Q. My son came out to me recently. Though shocked at first, I think I’ve done a credible job of accepting him. I’m not sure how to deal with some of the stuff his 17-year-old brain wants to do like getting a tattoo, dating guys who have not come out to their parents, or getting him a fake ID so he can sneak into a gay bar.

A. Oh my! I hope you’ve “accepted” him his whole life. He’s still the same boy you’ve loved for 17 years—you just now have some additional information about his preferences. The quality of your parenting guidelines you have for his behaviors while he lives at home need to be the same as it would have been for any son of yours, straight, asexual, or gay. Above all you want to avoid swinging from one extreme to another. Some parents rejects their child’s sexual orientation and abandon them emotionally and spiritually; others because start walking on eggs for fear they’ll say or do something inappropriate. Either way, the child has lost the benefit of effective parenting.

  • Would you have allowed him to get a tattoo at 17 before you knew he was gay? If no, then the answer is: “You are free to get a tattoo when you turn 21. Until then you can use stick-on tattoos that wash off.”
  • Before he came out, would you have talked openly with him regarding concerns you had about some of his friends? He still needs the same level of quality parenting you would provide to any child. Maybe even more so. If he prefers to date boys who have not come out to their parents. This type of relationship requires secrecy, pretending, sneaking around, and maybe even some level of lying, which might increase the adrenalin rush but typically ends in heartache.
  • Would you have obtained fake ID so a straight child could sneak into adult bars? I certainly hope not!
  • Effective parenting requires open discussion about a great many issues including family rules, personal boundaries, relationships, sexuality, safer sex in relation to sexually transmitted diseases, and so on. There also needs to be open discussion about how to date safely including issues related to potential sexual abuse, partner violence, substance abuse, and blackmail, which can surface in any relationship—there may be a slightly different twist to consider in gay relationships.
  • Respect is a two-way street: you respect him and he is expected to respect you. That means if you would insist on meeting a dating partner before allowing one of your other children to go on a 1:1 date, the same thing applies to your gay son.

Bottom line: Loving and accepting your child is one thing; effective parenting is another. Be clear that you would expect the same guideline compliance from him as from your other children and then willing and able to say, “This has nothing to do with your being gay; I am your parent and the choice you want to make is unsafe or inappropriate.” He’ll grow up soon and enough and be out taking on the world for himself. If you really love him, you will provide him with the highest quality parenting of which you are capable—regardless of sexual orientation.