Tell Me About It: I don’t want to tell her because I don’t want my daughter to have to experience that sort of rejection
I have a 20-year-old daughter who is gay and who has had the same wonderful girlfriend for three years. My daughter came out to my husband and I when she was 16 and we have been unconditionally accepting. She and her girlfriend are so happy, I look at them and they are so relaxed and comfortable with each other and you can just tell they are meant to be. They live with each other and with some other friends and so are very serious, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Our extended family know in terms of brothers and sisters and their kids, and are, for the most part, okay with it.
My mother does not know and I know she would not come around. She is extremely homophobic and racist and angry and very set in her ways. She lived a hard life and was treated poorly as a working woman in a time when that wasn’t the norm and seems to have lost the ability to sympathise with minorities because of how she was treated. She has on numerous occasions said that gay people will burn in hell to my children and that if any of them were gay she would never so much as look at them again.
I don’t know what to do. My mother is old and not in the best of health but she will most likely live another 10 years at least. My daughter plans to get married and have children and I don’t want her having to live a secret double life. At the same time, my kind, wonderful daughter doesn’t want to tell my mother because she’s worried my mother will become isolated because she wouldn’t talk to any of us anymore and our family spends 10 times the time with her than my siblings do.
I don’t want to tell her because I don’t want my daughter to have to experience that sort of rejection. My mother has been a huge part of her life. She saw her almost every day growing up. I feel like I have no options.
There is a lot to be grateful for in your life: you have a wonderful relationship with your daughter and you have fostered a life that can cope with a difficult and intolerant woman. It seems that you and your daughter have managed to have enough compassion to cope with your mother even though your siblings have removed themselves somewhat. The positive things going on now are that your mother loves your daughter and this may offer some options for you.
Your daughter is suggesting that she does not tell her grandmother of her relationship for the sake of not creating further isolation for your mother and it is very understandable that you find this intolerable as it means your daughter will hide the most important part of her life. However, this is her decision and it needs to be respected.
The danger is that you will act as if your mother has already rejected your daughter and suffer from even more resentment than you already have in your life. It seems that you have a difficult relationship with your mother and to date you have coped with this through ignoring unsavoury comments and remembering the hard life that she has had.
However, we are all responsible for ourselves and if we are allowed get away without consequences, it is unlikely that we will adapt and develop. It is possible to challenge your mother’s attitudes without withdrawing yourself completely from her. Can you be very clear that if she makes threats such as her comments on gay people, that she will lose the respect and closeness of those around her without withdrawing the basic care that you offer. If you continue with resentment, you will carry out any care for her with resistance and the result of this is further unnecessary suffering for you.
While it is up to your daughter to reveal (or not) her orientation to your mother, you can demonstrate self-regard to your daughter by speaking with dignity and firmness about what is acceptable in your life.
Your mother rejects what she does not understand and it is important that this rejection is not repeated or mirrored. You can accept that your mother has views you do not agree with while holding on to her potential for adaptation.
The fact that she has such a close relationship with your daughter bodes well for the possibility that love will triumph over prejudice.
Your daughter does not need you to fight her battles but she does need you to have faith in her capacity to make good decisions that bolster her self-esteem. Role model for her what it is to be a strong, compassionate and brave woman – take responsibility for your own relationship with your mother and don’t get caught in resentment.