When the dreams you had for your kids fall apart

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Lately I’ve been reading the stories of parents whose children came out of the closet.

When James Brownson’s 18-year-old son told his parents he was gay, it prompted a five-year period of reflection and study (Brownson is a New Testament scholar), culminating in the book Bible Gender Sexuality.

Elsewhere, an anonymous evangelical pastor shared his story about the night his 16-year-old daughter handed him a note that read, “I am gay. I am happy this way. And if you really love me, you won’t try to change me.”

Both parents are Christian. Both love their kids. Both want them to follow God. Yet these parents have very different understandings of what it means for a child of theirs to be gay. One came to a place of affirmation — the case for which he unpacks in his book. The other believes as strongly as ever that same-sex intimacy is not part of God’s design, though he admits having lost his taste for the political crusade against same-sex marriage.

Despite their differences, both parents confessed to having the same reaction when their kids came out of the closet. Both say the dreams they had for their children died that day.

Brownson:

I spent some subsequent time in depression, grieving the loss of the heterosexual future for my son that I had dreamed of.

The anonymous pastor:

The dreams we had for [our daughter’s] life changed dramatically that night… Something truly died within me.

I’m in no place to judge either parent’s story. The most difficult news I’ve ever had to absorb from my three-year-old is that she thinks I smell bad when I come home from a run.

Previous generations of parents — especially Christian parents — weren’t encouraged to consider any possibility except that their kids would grow up to be heterosexual, happily married, baby-making machines. In which case, yes, I can imagine it would feel like a dream has died within you when your son or daughter tells you they’re gay.

But what’s it like for a child to hear that they’ve crushed their parents’ dreams — simply because they summoned the courage to share part of their identity? (Note: I’m not suggesting that either Brownson or the anonymous pastor said anything like this to their kids.)

How does that weigh on a heart? What does that do to a child’s spirit?

The dreams we nurture for our kids hold tremendous power over us — power that we, in turn, can wield against our kids to devastating effect.

This was brought home for me the other night as I was getting my daughter ready for bed. We just welcomed her little brother into the world a few weeks ago, and the whole experience has been a source of endless wonder for her. She loves reminding me what happened, as if I wasn’t there: “Hey, dad! Yesterday a long, long time ago [we’re still working on her concept of time], when I stayed at grandma and papa’s house, the baby came out of mommy’s tummy, and now I’m a new big sister!”

Elizabeth loves her baby brother. She loves the babies at church. She loves playing with baby dolls. It’s not hard to imagine her becoming a mother someday. It’s not hard to picture myself as a grandfather (a long, long time from now). It’s not hard to begin cultivating a specific dream for my daughter’s future — a certain vision of how her life will play out.

That night, I almost said, “And one day, you’ll be a mommy too!” But then I remembered the stories of those parents. Stories of soul-crushing disappointment, weighing heavily on them and their kids alike. What I’m slowly learning as a parent — and having to relearn every day — is that it’s not my job to write my daughter’s future. And it’s not her job to live up to my dreams for her.

If I can learn this well, I might save both of us a lot of disappointment one day.

After all, what if my daughter isn’t able to have kids? Or what if she doesn’t want kids? What if she decides not to get married? What about the 3-10% chance, statistically speaking, that she might be gay?

If I construct an overly specific vision of her future in my head now, won’t that make it harder to adapt and respond appropriately when her real future collides with the present?

So instead, that night I told my daughter, “And one day, if you decide it’s what you want, you can be a mommy too.”

We all have dreams for our kids. I do. I want my children to know they are loved by God. I want them love God and others in return. Beyond that, I just want them to know they are free to pursue their own dreams. I want them to discover who they are so they can live fully into their identity.

 

17 thoughts on “When the dreams you had for your kids fall apart

  1. Thank you for this important post. As the mom of 2 gay kids, I understand the shock and deep sadness parents feel when they hear the words, “I’m gay.” My dreams for them definitely died, and they died hard. I was furious with God and disappointed in my kids. Mostly, I was angry with myself, because I erroneously thought I was somehow responsible for their being gay. Fast-forward some years: God’s brought me a long, long way. He didn’t give up on me, even though I have flirted with giving up on Him. Instead, He has given me new dreams for my kids. With Him, there is never the death of one thing without a resurrection of it anew. Things are different, but they aren’t bad – just different. Living out of the truth is always right. Always. As parents we must be the safest of all landing places for all their words, especially for “those” words. And what is the truth we must ensure they hear from us? “God loves you, no matter what, and so do I.” When they live out of that truth, they will feel secure enough to pursue the dreams that are right for them, gay or straight.

