QUESTION: My 16-year-old
daughter recently "came out." It didn't come as a surprise to me, but
my husband was shocked and is having a difficult time accepting the
fact that his daughter is a lesbian. He states his religious beliefs
as being the reason for his lack of acceptance. My daughter had always
been very close to her father, but since coming out, they hardly speak
unless they are arguing. She has always been a straight A student with
a happy-go-lucky personality. She's a warm, thoughtful, open and honest
person, and a wonderful daughter. But lately she seems depressed. She's
not eating well, her grades are slipping and she seems distant. I have
made an appointment with a family counselor, but my husband refuses
to go because he feels that the therapist will try to convince him that
this is normal. Needless to say, this issue has not only affected the
relationship between my daughter and her father, but it is driving a
wedge between my husband and myself. What might be causing my husband
to react in this very negative way and what can I do?
daughter is clearly grieving the loss of her father. Yet, she may be
also feeling great pain from the sudden and deep disturbance in your
marriage which has served as the very foundation of her family life.
Her "news" has precipitated a crisis which has shaken the family to
its foundations. It is up to you and your husband to refuse to allow
your daughter's sexuality to destroy the core bonds of your marital
or family relationships. You and your husband are becoming quickly polarized
during a period of crisis when you need each other the most!
It is likely that your husband is expressing all
of the rejection to her news and your are expressing all of the acceptance.
It is very possible that you are specializing in having only "positive"
feelings to balance what you perceive as extreme "negativity" in your
partner. Consider that you, too may be feeling some disappointment
at your daughter's news, but have not shared it with your husband
for fear it would only fuel his rejection of her. But continuing this
unrealistic polarization distorts each of you and is highly destructive
to your marriage. You need to have a partner who you can express disappointment
to about your daughter, and he needs to be able to express his feelings
of affection for her which cannot have evaporated overnight!
Perhaps you could reach into yourself to identify
some sadness that may be a part of letting go of your daughter's heterosexuality.
Surely, you must have some sorrow for the potential prejudice she
will face in the world. Sharing some of this with your spouse may
be the beginning of a return to a healthier middle ground in your
marriage. It will at least allow him to see that it isn't just so
very okay with you. Sharing disappointments in life is a task of the
marriage. Instead of battling with your husband about what is "right"
or "normal", rivet his attention on the fact that his daughter needs
him desperately now.
Whether he agrees with her belief in her sexual orientation
or not, her father is failing her as a parent. Let him know that you
are willing to hear his pain. Open yourself to listening to your husband's
disappointments in his daughter. Be willing to express your share
of the sorrow. But do not stop there. Insist that he step up to the
plate to deal with his daughter's depression and falling grades. Tell
him that you are in this together, and that he is abandoning not only
his responsibility to her, but to you as a parenting partner.
Again, invite him to couples' therapy with you. But
this time, be clear that you will be willing to discuss how to handle
this situation and not whether or not "homosexuality is normal". Consider
having an agreement to disagree, and create a shared goal of what
is in the best interest of your daughter, who is now suffering depression
over threatened family relationships. If he is open to it, he may
want to join a parents' support group (now or in the future) where
he can share his experience with other fathers who are undergoing
the process of dealing with their children's homosexuality. Eventually,
it is in a group like this that many fathers are able to share their
humiliation and pain, separating this from their relationships with
their sons and daughters.
Your husband is not ready to give up his view of
what he believes his daughter should be, and one of his requirements
is heterosexuality. Allow him to believe that she is "wrong", "sinful"
or even that she may "change her mind" in the future. He, too, is
a family member and has every right to his feelings and views. But
continue to require that he find a way to come back to the marriage
and his role as a parent, which includes supporting his daughter through
her adolescence. Teenage depression can become serious and potentially
deteriorate towards suicidality if not addressed.
Ask him how he would like his daughter to look back
on this experience. What does he want to teach his children about
crisis and the way a family responds? Do the two of you want your
children to look back on this with the realization that you pulled
together as a family, despite great difficulties? Or split apart under
pressure? It is up to the two of you to work through what kind of
family the two of you want to have together. Accept your husband's
feelings. But ask him for positive suggestions to this dilemma, rather
than only negative reactions.
Adolescence is never easy on a family. Our children's
emerging identity thrusts the family system towards inevitable change.
Accommodating the changes inherent in adolescence requires nothing
short of transformation. Your daughter's quest to identify herself
has been particularly poignant to the observation by many family therapists
that this stage in the family life cycle requires a metamorphosis
of the family system.
Martin Luther King's famous words also ring with
authenticity at this time ... "The true measure of a man is not when
things are going well, but when they are difficult".... Ask your husband
to remember his marital vows to be with you in better times, and in
worse times. Invite him to come back to the marriage and take his
place again by your side.
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