Before we say anything else, know that our hearts go out to you in this season of pain and confusion. The emotions you’re experiencing are understandable reactions of a concerned and loving parent. You’re wise to ask for input about how to handle things.
Respond calmly and respectfully
So, how should you respond to what your son told you? Respectfully and in as cool-headed and non-reactive a way possible.
Don’t panic, though, if you and your son have already had a blow-up with each other. Ask for forgiveness and the chance to start over. Agree with him that you’ll both do your best to stay away from hurtful attitudes and actions going forward.
As with all interpersonal interactions, you can only control your choices and behavior, not the other individual’s. Do your part to interact well and reflect Christ’s character, and let that be what guides your approach.
Care for your own heart
Before moving ahead, surround yourself with support — a pastor, a licensed counselor, a mentor, or a small group of understanding friends. Also, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page. (Call us if you’d like help to find a trained marriage therapist.)
The reality is that you’re shaken by your son’s revelation. You might even feel that you need to question or re-examine your own beliefs about homosexuality. That’s OK! Reviewing your convictions is a smart step as you think about what the Lord is asking of you.
Don’t be afraid to dig into research in the light of God’s truth and with the help of caring Christian friends. Turn to well-informed sources who follow the full counsel of Scripture (the character of God and the larger picture of the whole Bible). The titles listed below are a great starting point.
Honest questioning can confirm and solidify your beliefs. It can also correct any attitudes, language, or assumptions that might miss the mark of Christian love – or that simply aren’t yet informed on this complex topic. We all have room to learn and grow.
Affirm your son
At the earliest stage, it might be good to let your son know about the wide range of emotions you’re feeling. You might say,
This is obviously something you’ve been thinking about for a while. But we’ve just heard about it for the first time. And to be honest, it’s thrown us into a tailspin. Can we take some time to consider what you’ve told us before talking more?
When you feel ready, ask your son if he’d be willing to sit down and talk with you and your spouse about the way he sees himself and this news. If he agrees, keep your focus on two overarching goals:
- Maintain your relationship with your son.
- Maintain a godly influence in his life.
Above all, affirm your son. Make every effort to connect with him at the heart level. In the process, stay unified as a couple as you address the situation; it’s important to demonstrate that the two of you are on the same page.
As the conversation moves forward, use first-person words – I and we – instead of you-based language, which can easily be heard as controlling, directive, blaming, shaming, scolding, or self-righteous. You could say,
We’re glad you’ve shared this with us. We want to know what you’re going through, and we’ll be there for you no matter what.
Assure him of your love – your continuing, unconditional love. Author Jeff Johnston says, “One of the deepest questions in the human heart is this: If you know the worst about me, will you still love me? Affirm your child in your unconditional love for him. Let him know you care — whatever he struggles with. There is deep healing in receiving love and affirmation from you.”
At the same time, remind your son that loving unconditionally doesn’t mean loving without concern — or that you’ll always agree with him. God loves us unconditionally, but He also cares deeply about what we do, what we say, and how we view ourselves.
Figure out what your son means
Listen to your son’s attitude as he talks about his thoughts on his sexual attractions.
- Does he seem hesitant or confused?
- Is he struggling, sorrowful, or ashamed?
- Or has he confronted you with an uncompromising or even defiant declaration of willful self-intent?
If he’s confused, you’ll want to be especially sensitive and gentle. If he’s struggling and ashamed, he might need a firmer, though still compassionate, response. Either way, remember your goals of maintaining the relationship and maintaining godly influence. Affirm, connect, and assure him of your love over and over again.
Approach your discussion as a time of discovery — to learn about your son’s thinking and experience. Urge him to do the same. Start by saying,
Because you matter so much to us, we want to understand as much as we can about what you’re experiencing. Is it OK if we ask a few questions?
Once you get the go-ahead, ask open-ended questions like:
- What led you to believe that you might be gay?
- Have you ever experienced feelings of attraction to the opposite sex?
- When did you first become aware of your attraction to others of the same sex?
- What was your initial reaction to those feelings?
- How constant are these attractions?
- Have you talked to anyone about them?
