There is nothing more awkward than having your parent offer dating advice. I’ve been with the same man for over 28 years, but the very thought of my mom or dad weighing in on… well, anything having to do with my private life would have mortified my younger self. In fact, I have a little embarrassment shiver thinking about it right now. I didn’t grow up in a household where talked about how you felt or what you hoped for other than in very broad terms (aka, “I hope for world peace and to meet a great guy who also happens to be tall, dark and handsome”). However, my husband and I decided when we were beginning our family that communication was key. We wanted to talk to our kids and let them know we were a safe haven and they could share anything with us.
Fast forward a few years. Our kids are young adults, 21, 19 and 16. The older two are definitely dating, while our youngest (a girl) isn’t quite there yet. The 19 year old isn’t big on sharing, but he’s brought his girlfriends around and doesn’t seem particularly embarrassed by us. It’s a nice, no pressure relationship. The condom discussion has been had and yeah, everyone blushed but it wasn’t the end of the world. So far so good.
And then there’s our oldest son, who happens to be gay (you probably already know if you’ve read any of my previous posts 🙂 ). He went from living a closeted teenage life in which I patiently knocked a few times before the door was flung open, to becoming very close to comfortable in his own skin. It is an amazing and immensely gratifying thing. He’s confident, self-possessed, intelligent and unlike his younger brother… he’s a sharer. In fact, he’s an over-sharer. Of course I don’t mind, but I have to admit, for as much as I’ve made a point at educating myself, I’m not always sure I’m qualified to give sound advice to a 21 year old gay man about dating. I’m not even sure “dating” is the proper term. “Going out”, “seeing” or “interested in” might be more apt, but what do I know?
What the big deal, you say? Give him the same safe sex talk you gave his straight brother and get over yourself, right? Not so fast. What about STDs, HIV and the fact he’s attracted to men who aren’t that much younger than me? It gets a little more complicated. I’ve learned a simple “use a condom” isn’t enough (though that assertion is equally relevant on the straight side). The TMI portion of parent/child sex education gets harder but hell, I can’t allow myself to be left in the dark. And it turns out, I’ve raised a son who is more than happy to keep me educated. Lol!
When I was at GRL in San Diego a couple weeks ago, he called to tell me about this great guy he met. An older man with a fantastic job, a cool dog and great sense of humor. Wonderful! In my head, I was ready to invite my potential new son-in-law over for Thanksgiving as I pondered silly details like what fabulous side dishes to serve and what size sweater to buy at Christmas. Or maybe for Hanukah. Reality squelched my future ramblings a moment later when my son told me he’d had to tell the guy he was afraid he was coming down with strep throat and urged him to get tested. The recurrence of strep prompted my son to go through a battery of tests recently to rule out every STD known to man. And yes, he told me all about it. Including sharing that he was HIV negative. All wonderful news, but it’s a lot to take in when less than a year ago, I was more worried about the fact he rarely went out at all. Holy crap! It’s a lot to take on from the parental side. That’s my baby, for crying out loud!
Thinking about your child as a sexual being is as awkward as the realization that your parents actually had sex at least once. However, as permissible as it is to be grossed out by the latter, it is irresponsible to ignore what you don’t understand when it comes to anything to do with your children. If I really want to be open and honest, I have to educate myself when it becomes clear that the straight woman’s experience is of no use to a gay, sexually active young man.
Within reason. It’s one thing to educate and another to become the TMI mom. As much as I loved and admired Debbie from QAF, I really don’t aspire to be her. What I do want is to be open-minded. I want to grow as a person and a parent. My kids don’t need more friends. They need mentors and educators to look up to and confide in. They need to know the same parents who insisted they were willing to talk about bullying, inequality and (gulp) safe sex are also willing to delve a little further. They need honesty. No one learns all they need to know after graduation, no matter how many letters they’ve earned after their name. And while I fully admit I may not be able to give advice based on like experience, I can listen. And I can learn. Let’s get real… my son doesn’t really want my advice in so much as he wants to know that I’m willing to listen and to accept.
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”- John Wooden