How to Talk To Your Children About Gay Parents

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Imagine you’re at the train station, taking your kids into the city to see the Lion King.  A man steps off the 6:16 from Grand Central, and two toddlers run up to him shouting, “Daddy!  Daddy!”  He gives out two hugs and about a thousand kisses and tells them how much he missed them while he was at work.  You’ve witnessed scenes like this many times, but as always, your heart melts.  Then the dad stands up, walks a little further down the platform and kisses… another man.

Well, that’s different.

“How was your day?” the first guy asks, and the other one starts talking about who got time outs, why the kids have maple syrup in their hair and who flushed what down the toilet right before they left.

OK, back to normal.

You’ve probably done the math by now — Look!  Gay dads! — but there’s a decent chance you’ll feel a tug on your leg, and your kid will look up at you and ask, “Yo, what’s the deal there?”

This is the story of my life.  I am a gay dad, and I confuse children.

I’m sure it happens more than I realize – at the supermarket, at the park, at MyGym.  Just by acting like any other parents, my partner Drew and I are inadvertently sparking countless conversations that start with, “Where’s their Mommy?”

You’re free to handle that question however you want, of course.  But if you don’t know where to begin, allow me to help.

You see, when Drew and I decided to have kids, we knew that the gay dad job description would include explaining our family to the world for the rest of our lives.  That’s one of the reasons I started my blog.

It’s also why I am kindly providing you, the sympathetic straight parent, with some guidelines.  (Unsympathetic straight parents are free to ignore my suggestions, in which case, I’ll enjoy watching them squirm.)  Obviously, what you say will depend on how old your kids are and how much exposure they’ve had to gay people previously, but in a broader sense, these suggestions should apply to anyone.

I’m not a child psychologist, just a gay dad who’s thought a lot about the issue and who has a big stake in it.  After all, I don’t want your kids coming up to my kids one day and telling them they’re weird for not having a mommy.

If you don’t want that either, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Use the word “gay”.

How to Talk To Your Children About Gay Parents

 

Everyone’s concentrating on taking the negative connotation away from the word “gay”, but at the same time, let’s not forget to encourage the positive.  We don’t want “gay” to be a curse, so go ahead and teach it to your kids.  That’s how we’ll really take the sting out of the word.

“Oh, Uncle Doug and Uncle Max?  They’re gay.”  “Aunt Vera and Aunt Debbie aren’t sisters, honey.  They’re lesbians.”  “Well, statistics suggest at least 3 of the Smurfs must be gay.”  Don’t make a big deal about it.  Just say it.  If your kids hear some jerk at school sneering, “That’s so gay!”, their response will be, “Yeah?  So what?  So are Uncle Max and, most likely, Brainy.”

You could also use the word “queer”, I guess, but then your kids and I will just think you’re a pretentious dweeb.

2. You don’t have to pretend half the world is gay. 

How to Talk To Your Children About Gay Parents

 

Don’t play down the fact that your kids may have witnessed something unfamiliar.  “Geez, Madison.  They have two daddies, what’s the biggie?”  It’s natural for poor little Madison to be confused, so give her a damn break.

Kids are probably going to assume all families have one mommy and one daddy, because that’s all most of them see.  Be honest, and use words like “most” and “some”.  “Most families have a mommy and a daddy… but some have two mommies or two daddies.”  As long as you don’t attach a value judgment to that statement, it really is no biggie.

Some kids might say something like, “That’s weird”, or they’ll think you’re playing a joke on them.  That should just be a reminder of why you’re having this conversation.  Get to your kid before ignorance does.  If you’re honest with them, they’ll get it.  Explain that gay families are less common than the usual mommy/daddy family, but they’re every bit as valid.  “It’s not weird, it’s just different than our family.”

3. Get your mind out of the gutter.

It seems silly that I even have to say this, but when some people think about homosexuality and kids, they imagine that you’re suggesting they graphically describe intercourse to kindergarteners.  Um, no.  All you should be doing is answering the questions they’re asking, and save the rest for junior high health class.  If they wonder why Owen has two daddies, it’s because “His daddies are in love”… or because “Some men love other men.”  Hopefully, you’ve taught your kids to understand what love is, so no further explanation should be required.

