Can you advise me as to how I should talk to my teenage kids about their dad's homosexual affair? I've just been informed that he's divorcing me and leaving the family for another man. That's bad enough, but what especially concerns me is the thought of how this is likely to impact my kids. I'm trying to figure out how to explain that their father won't be living with us anymore, and I'm worried that the whole same-sex aspect of the situation will complicate the discussion beyond my capacity to handle it. What should I tell them?
As you're probably aware, the challenge of discussing a situation like this one is far more complicated in families where teens are present than in those with younger children.
Little kids can't fully grasp the difference between a heterosexual and a homosexual affair. They don't yet have the capacity to understand homosexuality, and as a result parents don't need to burden them with too much information about that aspect of the issue. All they need to know is that Daddy has gone off with "someone else" and that Mommy has a solid plan in place for taking care of the family's immediate needs.
Adolescents, on the other hand, are all too familiar with the idea of "alternative" forms of sexual orientation, having encountered the subject at school and in other contexts. For them, Dad's same-sex dalliance is something more than just a family matter or a personal problem. It entails big questions about worldview, morality, truth, and God's design for human sexuality. If your teens are thoughtful kids with inquiring minds, they're going to need some help sorting out the spiritual, moral, and ethical implications of their father's behavior. They're also going to have to deal with a number of questions that hit much closer to home – questions like, "What will this do to our family? What does this mean for my relationship with my dad? What does it mean for me?" If you don't feel qualified to guide them through this confusing maze, we'd strongly recommend that you enlist the assistance of a counselor, pastor, or youth leader.
The emotional aspects of a case like this can also become explosive when teenagers are involved. Teens find it difficult to process the wide range of powerful and conflicting feelings that are likely to rise up within them when a bomb of this magnitude is dropped into the middle of their lives. Once detonated, that bomb will throw them into inner turmoil and havoc. It may set their love for their father on a collision course with a sense of betrayal, confusion, and profound anger. They'll want to know why Dad is leaving, what he's planning to do next, and exactly how homosexuality figures in to the overall picture. They're entitled to receive reasonable answers to these questions.
If possible, it would be ideal if your kids could get those answers directly from their father. You will want to be involved too, of course. Naturally, you don't want to turn this meeting into a debate or a shouting match. You can help introduce an element of balance, reason, and perspective into the conversation by saying something like, "Dad has made some choices that are forcing us to make new arrangements in terms of our marriage and the family's living situation. I'll let him explain. " The support of a pastor or counselor would be helpful on this occasion, too, especially if your teens tend to be volatile or reactive.
Following the initial revelation, arrange a time for each of your kids to speak with their father one-on-one. They should have an opportunity to speak with him personally and tell him exactly what they're feeling. Don't put words in their mouths. Don't suggest that they try to change your husband's mind. Just give them an opportunity to speak from the heart. It would be a good idea to sit down with each of them and help them process their emotions before keeping that appointment. Don't be self-effacing, and don't assume the responsibility of explaining or justifying your husband's choices. You can talk about the moral implications of his decision and how it violates God's design for marriage, but don't let the conversation deteriorate into a personal attack. Say something like, "You need to accept what's happening and deal with it in your own way. Then move beyond it and do what's best for you. Get on with living your own life." You can also ask, "What would you like to say to your dad if he were sitting here right now?"
Finally, your teens need to be reassured that Dad's decision has nothing to do with them. Kids tend to blame themselves when family problems of this magnitude arise. Make it clear to them that this is not their fault. Explain that while Dad still loves them, he's forgotten for the moment that love means keeping promises and putting the needs of others ahead of one's own. Say something like, "Dad once made a promise to stay with the family, but now he's leaving, and that's painful for all of us. He says this is just something that he really wants to do right now." Talk to them in general terms about sin and selfishness and the pain that usually results from this kind of behavior. Then help them see that it's possible to survive that pain and come out stronger on the other side.
In the event that rumors of your family's difficulties begin to circulate and cause social problems for your children – if, for example, other kids at school begin to taunt them about their father's homosexuality or suggest that they, too, must be gay – help them to see that it isn't necessary to respond to such charges or to engage the bullies in any way. Make a concerted effort to spend time with your children and build up their self-confidence. Show them that they don't have any reason to prove anything to anybody. If questioned on the subject, all they need to say is, "My dad has made his own choices, but they're not mine. I'm a completely different person."
Here at Focus on the Family we have a staff of trained family therapists available to provide you with sound advice and practical assistance over the phone. If you'd like to discuss your situation with one of them, you can call us for a free consultation.
Helping Children Survive Divorce