Family driving you crazy?
You can’t escape the American family. Boxes of detergent aren’t extra large; they are “family size.” A local radio station has billboards all over town proclaiming their station is “safe for the whole family,” whatever that means. And when politicians talk about family values and you know what they really mean: everyone except GLBT people.
TV family sitcoms may not often look like our families, but most gay people are born into family units that are pretty typical – healthy in some ways, dysfunctional in others. (One well-known psychotherapist has suggested that 95% of all American families are dysfunctional, so that’s not saying a lot.) In other ways, though, gay people face special circumstances when dealing with their families of origin.
Families can be warm and supportive – or kick a young son or daughter onto the street when they find out the kid is queer. Some families welcome a partner into the fold with open arms. Other families refuse to acknowledge the partner even exists. It’s true what they say: you can pick a rose or you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your relatives.
Telling your family you’re gay can be very stressful – but if you can’t do it, you’re going to have a hell of a time living life as a healthy adult. Parents aren’t stupid; they probably suspect that the guy who has remained your roommate through 8 years and 3 moves is probably isn’t hanging around just because you’ve got similar housekeeping habits. If you find yourself going through all sorts of contortions in a vain effort to keep them clueless, it may be you who needs a clue.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. But standing up to potential judgment and disapproval from mom and dad is part of the individuation process – part of how we become our own selves rather than just an expression of other peoples’ expectations of us.
Even after you come out, some families are tough to deal with. If some gay men became the family scapegoat early on, others found themselves taking on the role of Mom’s confidant or surrogate spouse early in life. These boys spent their adolescence listening to mother’s problems, taking care of younger siblings or otherwise doing adult stuff instead of simply being a boy. These kids, sometimes called “adultified children,” often took on too much responsibility and had too little fun. That affects how we look at life after leaving home, too.
For many of us, few challenges in adult life are as complicated as learning how to assert ourselves in healthy ways with those we love. Families are a good place to start because they have so many expectations – spending every holiday together, going to the same church, etc. If those expectations no longer work for you, your choices are cave in to the pressure, rage and blow up at your family’s craziness…. or decide to respond as an adult who is entitled to live his life the way he wants to live it.
Healthy family relationships begin with mutual respect. It’s good to respect your parents – and equally good for them to respect you. Our society promotes the fiction that families are happiest and healthiest when everyone the members of the family think alike and work hard to maintain harmony. Truly healthy relationships provide enough space for each person to breathe and feel enough freedom to make choices.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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