And do use the word “love”.  That’s what we’re talking about here.  You don’t need to say “attracted to” or “some boys like boys”.  “Like” is how they feel about each other.  A kid might think, “Well, I like boys.  I guess I’m gay.”  Compare it to your own relationship (assuming you have a good relationship).  “You know the way Mommy and I love each other?  That’s how their daddies (or mommies) feel about each other.”  And if your kid says, “Yuck!” it’s probably because they feel the same way about you and your wife.  That’s progress.

4. Don’t make it about your kid — yet.

Understanding gay parents is a big enough topic of discussion, and your kid probably won’t be prompted to wonder about their own sexuality at this point.  You don’t need to say, “You might marry a man someday yourself, Junior!”  While it’s great to plant the seeds of acceptance early, you’ll probably just end up confusing them more.  Your kids have plenty of time to figure their own feelings out, and when the time comes, make sure you let them know that you love them no matter what.  But no, they can’t marry Brainy Smurf.

5. If your kid does ask you to speculate, you can tell them they’ll “probably” be straight.

Again, only if your kid expresses some curiosity should you even broach the subject.  But if they’re wondering, “Who will I marry someday?”, feel free to tell them, “You’ll probably marry someone of the opposite sex, but I’ll accept you either way.”  Of course, if you’re like the mom from the amazing blog Raising My Rainbow, your “probably” might lean the other way.  Just take your cues from your kid.

6. Remember the magic phrase, “Everyone ends up with the right parents for them.” 

It’s possible your kids will ask something like, “But doesn’t everyone need a mommy?”  Even kids who don’t know exactly where babies come from understand that women are the ones who get pregnant and give birth.  When that’s all you know, then two daddies just don’t add up.

Again, don’t go into any more detail than you need to.  Remind your kid that while it’s a woman who gives birth to a baby, your Mommy(-ies) and/or Daddy(-ies) are the one(s) who raise you.  If two men want to start a family together, then yes, they’ll need help from a woman.  But that woman is not the mommy.  It’s no different than how you’d explain adoption by a straight couple.  “The Strattons flew to Beijing and brought little Daisy home.  Now they’re her Mommy and Daddy.”  Assure your children that the kids are in good hands, and that everyone ends up with the right parents for them.

7. Most importantly, just talk to your kids.

Your kids are bound to see a gay family sooner or later, even if it’s just Mitchell & Cameron on Modern Family.  So if they come to you with questions, it’s really important that you don’t get weird about it.  Don’t change the subject, don’t tell them they’re too young to understand and definitely don’t lie and say that the mommy is home doing dishes or off fighting in Afghanistan.  Otherwise the message you’re sending is that there’s a reason to be uncomfortable around gay families.  The same goes for all kinds of families, whether they have two moms, two dads, a single mom, a single dad, foster parents or if they’re being raised by wolves – just explain that that’s a different kind of family and gee, isn’t it nice that everyone’s a little different.

… which leads me to a big secret.

You see, there is a gay agenda.  It’s true.

What most people don’t realize is that the gay agenda isn’t “everybody should be gay”.  It’s “everybody should be themselves.”

Be a nerd, be a Yanni fan, be a real housewife of your particular geographic region.  Whatever.  It’s all part of the same cause, and it’s a great message to teach your kids.

I shouldn’t have to say this in 2012, but for anyone who’s still wondering, NO, I don’t want to make your kids gay.  I just want to live my life with a sense of mutual respect for everyone else on this planet.  If you want the same thing, then let your kids learn by your example.  Show them that nontraditional families are nothing to be afraid of.

Teaching your kids to be accepting of gay people and gay families is a great way to teach them acceptance in a broader sense – and to teach them the ultimate lesson: to be accepting of themselves.

I know some people think differently, but that’s what I call family values.

Comments

The Scary Mommy Community is built on support. If your comment doesn't add to the conversation in a positive or constructive way, please rethink submitting it. Basically? Don't be a dick, please.

  1. 5

    Amy says

    Love! Love the commentary, love the gay agenda, love the terrible drawings.

    Kids like things to be different. It’s interesting. Grown ups are the ones who are uncomfortable with individuality. As a straight parent, I thank you for some talking points. We live a state where gay marriage is legal, so my kids know that some boys marry boys and some girls marry girls, but they haven’t had too many detailed questions. Yet.

