Anonymous, Mom of 3 kids
Let’s face it. Most of us don’t have time to plan ahead for the best way to answer difficult questions from our kids. Even if we did, it would be impossible to think of all the questions (and answers) in advance. We know that at some point they are going to ask us about sex, drugs and alcohol, and we still may not have our answers fully thought-out when the time comes. But what about when your young kids ask about topics you never really thought about such as: “Matthew said Joey’s Mom is having an affair – what does that mean?” … “Why does Lucy have TWO Mommies and NO Daddy?”
Notice all my examples have kids asking about other kids’ parents. That’s the key point here.
There are kids to protect. You may be disgusted with “Joey’s Mom” or uncomfortable with “Lucy’s two Mommies” — but when your kids go to their friends’ houses, or see those adults at school functions around town, they still should be respectful, tolerant, and understanding.
And they definitely should not tease or harass the kids – whether they are friends or not – because of who their parents are or what their parents do. Kids don’t get to choose their parents or make decisions for them.
So, why am I bringing all this up?
Recently, I was at a barbeque when the topic of Same-Sex Marriages came up, as well as other partnerships of not the “usual” marital orientation. It made me pause, especially because some of the parents there were gossipy and unkind. I’ve spoken to my kids at length about drugs, sex and alcohol, but this topic was off my radar — suburbia can be so sheltering — and I knew after the BBQ that it was high time to tackle it. I wanted my kids to be open-minded and tolerant of race and sex, and everything in-between. Homosexuality is not relegated to the city — it’s here too.
So, it may make sense to think a bit about how you would explain why Lucy has two Mommies, or why Mr. Jones is becoming a Mrs. Jones, or why Mr. Howell left Mrs. Howell for the Professor … because it likely WILL happen in your community, if it hasn’t already.
You don’t have to be a liberal on social issues to agree that kids shouldn’t be bullied, teased or made to suffer because of their parents’ looks, occupation, dance moves at last weekend’s bar mitzvah party, income level, sexual orientation or gender identity.
You don’t have to think that what other people do is what YOU would do, or conforms to your morals and beliefs.
So, I’m just going put this out there: YOU do need to make sure you teach your kids not to make fun of other kids because their families may be different than yours. (Or for any reasons!)
Now, I’m not a psychologist or a parenting expert, but I’ve done some Googling and talked to a couple friends about talking to your kids about being gay and here’s my advice:
Don’t make it about sex, because it’s not. Sex is a completely different topic and set of questions. It’s about love and attraction.
When my friend Kelly was talking about this to her then elementary-school aged daughter after a friend’s mother came out as a lesbian, she essentially said that “Whether you’re straight or gay, you get the same kind of feeling inside when you like someone … and sometimes the person you like is of the same sex… it’s just how your brain and body works … It’s just who YOU are.”
That made sense to her daughter. No need for detailed discussions with your young children about the mechanics of two women or two men having sex – you don’t really want to go there, anyway, whether it’s about homosexual or heterosexual sex!
While many of us have friends or co-workers who are gay or lesbian, I’m guessing that many fewer of us have met transgender individuals. That unfamiliarity may honestly make us a bit uncomfortable, and it also means we likely would be caught immediately off guard by questions from our kids. I work with someone who has been undergoing the transformation from “Roberta” to “Robert” and this explanation was approved by him (notice I said “him” not “her” – the right pronouns are very important):
“Sometimes people feel like they were born in the wrong body so they need to change into the right body in order to be happy and comfortable with themselves.” Simple explanations really go a long way with kids.
Remember, the point is to make sure your child understands that people can be different from her, and that other families can be different from her family. It’s an excellent opportunity to really teach TOLERANCE … to teach your kids to be kind to their friends and classmates … to teach this by example. When faced with questions about people or a situation that is unusual in your experience or makes you uncomfortable, especially if there are children involved, remember that your child will take his/her cues from how YOU react.
So, take a deep breath, stay calm, choose your words carefully, and – age-old advice that works in any situation — BE KIND.