The no. 1 complaint I hear from gay teens or adults whom I interview is that their parents don’t listen to them. When they summon their nerve to come out to their parents and should have the mike, the parents interrupt by saying “You can’t be!” “You’re too young to know!” “It’s just a Phase!” Or, they react with stony silence or anger as they storm out of the room.
For a parent to be an effective listener, sit still. Don’t nag, criticize, ask a million questions or lecture. Watch your body language. Crossed arms make you appear angry. Maintain eye contact. Nodding makes the speaker think you’re listening.
Give your child your undivided attention. Don’t talk on the phone, watch television or check your messages on your cell phone. If you cannot honestly listen at that moment, explain why and ask if you can talk again at another time.
And when your kids talk about their significant other, they want you to not only listen but ask them about their special one in the same way you would inquire about your heterosexual daughter or son’s love interest. If you don’t show interest in your gay son’s or lesbian daughter’s social life, it connotes that you don’t care about their happiness or you don’t accept their sexual orientation.
If you talk to your friends about your hetero daughter’s dating, you similarly should relay news about your gay child’s relationships if you have his/her permission to do so.
To be a good listener requires patience and diligence. In our world driven to distraction by multi-media, it is a skill that takes practice. But when it is achieved, the art of listening speaks louder than words.
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.