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  2. 7

    Lisa says

    I LOVE this post!!
    My kids have known gay couples since they’ve been born and have never questioned it (to be fair, we talked about it often using words like most and some and were always accepting).
    When my daughter was in kindergarten she got into a fight with a friend. They were playing “house” and the friend wanted to be the mommy. My daughter said “ok, I’ll be the mommy, too” and the friend said “no, you can’t have two mommies”. My daughter insisted that wasn’t right and finally yelled, “but I KNOW someone with two mommies!” My daughter is now a young adult and I still think back on that and love that she’s known since she’s been born that everyone can live however they chose and can have families that look different from ours.

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    • 8

      Jerry Mahoney says

      Amazing story. As more kids know families headed by same-sex couples (or gay individuals) topics like this will become irrelevant. Even for me as a gay dad, I still like my kids to know other gay dads (and moms), so they know we’re not the only ones. We hung out with some gay dad friends yesterday, and my daughter said to theirs, “You have two daddies, just like us!” It was very sweet.

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    • 9

      says

      Jayme- I always knew Emily’s fliamy was beautiful inside and out, but these picture make that even more apparent. Beautiful especially the way you could capture moments with the boys, when anyone else who has tried to take their picture knows that can be difficult!! Amazing, simply amazing!!

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      • 14

        says

        Hey guys,I was supposed to be tecihang a class tonight, but no one signed up, so I’m coming to the benefit! Looking forward to meeting you! I’d like to donate one of the boards I just made, so I will try to get there around 8:00.Cheers,Dan

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  3. 15

    Brittany Walker says

    Thanks for a very well put way to explain gay parents. As a Christ-follower I want to explain to my daughter who has a gay uncle and partner but don’t want to confuse her. This was well written article and gave great advice. Thanks for sharing and look forward to reading more. God bless!

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    • 16

      Jerry Mahoney says

      Thanks, Brittany. I know not every religion has nice things to say about families like mine, but it’s my hope that we can all at least teach our kids to respect everyone. Sounds like you feel the same way.

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  4. 17

    Sara M says

    I like this article, and a lot of these points needed to be made. But at the same time, it is limiting.
    “Most families have a mommy and a daddy… but some have two mommies or two daddies.” Well, what about one parent? Especially single gay parents? Especially single gay dads? I know that this was prompted from the blogger’s personal situation. But the idea of a single gay parent seems to be left off of the media landscape entirely. It could have at least been mentioned here.

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    • 18

      daycaregirl says

      I see your point, but it seems to me like this article was geared at talking to your kids to explain their questions when they see a gay couple together. In my experiences so far as a parent, my kids are used to seeing single parents, both dads and moms, and I haven’t really felt the need to point out whether they happen to be gay or straight. Seeing one parent with a child is more familiar to my kids than seeing two mommies or two daddies with that child.

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    • 19

      Jerry Mahoney says

      “The same goes for all kinds of families, whether they have two moms, two dads, a single mom, a single dad, foster parents or if they’re being raised by wolves – just explain that that’s a different kind of family and gee, isn’t it nice that everyone’s a little different.”

      Thanks for the comment, Sara. As you can see, I did actually mention single-parent families. Sorry if I gave the impression I was ignoring them by not mentioning them in the line you quoted, but of course, I believe kids should appreciate and respect single parent families as much as any other.

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    • 20

      says

      That’s not a bad idea, in fact that’s a great idea Victor. I think maybe we can set some minimums on the stuff tnoight with a plan to eBay off whatever doesn’t reach a minimum bid, best of both methods.

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  5. 21

    Lori Beth Johnson says

    Awesome post!!

    My kids had a gay uncle when they were little (he’s since passed) and we used very much a similar philosophy. We did use the word love but we also used “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” when explaining same sex relationships because even when very little, kids usually know these terms. We’d say “Some men like to have boyfriends instead of girlfriends.”

    In any case, keep on rockin’ that agenda. Love it!!

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    • 22

      Jerry Mahoney says

      I think “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are great. My partner and I aren’t married, and I usually call him “partner” or “boyfriend”. In general, since there’s no universal language yet for gay partners, you should go with what the particular couple prefers. But no one expects you to go around asking every gay couple what terms they use for each other, or if they’re legally married or whatever, so if you stick with boyfriend and girlfriend as a shorthand, I don’t think anyone would mind.

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  6. 25

    Pam @Mommacan says

    Well, there you go. The positive approach always wins. Its all in how we tell the story. We can make a really cool generation if we can teach them responsibility, tolerance and a good work ethic.

    momma

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  7. 27

    AmyM says

    Great post. It reminds me that even though I am straight I am also living an “alternative lifestyle” because of my choice to be a single mother through the use of a sperm donor. I believe my child will grow up accepting of all the ways to make a family because of that. It will be interesting when he is to the point of asking these questions and I am sure out family will be the object of other kids confusion at some point too. Love these talking points as a great way to frame your attitudes about differences and individuality for your children.

