We live in a heteronormative society.
The heteronormative family is traditionally gendered, white, and middle to upper class, and is characterized by biological parent-child relationships. In turn, people in general are assumed to be heterosexual, expected to marry people of the “other” sex, and expected to procreate with their monogamous opposite-sex partners.
LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender [trans]queer), by their very nature, exist outside of the sexual (and perhaps gender) binary and, often, the family binary in that any family they create will be considered “deviant” – that is that is, if their children are not conceived by a “real” man and a “real” woman in a heterosexual procreative context.
Children of LGBTQ parents are likely exposed to media, including television and children’s books, that disproportionately portray mother-father families. In turn, as they grow, they become increasingly aware of the difference between their families and those most often portrayed in the media as well as those around them in their schools and communities. In addition, children gradually develop a sense of whether and how their family deviates from the dominant norm in other respects, such as racial composition and gender expression.
Part of my goal as a researcher and psychologist is to understand and amplify the experiences of LGBTQ parents and their children, and learn lessons about how to support them through their parenting journey.
my new book Building an LGBTQ Family: A Guide for Expectant Parents explains how to help kids overcome cross-sex bias around the world, plus lots of other practical advice for LGBTQ readers who are considering parenting (or who are already parents), like choosing the right healthcare providers and daycare to LGBTQ, or navigate among those who are less than LGBTQ-friendly. By preparing children for the biases and misunderstandings they may face, we can help them feel proud, empowered and loved in the family they have.
Talking to the children of the family
As an LGBTQ parent who wants to help your child overcome prejudice in the world, you need to focus on a few key messages from preschool age: family diversity (i.e. families come in different shapes and sizes), love (i.e. your child is loved; love is an important part of what makes a family) and values (i.e. all families are valid; no one type of family is better than another).
Beyond that, there are several important principles you can follow when talking to your children about their family:
Establish your basic family historythere and incorporate the details as your child grows and can grasp their meaning. A preschooler will not understand the legal intricacies of adoption, nor the specifics of reproductive technologies. However, you can still share the basic story that someone else was involved in creating your family.
As your child develops, you can share more details. Diane Ehrensaft’s book Moms, Dads, Donors, Surrogates: Answering the Tough Questions and Building Strong Families is a great resource to help you prepare for and reflect on these conversations. For the kids, Cory Silverberg’s What makes a baby and that of Keiko Kasza A mother for Choco are useful starting points to talk about donor insemination and adoption respectively.
Tell the truth, always, but keep it simple. If your child is adopted, you can and should talk about their birth parents. However, you do not need to explain in detail the circumstances that led to your child’s adoption until he is able to understand and assimilate this information.
In preschool and earlier, you can say that your child’s birth mother didn’t have a place to live when she was born, but you don’t need to provide details about her drug addiction, for example. A young child can probably understand the importance of having a home to raise a baby, but they cannot understand substance use or addiction.
Look for natural openings to talk about and normalize the idea of ”all types of families” as well as your particular family-building story. Books, TV shows, and movies are great starting points for such conversations. You can use them to highlight your own family (“Oh look! [Character] has two moms too! ”) as well as other family types (e.g. single-parent, grandparent-led, adoptive) to highlight family diversity. A great book to start this type of conversation is by Todd Parr The family book.
LGBTQ Family Building: A Guide for Expectant Parents (APA LifeTools, 2022 295 pages).” src=”https://ggsc.s3.amazonaws.com/images/made/images/uploads/LGBTQ_Family_Building_200_311_int_c1-1x.jpg” srcset=”https://ggsc.s3. sizes=”( min-width: 1041px) 1170px, 100vw”/>
Listen to the question being asked and keep your answer simple and direct. For example, a question like “Why don’t I have a father?” warrants a response, but one that’s pretty basic. You can increase the complexity as your child develops and matures. Try not to let your anxiety take over and remember that there is no need to explain the details of human reproduction to a three year old.
Allow children to act out fantasies and roles. If your child has two daddies and they insist on having a mommy doll for their dollhouse, or if your child is playing “house” with a mother and father, do not try to correct their game or explain that they have “two dads, no mom”. “Allowing your child to explore different family types, roles and identities is good for their development. Maybe your child’s play is a way of processing experiences and feelings, or maybe it’s just creative experimentation. Or maybe your child is mimicking what he sees in his friends’ family or mainstream media. You can always ask questions (“Tell me about the mother of this family. How is she?”), but try to do it without an “agenda”.
Dealing with peer prejudice
As children develop, they will not only notice how their family differs from many of the families around them, but they may also come into contact with people, including teachers and classmates, who question their ideas about the value and legitimacy of their family.
As part of writing my book, I interviewed over 500 LGBTQ parents about how they built their families and their parenting experiences. Many parents highlighted situations in which their young children encountered peers who questioned or doubted their family formation or origin story (for example, their peers asked what a donor was or wondered how a child could simply not have a father), as well as peers who used the word “gay” in a negative way.
In some cases children were teased by their peers, while in others they were simply excluded (for example, they were not invited to a birthday party if a peer’s parents knew they had LGBTQ parents). Some young children were described as coming into contact with teachers, camp counselors and other adults who invalidated their family in some way – for example, by not recognizing their particular type of family in programs, holiday celebrations and storytelling and, at times, challenging or silencing them when they shared details about their family.
In preschool or early elementary school, peers may reveal their ignorance or lack of understanding about families of LGBTQ parents by asking questions or making statements like these:
- “Why don’t you have a [dad/mom]?”
- “You don’t have two fathers. I do not believe you.
- “It’s so gay.”
- “I thought that other lady was your mother. . . ?”
- “Do you have two dads? It is so [weird/gross].”
- “Your parents are gay, right? Are you gay too?
- “You’re adopted? Wow. Where did they take you from?
- “Why didn’t your parents have [want you/raise you/keep you]?”
- “Is it your mother or your father?” I can not tell. They don’t look like a woman or a man.
- “Why does your mother have such a deep voice?” »
Hopefully, your child will have a strong foundation of empowerment and support within their family so that by the time they encounter this type of interaction, they will have internalized the truth that their family is valid and that they are loved.
To this end, it can help to remind children of their innate worth and individuality. There will always be something – and hopefully more than one thing – that sets them apart. It is both our differences and our similarities that make the world an interesting and complex place.
If your child is being bullied or harassed, it is essential that you remind them that this is not acceptable and that they are not responsible for correcting or accepting others’ ignorance. It is not their job to advocate or educate. Ideally, there will be other people in their world, such as teachers and support staff, who will play the important role of correcting ignorance and misconceptions about LGBTQ identities and parenting.
Your child deserves relationships and resources that reflect and validate their family. For example, organizations like COLAGE and Family Equality provide in-person and virtual opportunities to connect with other children of LGBTQ parents. There are also many spaces online, not to mention documentaries and a growing number of television shows and other media, that reflect and embrace families of LGBTQ parents.
To be clear: teasing, bullying and general misunderstanding are the direct result of heteronormativity. We are all parents in a society that continues to cling to certain ideas and ideals related to family, sex and parenthood. Consider yourself part of the not-so-quiet revolution of destabilizing these ideas and ideals, which only serve to keep families and individuals in boxes and limit our free will and autonomy as beings. humans.