The discovery phase could last for an extended time – weeks, maybe even months. Be gracious with yourselves. Don’t create pressure to have immediate resolutions. It’s unrealistic, and it could push your son away and compromise your overarching goals.
It might also be a good idea to ask him if he’d be willing to sit down with you and an objective third party — preferably a trained Christian counselor. Make sure that the counselor follows a biblical sexual ethic and is compassionate, understanding, and experienced in addressing issues surrounding same-sex attractions.
Your son needs a safe place with safe people — people who won’t shame him for questioning his sexuality. Feelings of shame will only increase defensiveness or add to feelings of self-loathing or depression that sometimes come with this struggle.
Help him talk it out, not act it out
The next time you sit down together, begin by reminding your son of the truth you’ve already established: Loving unconditionally does not mean loving without concern.
With that as the foundation, let him know that you’d like to make a request. Say something like:
We know we can’t control you. We just want to tell you how we’ve learned from experience that it’s always a good idea to go slow when making big life decisions – like selecting a college major, or choosing who to marry.
That’s especially true when it comes to your sexuality and personal identity. So we want to recommend that you hit pause before putting a label on the feelings you’ve been experiencing.
There’s no need to jump to conclusions by calling yourself “gay,” “bi,” “trans,” or anything else. You owe it to yourself to shut out all the cultural and political noise on this subject and take a close and careful look at your options. After all, many people have felt same-sex attraction without adopting the “gay” label.
Invite your son to talk it out rather than act it out. Encourage him to openly express the feelings, wants, hopes, and fears he’s going through without assigning them to any specific category such as “gay” or “straight.”
Caution him against sexual experimentation as a way to determine his orientation. Point out that experimentation, like labeling, tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy (when something comes true just because someone believes it and their behavior lines up with those beliefs).
Although your son might feel like he can’t honor your suggestions — or chooses not to — your goal isn’t to change him or force him to agree with you. Offer your heart and what you believe to be wise. You’ll plant seeds for future thought and establish the groundwork for clear, reasonable, and loving communication.
Does your son know Christ?
A final important consideration is your son’s personal belief system. Does he call himself a Christian? Is Jesus his Savior and Lord?
If so, urge him to give his faith convictions priority over everything else. You can explain that you believe biblical values carry much greater weight than feelings of attraction.
That’s because attraction, behavior, and identity are three separate areas; one doesn’t have to determine the others. Behavior and identity — unlike attraction — are matters of conscious, willful choice.
As with any sinful behavior, it’s not about being tempted — it’s about willfully engaging in activity that goes against God’s law. So it’s possible to be a Christian and, at the same time, wrestle with same-sex attraction. But we can’t be faithful, obedient Christians while willingly involving ourselves in any sexual practices that the Bible says are sinful.
Stress the point that, as God’s beloved and as a son loved under your care, he’s expected to conduct himself according to the standards of Christian sexual morality — no matter what temptation or identity questions he might be going through.
You can end your conversation by saying,
We want you to know that we will be reading and learning about this topic because we care about you. If you’re willing, maybe we could read and learn together.
Talk to extended family and younger siblings
In the meantime, depending on the circumstances, it might be a good idea to speak with other members of the family.
However, you shouldn’t necessarily share widely until you and your spouse have a solid plan for relating to your son. No need to add stress to an already fragile situation, particularly if your son hasn’t directly told others himself.
If he is going public, though, you and your spouse should be the first ones to talk with your younger children. That can reduce the chance of other people sharing information in potentially destructive ways.
- Use age-appropriate language to explain that their older brother is going through a difficult time.
- Give details about the issue being sexual in nature only on a need-to-know basis.
- Acknowledge and empathize with your children’s emotional reactions to the situation. Each one may need help sorting out his or her feelings.
- Make it clear that even though you’re committed to biblical standards of morality, you’ll never stop loving your son.
- Ask the other kids to join you in treating their brother with love and respect and in praying for him.
We’re here to help
We know this is a complicated and personal subject. Would you let us come alongside you?
Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors would welcome the chance to hear your story and talk with you in more detail.
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.
Homosexuality (resource list)
Desert Stream Ministries