Q. My 24- year-old son just announced that he is gay. Someone I trust told me it was because I was too strong a mother, and my husband was too weak or absent from the family. Is this true? Did I cause him to be gay?
A. The theory that boys were gay because the mother was too strong and the father was too weak was disproven many years ago. The person with whom you spoke needs to do some current academic research before spouting opinions that can be disturbing and accusatory. As of 1973, the American Psychological Association no longer considered homosexuality to be a mental health problem and concluded that it was not a result of lax or over-protective parenting.
Common sense can rid us of the belief that a strong mother and an absent father causes a son to be gay. According to the U.S. Census from 2011, 36 percent of children in the United States were born to single mothers. If a strong mother and an absent father were the cause of homosexuality, we would have an increasingly large gay population. This has not happened. The rate of homosexuality has remained steady at an estimated 4 percent throughout the years.
Many studies have been conducted to understand the causes of homosexuality. At this time, there is no definitive answer. Theories that have been promoted include: differences in the size of the brain’s anterior hypothalamus, genetic predisposition, hormonal exposure in the womb, and epi-marks that control how certain genes are expressed.
What we do know is that gay people do not choose to be gay any more than someone else chooses to be heterosexual. Instead of blaming yourself, accept your son, be a part of his life, and treat him with dignity and respect. I would suggest that you examine the website, PFLAG, which is a resource for parents of gay children.
Q. My only child, who is 38, and her husband have decided to remain childless. I really want grandchildren. I think it is a selfish decision that she will regret as she grows older. What is your opinion?
A. I think your daughter and her husband have a right to make their own decisions. Although you may perceive her choice as selfish, she may perceive your desire to have grandchildren as equally selfish.
In her book, The Childless Revolution, author Madelyn Cain writes that couples who choose not to have children don’t see themselves as lonely or lacking. Although there is still little research on couples who remain childless, it is a growing trend. According to the Pew Research Center, in 1965 over 65 percent of Americans said children were “very important” for a successful marriage. In 2007, that number was down to 41 percent.
The reasons that couples are deciding to remain child-free vary considerably. Many couples enjoy the freedom that being childless brings. Others mention that they enjoy the peace of a child-free home; they don’t want the financial or emotional stress of a family; or they simply do not enjoy children.
The stigma of being childless may be difficult for your daughter. Don’t make it more so. People will question her about starting a family or inquire about fertility problems. Others will stress that it is God’s will for married couples to produce children. Still others will attempt to convince her that she is missing “life’s greatest joy.”
Instead of mourning your loss as a grandmother, find a way to satisfy your desire to be around children. Volunteer in your church or local community centers. Most places have opportunities to provide children with additional guidance and love. Make peace with your daughter’s decision to remain childless and allow her to do the same.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.