Hi John; I’m reaching out for some help. Aside from a wonderful pastor/friend in our town, I’ve not been able to speak about this with anyone. Six weeks ago our daughter, now in college, told us she was gay. She explained that she had always known she was, but had tried to deny it. She is a great student and a wonderful person. To me, she’s a model daughter.
I got over the shock fairly quickly, and after a bit of mourning about my dreams (e.g. you always expect your children to have a nice, quiet, happy life around the Christmas tree with their spouse and children …), I realized that for me not much had changed. My daughter’s still deeply devoted to God. I still love her more than anything in the world; she’s still the same amazing kid she’s always been. So our relationship really hasn’t changed.
What I’m struggling with is my wife’s reaction. She seems unable to deal with it. No matter what evidence I put in front of her (about these cobbled-together arguments from various mistranslated and poorly interpreted passages in the Bible), she still considers homosexuality a sin. After the initial shock of my daughter’s revelation, the first thing I thought about was what a burden she has had to carry all this time. My wife’s primary concern, though, is what others will think of her (my wife, not my daughter), and that being gay is a sin.
My wife is on anti-depressants and is getting counseling. She’s also reading accounts of other mothers who have gone through this—and she’s done some blogging about it. She deals with things by talking about them, so she’s told about half the world (which I find ironic, as she’s so concerned about what people will think—and which I also find exasperating because I feel she really should be consulting with my daughter before sharing such personal information about her with mutual acquaintances). While much of the advice my wife is taking in about our daughter involves “just love her,” most of it also holds out the idea that being gay is a sin.
What I can’t handle is when my wife says things like she would rather our daughter be a drug addict, and that she doesn’t know how she’ll be able to handle things when our daughter comes home on breaks. Frankly, I’m getting angry about it. This is our daughter, and it’s not a sin; it’s the way she was made. My wife also expresses denial—thinking out loud that our daughter was influenced by lesbians at college, and that some girls go through this “phase.” But everything I’ve read says that when it gets to the point when your child comes out to you, it’s not a “phase.” And every time I ask my wife if there was any way, under any circumstances, that anyone could have ever “converted” her—my wife—to be gay, she has no response. Also, our daughter has always been her own person—she’s never been subject to peer pressure, and has always done and spoken as she pleases. She’s actually the last person I can think of who could be so “influenced”! In answer to that fact about our daughter my wife only has only more silence.
My bottom line question is: How do I deal with my wife? In our long marriage we’ve never had serious trouble, but I’m really concerned that this could grow into something pretty bad. Any advice would me much appreciated. PS—just ordered your book UNFAIR, and hoping I can get my wife to read it.
No, friend, I don’t get letters like this every day. You’re in a uniquely difficult situation. And I don’t think there’s much if anything I can say about it that you don’t already know. The painfully obvious and very singular truth is that your wife needs to radically alter her attitude about your daughter. If she fails to do that—if she persists in choosing of the two options before her the one that is certain to destroy her family, then … well, then she’ll get what she’s chosen: a destroyed family.
The problem, of course, is that it’s not clear that your wife can change. Just given what you’ve told me here it sounds as if, to whatever degree, she is mentally ill. If she is, that’s a game changer; there’s a world of difference between won’t change and can’t change. If your wife can change but won’t, then ultimately you can in good conscience leave her. But if she’s organically incapable of change because she’s essentially lost control of her mind and/or emotions, then that brings into play for you a whole new order of moral considerations.
So time will tell there.
I really dislike one parent in any way bonding with their child over the dysfunctionality of their other parent. But in your case I don’t see any way to avoid that. My advice (if you haven’t already done so) is to talk to your daughter, and say to her something like:
“Right now your mom’s certainly not being everything she could be. I don’t know if she’s going through the normal sort of paroxysms of denial and angst that parents typically do when they find out their kid is gay, or whether she’s really developed a condition that she may not be able to pull out of. For now, we just have to wait and see. If she’s only doing that freak-out thing parents do when their kids come out, then before too long your mother will realize that your being gay isn’t the end of the world—that you can, in fact, be both gay and perfectly happy, which is all she really wants to know, because she loves you and above all wants you to be safe. If, however, her reaction to your coming out proves to be more problematic than that—if it’s something that time doesn’t smooth away, and we find that she can’t get to the healthy place she needs to be, then—well, then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But I don’t think it will come to that. I think she just needs a little more time to adjust. It’s a big deal to find out your child is gay. Parents trip about that, hard. But then after a while they don’t.
“Meanwhile, it’s obvious enough that your mother is going through hell. I want to be really, really clear that it’s not your fault that she is. Anything could have set her off, and that’s the truth. As you know [assuming your daughter does; if not, now's the time to tell her] for a while now your mother’s been getting therapy and taking antidepressants. So she’s already been struggling with her mental state. So far, obviously, the help she’s getting isn’t good enough. For all I know, it’s making things worse. But we’ll find out. Again, these things take time to work themselves out.
“For now, we just have to wait and hope. I know this isn’t easy for you; I can’t imagine how much this must hurt you. It’s just a tough time that we have to get through. For now all we can do for your mom is love her, pray for her, and be there for her if she needs us. Obviously sometimes you’re not going to want to be there for her, because of how much she’s not being there for you. And that’s fine; I understand that, and will never pressure you to do or say anything that’s too much against who you are. But insofar as you can, let’s just be patient with her, and trust that God is watching this situation and will tend to it as He knows best.
“I love you; I’m proud of you; and I’m certain we’ll all get through this together, and be a stronger family for it.”
Something like that.
Also, talk to your wife. Insofar as she’s able to hear it, tell her that she’s really pushing you toward having to decide between her and your child. Tell her how cruelly unfair of her that is, what a torture it is to both you and your daughter. Tell her that while her daughter being gay is not a choice, choosing to interpret the Bible as she is certainly is a choice, and that for the life of you cannot understand how she could continue making the awful choice that she is. Tell her to read my The Best Case for the Bible NOT Condemning Homosexuality.
Most of all, tell her that you want to sit down with her, hold her hand, and pray with her about this. I think doing that very thing is everything. God’s whole purpose is to decrease stress and increase love. Together, go with your wife to God, hand all this over to Him, and let Him do His thing. He will. I think that if you prayed with your wife about this every day for ten days in a row—where first you say aloud to God whatever you are moved to, and then she does the same, and then together, for ten full minutes, the two of you sit together in quiet prayer and meditation—this problem will resolve itself. I really believe that.