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    • 28

      Jerry Mahoney says

      Awesome, Amy. I believe we’re sharing the “nontraditional family” umbrella, so howdy. I really believe in being as honest and open as possible about our families and how they were created. Not to do so implies that we feel some shame about them. I’m proud of my family, and single moms who use sperm donors should be proud, too. That pride is sure to carry over to our kids.

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  8. 29

    Erika says

    Very well written. My husband’s brother is gay so we’ve had a few conversations with our boys here and there about what makes a family. There are also so many combinations of single, divorced, remarried parents out there that nothing’s really “normal” anymore. It’s been harder to explain divorced families to my kids than it was to explain gay couples. The kids understand love – they have a lot more trouble understand love ending.

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    • 30

      Jerry Mahoney says

      Good point, Erika. Of course, there are plenty of divorced families these days, too. Most kids have friends who split time between two parents or two homes. Divorce isn’t easy to explain, but I’m sure we’ll all end up doing it sooner or later. Maybe someone can write a post on it. :)

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      • 31

        says

        I am new to WP (moved here from another biogglng site) and decided to explore some of the freshly pressed blogs. Yours is one of the first I checked out. I think your idea to write your thoughts down for your child(ren) is great.

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    • 32

      Julie says

      Erika, I completely agree, in fact I read your comment with all of these and then went back and looked for it again, because this line stuck with me “The kids understand love-they have a lot more trouble understanding love ending”. I used to actually get ANGRY when people around us divorced, because we then had to try and figure out how to explain this to my kids. It’s heart-wrenching. And now, as recently single mom (not by my choice…after 20 years of marriage) you couldn’t have stated this any better. My own kids are still struggling to figure it out, but I am blessed that they don’t care WHO loves WHO–just so it committed and true.

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      • 33

        says

        I am sad to have missed the Binkies siingng the Awful Truth. I miss you up there in moss-land. Is Jay green yet? either with envy or with moss? I am glad that the dolls are continuing to be fashion forward, although perhaps they could use fewer potent cocktails as, by the look of it, they are falling on their faces at times. Gaysian mounding cranberries to you all!

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  9. 43

    Arnebya says

    2a. “Most families have a mommy and a daddy… but some have two mommies or two daddies.” (Or, some have two mommies and a special friend like Aunt Jackie and that, Cindy, is called Big Love.)

    It’s been interesting to see my kids’ perspectives on the gay families around us. When my oldest was perhaps 4 she began to describe a girl in her class as “Taqueta. You know, the one with two daddies?” Um, yes, I know by the name, honey (because I’m hoping she’s the only damn Taqueta.) Now that she’s 12, I find her stance fascinating (and evolving) (and sometimes ignorant, which we are still combating, but it’s hard fighting all the stupidity her friends get from tv, the internet, AND THEIR PARENTS.)

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  10. 46

    Brittany says

    I have been working on spinning gay also. Try this one. Sally yells, “I won the lottery!!!!!” Suzy responds, “That is SO GAY!”
    My flower girl got into a fight while playing Barbies with the bride barbie because her friend insisted on the typical Ken and Barbie wedding. She ttarted screaming “Mommy! You tell her! Girls marry girls- Brittany and Cake (what she calls my wife kate) got married!” It was cute.

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  11. 48

    Lisasjm says

    You brought tears to my eyes. Raising my children in a small town where they don’t see many racially diverse people, or people with apparent disabilities, I have struggled with how to expose them to these topics so they come to embrace them as a normal and not be afraid of them or worse – make fun. In the moment, I freeze – caught between wanting to take time to explain to them and not wanting to offend the gay couple (or disabled person, or person of a different race, or whatever). You made me realize that I am inadvertently teaching them all wrong by doing that. I can do better than that. In fact, I’m going to find ways to to introduce the idea myself and to talk about different kinds of families this month. Thank you for the inspiration. Wish me luck!

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    • 49

      Jerry Mahoney says

      Good luck! I wish more parents were as broad-minded as you are, wanting to expose their kids to things they don’t see where they live. Remember, that’s what books (and TV and movies) are for! I highly recommend Todd Parr’s book The Family Book for that reason.

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