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.
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.