Friday, August 3rd, 2012
Same-sex marriage has been on my mind, but not because of a certain chicken restaurant. On Sunday I’m going to the wedding of a cherished friend, who is marrying his boyfriend of nine years. When the dress I’d ordered for it arrived last week, I tried it on, explaining to my daughter Julia (who turns 7 at the end of the month) where I planned to wear it.
Julia: Who’s getting married?
Me: My friend Glenn.
Julia: Who’s he marrying?
Me: A man named Jeffrey.
She stopped chewing her bagel and was immediately puzzled.
Julia: A man?
Me: Yes. Men can marry men if they want to, and women can marry women. I don’t think you know anyone who’s done that, but I do…
Then her face got red and I could see that she was almost going to cry.
Julia: I am very confused.
Me: I know, honey. I can understand that. But what’s the matter?
Julia: If they have babies, then they won’t have a mommy, just two daddies.
Me: Aw, but that’s okay. You only need one parent who loves you, and many kids have two if they’re lucky.
She was still totally flustered and actually had tears in her eyes.
Julia: But how do they have a baby if they’re two men?
Me: Well, they can adopt a baby. Remember we talked about adopting?
And that was pretty much that. The topic hasn’t come up since, but I wondered if I’d handled it correctly. Did I say the right things?
I turned to Deborah Roffman, a sex educator in Baltimore who’s been teaching children and counseling families for more than 30 years. I thought she’d be an ideal person to ask since she just came out with a very helpful book called Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person About Sex. “I think you did great. My guess is that you might have been unnerved by her reaction,” she ventured. Yep, I said–honestly, I feared that it revealed some underlying prejudice. “This subject makes us feel insecure, and we worry that we have to be so very careful with it, but we really don’t,” said Roffman. She believes Julia had a pretty basic assumption about the world–men only marry women–and it was scary to her that she was wrong, that she didn’t understand something so fundamental to her. “Her reaction was more about the confusion than the topic.”
Then she gently suggested that with subjects like this, I consider being more proactive going forward. In this case, I could’ve prepared Julia by saying something like, “Listen, I’m going to a wedding next weekend and it’s going to be interesting, and I want to tell you about it. Most couples you know, like me and Daddy, are women and men. But it’s also possible for men to marry men, and for women to marry women. My friend Glenn is marrying a man named Jeffrey.”
Her advice really made sense to me. “A lot of parents hesitate with stuff like this, thinking, I have to wait until my child asks. No, you don’t,” she explained. “It’s a little easier, sometimes, if they ask questions, but with the important things in life, you want to front-load, so your point of view can get there first.”
Have you had tricky conversations like this with your child? How’d it go?