At My Wits End
I am a single mother of 2 teenage boys, 12 and 16. I have been in same-sex relationships off and on for almost 10 years now. I am in a new relationship that is very open and my son is not handling it well. He has become withdrawn, agitated, aggressive, verbally and physically abusive. I have tried to talk to him about my choice and my relationship with him but it doesn’t seem to help. I don’t know how to help him handle this transition. Any advice or resources that I can use to get my house back would be greatly appreciated. I don’t want to alienate my son but I don’t want to live a lie anymore. Please help.
—At My Wits End
Dear "At My Wits End",
You didn’t mention which son is having such a hard time. I’m tempted to guess. The 16-year-old is the middle of his own sexual identity development, so he might be really angry finding out his mother is an out lesbian. Sometimes for teens, particularly older teens, it is just embarrassing having parents who are sexual, and gays and lesbians may seem to be more “sexual” than heterosexuals (however unsubstantiated that may be). It is possible though, that your 16-year old is dealing with this by being <shrug> cool and sophisticated. Some young people find queerness no big deal, and take pride in not reacting to sexual and gender transgression.
Perhaps it is your 12-year old who is having a hard time. At the beginning of his adolescence, just beginning to have his body develop and change (or waiting impatiently for changes to begin), he is confused about the whole world of dating and sexuality, and the early rush of his own hormones. Lesbian motherhood still seems like an oxymoron to many people, and he may not know how to explain your relationship to his friends. Let us not forget that our children are dealing with their own emerging sexuality and the fear that “if my mom is gay, does that mean that I am too”?
So in the end, it could be either son who is “withdrawn, agitated, aggressive, verbally and physically abusive.” Rule number one is simply that abusive behavior is not acceptable. He needs to know that is a bottom line, and will not be tolerated. He can have feelings, express his frustration and angry, stay in his room, and be downright miserable, but he CANNOT be verbally or physically abusive. What are the rules in your home about this? What consequences does he have for this behavior? Perhaps you are feeling sorry for him, “understanding” why he might have such powerful feelings, and not sending a strong enough message that his behavior is not acceptable.
The reality is that no matter what our children feel or think about our sexual relationships, it does not (or should not) change it. Teenagers who have heterosexual parents who are dating often have a really hard time also. Are you sure this is about “lesbianism,” or just about having you be an independent sexual woman, who happens to be his mother?
You said that you have been in same-sex relationships for 10 years, but this is the first time you have been this out? Is it possible your son is feeling a bit betrayed that you have kept this secret from him? Has he known previous lovers, but didn’t “know” about your relationship? Has he been asked to keep this from his father, or other extended family members? It is always hard to respond to questions, when I am working with so little information, but I think it is important that we take a firm stance with our children about things that are not negotiable and loving adult relationships are simply non-negotiable items in their parent’s lives.
That does not mean we shouldn’t be understanding of their position, or compassionate towards their needs, but we should not waiver from the facts. If we do not take a strong position (“I love this woman, and that is not going to change.”) then our kids might think they can manipulate us into ending the relationship. We can offer them compassionate listening and tools for coping with new situations. We can dialogue with them about the best ways to integrate a new lover in the household, or retain private and alone time just like it always had been. But you cannot negotiate your sexuality, or about the gender of a partner. You cannot force older children to accept your lover as a parent, or even as a friend, but you can insist on respect.
You might need to move slowly in spending time with your lover and your children together. You might want to make sure your home remains a place they feel comfortable inviting their friends (i.e., no out lesbian posters in the living room). You also might want to introduce them to lesbian culture. Take them to gay resorts like Provincetown or invite them to join you at lesbian music gatherings. Show them how vibrant and alive our culture is. They might just decide that having queer parents is very cool indeed.
Please seek out support with a knowledgeable family therapist who is well-versed in both step-parenting issues and sexual identity. Contact COLAGE (The Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere), and see if being around other gay families might help him feel less “different.” Read Abigail Garner’s book, Families Like Mine. Mostly, be yourself. After all, your children have been deeply loved and raised by a lesbian woman, so there’s got to be something redeeming about at least one lesbian, right?
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Arlene (Ari) Lev, LCSW, CASAC, a therapist in the Albany area for over 25 years, serving the LGBT community at Choices Counseling and Consulting, as well as pieces written by the committed staff therapists of Choices Counciling in Albany.
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