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  2. Ben, thank you for this beautiful post. I am the mom of a gay son and I’m in the process of launching my website IFoundOutMom.com. My introduction is about the loss of the dream that you talk about. I will add a link to your blog as well. It is so fitting and you are “spot on.” Your children are blessed to have you for their dad.

    I see so many parents trying to steer their adult kids in the direction of their own dreams, rather than let them (the kids) have their journey. They have plans for them and God help them if they stray from the beaten path. Your message is refreshing and needs to be shared. Thank you so much.

    By the way, it’s been 14 years since my son came out to me. He is in a committed relationship with a man that my husband and I have grown to love like one of our own. Would I have chosen this life for my son or me? Absolutely not. Would I change it now if I could? Absolutely not. It has been an amazing journey and one that now fills my heart with passion and purpose as I seek to be a bridge between LGBTQ persons and the church.

    God bless you!

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    • Thank you for sharing! (By the way, I tried to visit your site and it looks like it’s down at the moment. You may already know that, just thought I’d mention it. So glad for the work you’re doing!)

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  3. I so appreciated reading your post! I am the Christian mother of a lesbian daughter. It is true that, when you hear those words from your child, something inside dies a little. I think it was even harder for my husband. The morning after she came out, he said to me, “All her life, I have been praying for the man she would marry one day. Where do I put that now?” My response, “I guess we start praying for the woman she may someday marry.” Fortunately, the words she heard from us that night were, “You are our daughter, and we love you just the same now as we did before you told us.” But we then had to discuss the people in the family and at church that would most likely not be safe for her to come out to, if she wanted to continue to have a relationship with them. How heart-breaking that was! There was also a long period of study, prayer and conversations with trusted friends, working at “unlearning” what we had been taught by our churches all our lives and seeing the issue with new eyes, with God’s help. It is a journey none of us anticipates when we first hold our precious child in our arms, but it doesn’t have to be the end of everything when we find ourselves on that road. Old dreams die, and new ones emerge, this time more in tune with who our child is and what their dreams are for their life.

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  4. A powerful post.

    For me the disappointment came very early – at 7 weeks we lost our baby on two occasions. It didn’t matter that it was that early – the hopes and plans were already growing with every day.

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  5. “…it’s not my job to write my daughter’s future. And it’s not her job to live up to my dreams for her.”

    Can I say that I both love and hate that statement at the same time… because I both wholeheartedly agree and disagree at the same time? As a parent wanting to see my children grow up and love God with all their hearts, minds and souls and to love their neighbors as themselves, I think our “job” or “ministry” or “training” or “raising” of our kids involves at least two important aspects that directly relate to this question: 1) As parents we are to help train our children in the way that God wants them to go… or, in other words, help them to discern what God’s dreams are for them and their future; and 2) in doing that, our own dreams for them will clearly “grow” or become more “defined” as will their own dreams for themselves.

    The bigger question is am I willing to teach my kids to dream, to dream big and to work hard for that dream but to hold their dreams with an open hand if God begins to direct them to a different dream, or as they discover that perhaps their dreams are contrary to God’s way… and to submit their ideas of what is best to God’s revelation of what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. The best way for me to do that is to model holding my dreams… for myself… and for them… with that metaphorical hand open and lifted up to God – and to submit those dreams to God’s sovereignty and absolute right to our futures – whether we understand or not.

    And that’s where I totally agree with your statement quoted above. It isn’t my job to write my children’s futures – that belongs to God. It isn’t their job to live up to my dreams for them. It is their privilege to be obedient and submit to the future and dreams God has for them – whether it matches up with what I thought, or what they thought… at first.

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    • I don’t think what I’m trying to say is all that far apart from what you wrote. I definitely want my kids to grow up to love and follow God (which means I have a responsibility to help show them the way). But I don’t want them to follow God because it’s MY dream for them. I want it to be their dream for themselves. Also, for me a lot of this about trying to remember that they could walk down a number of paths while following God — some of which may not look exactly like my own. And that’s OK.

