happens not to be there, they all ask where she is! They are much more accepting of my partner now than my first. My first was much younger and they very much expressed their intolerance. And looking back now, I too can see my mistakes. Give it some time. Lay down the ground rules when it comes to the kids. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.