Dear Family Advisor

Our adult gay son is very ill, but my husband doesn't want to move closer to help.

Last updated:

May 31, 2011

Our son is almost 60 and has been battling multiple sclerosis for years. His health has taken a turn for the worse and now he's alone -- his latest partner left mainly because of his mounting care needs (he's in a wheelchair).

Our son's lifestyle choice has caused conflict in our family, and he and my husband have barely spoken in years. I've suggested to my husband that we be more involved in our son's care and move closer to him (I'm in my late 70s and the travel is difficult for me), but my husband says this is the outcome of our son's choices and we shouldn't compromise our lives for a grown child. Every time I come back from caring for our son, my husband won't talk to me for days, sometimes weeks. I truly feel torn between caring for my son and my marriage.

Having a gay son is hot topic for many people. Acknowledge to your husband that this is hard. Say that it's OK that he doesn't agree with everything his son says or does -- after all, most parents don't. Remind him that he's a big enough man to open his heart and embrace his child with integrity and even be an example to other men who are struggling with their own family issues. Many families face similar care challenges that strain their relationships almost to the breaking point.

At the same time, don't be afraid if voices get raised -- his or yours. Sometimes all of us need to hear, "Oh, get over it already! So what if our son's gay. Everyone has issues in their lives."

What your husband might not understand is that, as a mother, you have a bond with your child -- a connection that, many times, outweighs a marriage. Just because our children are grown and make choices we don't agree with doesn't mean that we don't come to their aid when they need us.

It might be time to draw the line. Your son didn't ask for this disease, and diseases aren't given to us in punishment. Explain to your husband that, as a parent, you choose to love your child unconditionally and you feel a parental obligation to do all you can to help him. Tell your husband that love trumps all other emotions and perceptions, and this just is the way it's going to be.

Ask your husband what scares or upsets him about this -- is he worried about what others will say? Is this a religious issue, or is it the way he was raised to think? Really listen -- don't judge him, or you'll be acting no differently than he is. (Suggest that he may also benefit from talking to someone outside the family about all of this.)

Assure him that you love him and that you want to work through this together. I'm assuming that your husband is a good man, and that this is just really hard on him. Remind him that if something were to happen to any of the three of you -- and it eventually will -- you want to be the kind of person who did all you could to forgive, to heal, and to connect.

It's also time to work with your son to figure out a plan for his care. How long can your care for him last? Have the two of you looked into community resources that could help him? Remember that your son is still relatively young. Your goal should be for him to continue to live as autonomously as possible. He wants his own life with friends and a community of his choosing. It can be too easy to slip into the super-mom role and take over, particularly when you're afraid of losing him. This kind of relationship isn't healthy, and it's detrimental to your marriage and other aspects of your life and health as well.

Once you've figured out a realistic care plan, explain it to your husband. Don't push him to move outright just yet. Simply tell him you can't allow someone you love to suffer without finding every possible way to assist him. Let your husband know that it's OK if he's uncomfortable, but that he can't be nasty.

Then keep your word. Follow through with your plans so that he begins to realize that his silent treatment isn't going to work.

Of course, it's possible that things could get ugly. Are you willing to move in with your son? Would your son even want you to? Is this a big enough issue for you to consider a separation or divorce and its consequences (moving to a strange city, starting over)?

Keep your eye on the ultimate goal: that your son's life and health will stabilize into a balanced and manageable state -- and that your deepest hope is to bring your family to a place of acceptance, for everyone.