Being Honest with Young Children About Openly Gay Family Members
Q. My daughter's uncle, my brother, is gay and has been out for many years. At age 6, my daughter has never inquired to his living situation with his partner—they've been together since before she was born—but I think she may soon. What's the best way to explain this to her? We want her to know we love and support her uncles as much as any other couple in the family.
A. Your daughter hasn't asked because to her two men living together isn't out of the ordinary. She's known of their living arrangement all her life and, therefore, never questioned it. She likely sees them as roommates rather than committed gay lovers.
What if there was a man next door who lives with and cares for his aging mother? This situation is a bit unusual but since a child has always known of it, it doesn't seem out of the norm. Nevertheless, a question from your child might arise. And when it did, you'd simply say, "Mr. So-and-So is Mrs. So-and-So's son. She's ill. He takes care of her because she can't live alone and take care of herself."
Your answer might spark your child's curiosity and she might inquire further by asking, "Why is she sick? How did she get sick? When will she get better?"
In the same regard, at some point your daughter might ask, "Why do Uncle and Uncle live together? Why aren't there aunts living with them?" If she never asks the question, it's wise to go ahead and offer information.
What to Say
You can script your own version of the following:
"Most commonly men and woman live together as married couples. But some people don't. Sometimes two women live together and sometimes two men like your uncles live together. Some people think it's strange but we think it's just fine. We love them."
As your daughter gets older and you explain about love, romance, and sexual relations, you'll need to include more information about these two uncles so that she continues to recognize their relationship as one your family treasures the same as they do heterosexual relationships.
Be a Positive Resource
Your daughter will reference you for information, attitude, and approach to making sense of many complicated and unusual situations. The question about sexuality leaves most parents uneasy. When you answer questions and clarify misunderstandings simply, honestly, and appropriately for your child's age and intellectual ability, then she'll continue to seek you out as a reference.
If you're vague, dishonest, embarrassed, or dismissive, your child will find another source: teachers, friends, peers, or the Internet. Don't you want your child to hear first from you?
That's why it's admirable that you're preparing an answer to your daughter's potential questions. She may even ask the same question over and over in slightly different ways until she can incorporate the information into her mental scheme. She may even play about it with dolls or with imaginary uncles. If she does, all the better. As she plays, you can offer information and insights to clarify any misunderstandings.
Once you answer her question, realize that your response will likely only satisfy her for the moment. A good answer will likely spark her curiosity thereby asking more questions not only about her uncles but about the variety of wonderful people in her life whom she loves and from whom she learns.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice—Baby and Darn Good Advice—Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com
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