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  6. WOW! I love this post and will be sharing it. I have a son who is gay and when he came out I too went through a process of grief because I had dreamed of a very specific future for my son and all of a sudden he didn’t fit into that dream. Today I hope good things for both of my sons but instead of trying to make them fit into a specific dream that I have for them I let them lead the way and encourage them to live authentically into who they were created to be. I wish I would have had your insight and wisdom when my kids were as young as your sweet daughter.

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  7. As a Mom of a son who is gay, I have grown in ways that my Christian friends don’t understand. I realized when I could not lean on the church, where fear was my constant companion, that God gently made HIS way into my heart and gave me the ability to love my son, just as he is. I regret that he saw my sadness, and my son would apologize for hurting me, for just being himself. Now, I apologize for hurting him, and I am thankful that I am not the same.
    Your children are blessed that they are not burdened by what you want. And you are free of regret. That is a precious gift to them.
    After reading your blog, I saw this sign,
    “We can not change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust our sails.”

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  8. You are a very wise parent, Ben. As our children grow up, they learn about themselves and what they discover (like same-sex attraction) or what they desire to become (an actor, musician…) can’t be squelched without consequence–sometimes life-threatening. After 12 or more years of hiding, my 23-year-old son came out last Thanksgiving. The depression, anger, and anxiety melted away, and I saw a person who was finally free and happy. It shattered some of the dreams I had, but his hiding caused so much internal distress for him that he couldn’t function, which caused many other dreams to be shattered along the way. With the elephant off our backs, we are all finally free. I believe that God is in the business of providing freedom and that He never leaves or forsakes us. My son would be either gay or dead. I believe it was God’s will for him to choose to live. Enjoy your children!

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  9. Being the Mom of a son that is gay I say thank you for your attitude and for posting this blog. You have your heart in the right place- your children are very blessed!

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  10. Tyou so much for this post Ben! We too, raised all three of our children in church, and were there every time the doors were opened. My husband was a Deacon and I was a very involved Youth Teacher. I have always LOVED teenagers :-/ Seriously, I do! By far, the biggest regret of my life, is not giving our son a place of grace or mercy to share this devastating SECRET of his. He had to endure all of those years totally on his own–trying his best to pray the gay away, and hearing some of those awful sermons about what he already knew to be his truth. UGH—still today, this GRIEVES me to the very core of my soul. He is 28 years old now, and has only been out to us for three years, but when he told us his story, I can’t tell you how devastated we were, not only of this news, but more because we failed him as parents. I would pride myself on my ability to talk to teenagers and make it easy for them to talk to me, yet I never gave that to my own son, even though deep in my heart, I always had that fear that he may be gay, but TRULY believed with everything in me, this could be prayed away. I even talked to several pastors who told me that if I would pray over our son every single day, God would remove this from him because being gay is a choice.

    Trying to make a long story short. God has never left my side during this past three years. We have lost MANY “Christian” friends because we are “affirming,” and even get grief from some family members, but until you have walked this rugged terrain with bare feet in the pitch black dark, you can not imagine where it will take you. GOD is BIGGER than ever for me now, and I am soooooo glad to be free of that box that I kept Him in–My gay son has truy taught me waht real “grace” and “love” look like. I just don’t look at people the same way anymore—-everybody has a story–I LOVE better.

    I PRAY this blog will spread like wildfire if simply to get people to pause, and truly pray over this issue. Don’t just regurgitate what you have been taught before, but seriously study those clobber passages from all directions—-so much of what I was taught is only an interpretation, and there are so MANY interpretations out there—Just what if-what if–what if, we have ered, please Lord let it be on the side of Love and not the Law—-Tyou from the bottom of this Momma’s heart. Also know that many will not receive this well–this will not be something that will ever enter their lives or the life of a person they would be willing to die for—they can not possibly know what a mother and father who have taken this journey, and seen their children suffer through, as they are coming to grips with their orientation. For many equate this to drug addiction —There is no 12 step program for this–it is an Orientation, but then again, it is only an orientation—-Tyou!!

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