Being a Listening Parent by Cheryl Restaino

September 15, 2009

in Mother of a Gay Son

It felt as if someone had hit me in the chest with a cannonball, knocking all the air out of my lungs. I was blindsided and helpless when my son finally shared his struggle with us. Nine years ago my 21 year old son, Marc, first came out to his sister, then to his dad, Carmen, and I. So many questions, so many conflicting feelings, I thought I would never have a settled stomach again. My children compiled a good amount of literature about PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and then my education started. I was among friends and it felt so healing.

The journey has been a tough one but, when Carmen and I were asked to be ‘Listening Parents’ for Fortunate Families, I knew it was an important role for us. I’ve heard it over and over again at PFLAG: the most common struggle is that of religion. Since our short time involved with Listening Parents, Carmen and I have met, emailed, and cried with other Catholics. Painful, yes, but sharing has been so healing for us.

Unfortunately, many gay people face rejection from those they love in the name of Catholicism. I received an email from a 47 year old woman, “Shelley,” asking us to meet with her mom. According to Shelley, her parents are ‘very Catholic,’ and unable to accept her  sexuality. She was hoping we could talk with her mom and help her to understand. Her dad was out of the question. I thought I’d get my husband, who is a Catholic deacon, and my priest to talk with her mom. We met at our church and after our meeting, her mom said, “you may like your priest but I wanted to talk to a holy priest.” Obviously, Fr. Matthew, in his acceptance, didn’t say what this mom wanted to hear. We reached out, but this mom could not get past the religious issue and Shelley was dejected once more. I am proud of my church and Fr. Matthew’s eagerness to help but so much more needs to be done.

Over these years I am more and more aware of just how much we share with other parents. Another mother saw my name listed in the Listening Parents’ directory and recognized that I had been her son’s teacher in middle school. It was comforting for her to see she was not alone, that even a teacher’s kid could be gay. Even more surprising, a deacon’s kid could be gay, wow! I realize now, more than ever, how damaging some of the church’s teachings have been. Young people really feel ostracized and parents don’t know who to turn to. The work of Fortunate Families makes us all feel hopeful. Watching my son mature into a wonderful young man, I am ever thankful for a chance to share in this journey. Yesterday over lunch, a friend lamented about her daughter’s orientation, saying “everything happens for a reason, but I guess I’ll never know.” I said, “I already know… so we could be better people.” My son has made me a better person, more accepting and slower to judge. My relationships have improved because I have learned to listen and think.

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