What can I do about our outspoken gay son’s disrespect to our family?

q&a with geoff Apr 07, 2021


Our youngest son announced he was gay almost 10 years ago. He moved to New York and has been trying to set up a new business for the past year or so. He’s way overextended himself financially. He’s had many gay friends and a few gay relationships through the years in New York, but each one has eventually always turned bad and have cut their relationship off with him. 

As the years go by our son has become very outspoken in his beliefs about religion and politics. If any of our family members give an opinion on these issues, he definitely fights back. No one wants to talk about anything or any subject with him. 

As his mother I refuse to let him go, but I told him he needs to treat my husband and me better. What more can I do?


Even though your son has burned bridges in his family and in his new home, I’m moved by your refusal to give up on helping him find a better way to relate to his family. Your deep commitment to your son despite the way he treats you requires maturity and perspective. 

While I don’t know how much suffering he’s experiencing, I can only imagine that he must feel troubled by losing so many relationships. Isolation and disconnection are punishing to us even if we convince ourselves that we don’t care. Your willingness to maintain your tie to him may be the toughest bridge for him to burn, and I can only hope he’ll allow you to be a part of his life. 

You’ve set an important expectation that he won’t be allowed to treat you and your husband disrespectfully. We all need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. While you can’t force him to treat you respectfully, you can excuse yourself from toxic interactions that are abusive and demeaning until he’s ready to demonstrate basic civility.

Holding this boundary will help you and your husband become less reactive as you work to build a good relationship with him. 

While I certainly respect those who speak up for what they believe, it’s hard to stay in relationship with someone who won’t return that same respect. While I don’t believe it’s healthy to harbor resentments and bitterness toward those who hurt us, it also doesn’t make sense to continue engaging with those who are abusive and destructive.

You can continue sending signals of love from a safe distance, so he knows you’re accessible and responsive when he’s ready to be respectful.

Regardless of how much physical and emotional distance you need to maintain with your son, you can always seek to better understand what matters to him. In my experience, those who shout the loudest are often the ones who feel the most unheard. It’s terribly difficult to walk toward someone who is aggressive, so your boundary around mutual respect is an important step to helping him feel heard. 

You can let him know that what he thinks and feels matters to you. You can tell him that he doesn’t need to convince you of anything, but that you simply want to know his heart. He’s likely experienced tremendous pain, fear, rejection and other struggles as he’s navigated coming out, moving to a new city, starting a business, losing friendships and enduring lost love.

Stay open to any feedback he may have about how he’s been treated in his family and in his relationship with you. It takes more courage to drop the aggression and share vulnerable emotions, so make sure to listen carefully if he softens. 

While there may be a future expectation of reciprocity where he can make room for your thoughts and beliefs, perhaps your main objective now is to let him know you want to witness his story from a place of acceptance and nonjudgement. Remember that acceptance isn’t the same as agreement. You can give him space and grace to own his lived experience. You don’t need to defend what conflicts with your deeply held beliefs out of fear or anxiety.

Your goal is to create connection, not conversion. You can help create conditions where your love invites peace and connection. 

Your other family members get to choose how they will respond to him and they will undoubtedly be influenced by your willingness to stay connected to him. They will see your refusal to engage in reactive fights and your courage as you re-engage with him when he’s showing civility. Your love for him will never expire, but your proximity to him will adjust depending on how much trust he’s earned to have access to you and your husband. 

Even though you don’t see things the same way, you can let him know that his thoughts and beliefs aren’t your biggest problem. Your biggest problem is how he treats those who disagree with him. If he chooses to stay contentious and aggressive with those who might disagree but still want to connect with him, then continue loving him from a distance.

Continue sending the signal that your love for him hasn’t diminished even though it’s not possible to stay in conversation with him. Hopefully he chooses to be close instead of wanting to be right. 

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