Dear Dr. Darcy:
Two Thanksgivings ago, both my son and one of my daughters told me that they are gay. My husband and I were shocked but told them both that we accepted them as our children and only want them to be happy. Since then, we’ve tried to make peace with who our children are, while remaining aligned to our Catholic faith. This year, my daughter has asked to bring home a partner for Christmas. My husband and I don’t have a problem with this, but we each have elderly mothers who will also be at our home and we feel that it would be too much for them to handle. Do you have any words of wisdom for how to tell our daughter that it’s just not the right time?
Congratulations on your commitment to support your children. It’s not every day that I hear of multiple siblings being gay. I suspect it hasn’t been the smoothest journey for your husband and you to embrace this divergence from what was likely a more heterosexual vision you had of them.
Now, to address the issue of the daughter’s partner: You knew it was coming, didn’t you? And the thing is, we can postpone it by telling her that now’s not the right time, but we both know that you’d just be delaying the inevitable. So the question is, how long do you expect to reasonably put this off? Grandparents live a long time these days. And they can sometimes play a really interesting role in the family, and that’s the role of projective identification. Hypothetic-ally speaking, projective identification could look like this:
You and your husband are very uncomfortable with having your daughter bring home her partner for the holiday. For whatever reason, you’re not aware that you have this discomfort, so you ‘project’ your feelings onto your elderly mothers. In the end, your mothers’ feelings (whether real or imaginary) serve the purpose of keeping your daughter’s partner at bay, and because you appear to be protecting your frail mothers, you never have to own your own discomfort around your child’s sexual orientation.
Sit with that for a few days and let me know your thoughts.
PS: Do the grandmothers know that you have two gay children?
[a few days later…]
I may not have been clear initially, so I’ll reiterate now that my husband and I are very supportive of our children and all we want is for them to be happy. We are not uncomfortable with the idea of our daughter bringing home her partner. It’s just that her grandmothers are both in their 80’s and are from a different generation and time. We feel it would be too much for them to have to understand, particularly because they are Catholic, so we’ve decided not to tell them.
So what’s your game plan? Do you expect your daughter to live out the rest of her grandmothers’ lives waiting for them to pass away so that she can begin to live her life? Does that seem reasonable? Or even remotely fair?
These elderly women, who you’ve deemed too frail to tolerate knowing their granddaughter’s sexual orientation, have lived during the Great Depression and through WWII. They can recall a time, before astronauts, genetic engineering and terrorism. They lived during segregation and they now have an African-American president. Their generation has demonstrated an incredible capacity for change and progress. I was trying to be gentle in my first response, but I see that I need to be more direct: Your elderly parents aren’t the issue. You are. You have decided, without their confirmation, that they can’t tolerate having gay grandchildren. And as long as you have their skirts to hide behind, you do not have to face the real discomfort, which is your own.
Take off the martyr suit. Your elderly parents don’t need your protection and they are in no danger of being traumatized. Your daughter, however, needs your actions to be consistent with your words. Regardless of a child’s age, it’s very hard to make sense out of parental nonsense, and by nonsense I mean when our parents say one thing but do another.
Give your mothers an opportunity to lead by example, and I suspect that they will show you how to walk through the next chapter of your life with dignity, respect and pride. And that, my friend, is the greatest gift that you can give your daughter for Christmas this year. n
Dr. Darcy Smith is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Her practice, Alternatives Counseling, specializes in LGBT issues and is located in New York City. Dr. Darcy’s clinical style is very direct, goal-oriented and pragmatic. For years, the media has been drawn to her unique personality. She has provided expert commentary for networks including E! Entertainment and has worked with television producers throughout the nation. Her blog, AskDrDarcy.com, provides free advice to members of the LGBT community. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-604-0144.