When other children ask yours why she has two dads or two moms, it can be easy to take a stubborn stance by saying, "Our family is none of their business!" But the truth is, it's normal for other kids to have questions. Our expert shares ways to help your child feel comfortable explaining her home life to others.
Just State the Facts.
Whether they're gay or straight, there are many ways people become parents. Your child might have two dads because his fathers were a couple and decided to start a family through adoption or surrogacy. Maybe one parent is his biological mom who met his other mom after she was born. In any case, make sure your child knows his family's story in simple and straightforward terms. That way, if he feels the need to explain his family, he can do so in the same way—by giving just the facts.
Kids will treat information the same way parents do. If you want your child to feel at ease answering questions about her same-sex parents, you have to make sure you're comfortable first, says Marilee Wasell, Ph.D., a San Diego psychologist specializing in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues and trauma. Although gay or lesbian parents may worry about what others think, it's important to "be straightforward about the nature of your family," Dr. Wasell says. "If gay parents feel awkward discussing their family structure with their own children," she says, "the message is that there's something to feel awkward about."
According to Dr. Wasell, the cure for this awkwardness is to acknowledge the similarities between families, rather than the differences. The fact is, gay parents have a lot in common with their straight counterparts. They make their kids do chores. They make their kids eat greens, do homework, put down the cell phone at the dinner table, and go to bed early on school nights. Your child already knows this. Helping their friends see the normalcy of your home can be as simple as saying, "My moms make me do the dishes too."
Don't Get Defensive.
Similarities aside, it's still true that other kids may be curious about the fact that one of their classmates is accompanied by two moms on parent-teacher night. If your child is asked questions, it doesn't necessarily mean she is being challenged. Other kids are curious because they see a family structure that's different from their own. And while it can be easy for one's inner Mama or Papa Grizzly to rise up and defend the family, such defensiveness is unnecessary.
"Treat your family's difference the way you would any other," Dr. Wasell suggests. "Discuss it the way you would discuss any other type of difference in a family—one with a single parent or one with grandparents as primary caregivers. Different is okay. Your child knows it, and she can help other kids know it by pointing out that families come in all shapes and sizes. Some kids have one parent. Some have grandparents, or aunts and uncles instead. This is the best way to illustrate that different doesn't equal wrong."
Families Are About Love.
If your child is in elementary school, he and his friends are not thinking about the sexual component of their parents' relationship. (Let's face it: No kid wants to know the details of what goes on in their folks' bedroom, gay or straight.) Dr. Wasell says that when kids have questions about the gay parents they see, it's not about sex. It's about love. "Ultimately, the only answer your child needs to have ready is: My parents are my parents because they love each other, and they love me.'"