A little help?

I was writing an epic-length response to a great question someone asked, and realized that I had better give it a whole different lease on life as a post, the better to tempt more of you astute readers to add to my answer. So here was the question Sheri Bheri posed, in a comment on the previous post:

Do you have any advice for the other parents in a preschool, to make it easier on the children of lesbians?

In a nice turnabout, by “other” parents here, she means “hetero.” She’s asking from the standpoint of a supportive straight parent:

I want my daughter exposed to more diverse people than *I* was. Because I’ve found myself ‘handicapped’ later on in life, because I have a hard time knowing the right thing to say and do.

I’m going to answer with that kind of reader in mind, and hope that all you all chime in with your own suggestions.

First, to external resources: Dana Rudolph, of Mombian wrote an indispensable post entited How To Respond When Meeting Lesbian Moms. It’s concise, good-humored, and covers all the essentials. I’m indebted to her for including “Baba” as a potential parental counterpart to “Mama,” too, thus opening the conversation to include parents like me who slide to the “genderqueer” midpoint on the gender continuum. [Added later: Dana commented that her post, “Back to School Conversations” (now in the sidebar as a “Mombian Essentials” link), includes a list of more than a dozen school-related resources from LGBT organizations. Extremely valuable! And posted during my week away from the computer, thus my egregious oversight.]

Family Pride (the national LGBT family organization) published a guide for those interested in improving school conditions for kids of LGBT families. Opening Doors: LGBT Families and Schools [opens PDF] is written for LGBT families and educators, but the really dedicated ally who looks through it would come away with a rich appreciation for issues facing kids in LGBT families. It’s only 24 pages and a quick read, chock full of useful material. On page 16, for example, they list “Answers to Questions Children May Ask.” And the stuff that kids in LGBT families say at the end is very eye- (and heart-) opening. Yet more proof, out of the mouths of babes, that it’s not the LGBT family life that is hard on these kids, but the homophobia and heterosexism in the world around them that is. Yet more proof, in other words, that allies and potential allies like the gal who asked the question above are INDISPENSIBLE to making a better world for all our kids.

I recently did a post-long advert for Todd Parr’s The Family Book, which provides page upon brightly-colored page of occasions for parents to discuss (or simply answer questions about) family diversity with their kids. Just about every stripe of family difference is noted in the book. Which is why it’s a great resource: kids with two moms, or two dads, or two parents of the same sex (whatever they may call themselves) are just a few among many different kinds of families. (Loud/quiet; messy/clean; live nearby/live far apart; look like each other/look different from each other, and so on.)

The Safe Schools Coalition site is filled with resources, references, and more. You can become a one-gal speaker’s bureau just by reading their material, and Family Pride’s.

Now on a more personal level: in some ways, it’s hard to improve on Dana’s “To Do” list, which is really is fantastic. I’m among those folks in her third-to-the-last bullet list item, the kind that feel glad to be able to talk about our familiy experience. Not everyone does; some feel put on the spot, or irritated about doing what might feel like elementary, maybe sometimes repetitive consciousness-raising work with others. Me, I figure it’s totally parallel to what my own mom did, becoming active and ultimately becoming a minor legend in my sister’s and my school district. Part of the work of being a feverishly dedicated parent is to work to make our kids’ life conditions the best they can be. Sweeping out the cobwebs of homophobia, heterosexism, or just plain ignorance — that’s a part of that work that I welcome. So at any rate, I’d be inclined to suggest would-be allies to directly ask LGBT parents at their kids’ schools whether there’s any way they can help make their kid’s experience any better. Simply being asked that question by anyone would make me topple over backwards. When I recovered myself, the first thing I’d do would be to thank the would-be ally profusely.

Then I’d probably say that the best thing anyone could do would be to join us in advocating for a welcoming school environment for our kids — namely one that recognizes and includes our families. Help us ask for more inclusive language in schools’ intake forms, say, and a rich curriculum on family diversity. Be there with us when we ask, or better yet, do the asking yourself that films like That’s a Family be shown to your kids, and discussed. And most of all, pass on your thoughts about family diversity with your kids. This next generation will swing the nation out of the dark ages of systemic, legally-sanctioned and culturally tolerated homphobia/heterosexism, into the enlightenment on the other side of that. When they know better, kids of enlightened hetero allies will be the ones not only not teasing ours, but sticking up for them on the school yard.

Today the school yard, tomorrow the world.

[The conversation is continued here, at Back-to-School Primer, Vol.2.]

14 thoughts on “A little help?”

  1. I agree with Polly…the issue isn’t our family but how others deal with it. Our children are very clear that they can’t imagine trading one of us in for a different parent. When they can, it has nothing to do with our gender 🙂 I think the best thing that other parents can do is to talk about the differences in families. They really do come in so many varieties and children can accept that so easily when they are given the information. Polly mentioned The Family Book and I would like to recommend another book that is geared to even younger children: Everywhere Babies. It is absolutely fabulous and will be my standard baby shower gift from here on out. It is a book full of babies being cared for and loved by all different sorts of families. It is subtle in its presentation and very well done.

  2. Thank you, Vikki. Here’s a quickie link for folks to git that thing right this instant, on impulse!

    Also, someone wrote to remind me of GLSEN! Of course! (Oversights like that come from writing past when my brain is asleep but my fingers aren’t.) The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network is legendary. One of my hands down favorite contingents in every Pride parade. (Can’t help myself; I come from a long line of educators.) I spent a lot of time learning on their site when I was researching what to say/bring to my preschool in advance of our daughter’s arrival. Here’s what the gal wrote:

    Perhaps I could ask you to add GLSEN ( http://www.glsen.org) as another suggested resources alongside the Safe Schools Coalition – while they are a member of the Safe Schools Coalition and are listed on their site they also have great research and resources on LGBT students and on bullying in schools – and also resources for LGBT parents and LGBT students… They’ve also got almost 40 Chapters (of both adults and youth) around the country so if people wanted to get involved on a local basis they can.

  3. Hi, delurking to comment.

    I just read that Mombian post, and it is great. I just want to chime in with a few things.

    Go Sheila!

    Our two boys go to “school” at the local YMCA Childcare Center. We have experienced nothing but open arms from the Director all the way down to part-time staff. And the parents? Well, last year we passed out invitations to Max’s whole class for his 3rd birthday party. I was very nervous that we would have a very small turnout/response. Wrong. The ENTIRE class came–that’s 14 kids!! We consider ourselves very fortunate to be in this situation. And we too, feel a sense of responsibilty to educate–even in the most sublte ways. We owe it to our kids.

    I am glad that our kids have a strong sense of self and family, and that they convey this to their classmates. I think this is in part a result of how we present and carry ourselves in the community and world. I am curious at what age this confidence might be prone to shrink?

    Lastly, another book recommendation. “Who’s in a family” by Robert Skutch and Laura Nienhaus. I wish there were more.

    Ok, one more thing. . .LD I have been working up a post/comment to a post in your archives regarding a book, Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn. I must say that ever since I began reading this–when you look in your archives you will see how long ago that was(man it’s hard to read with two youngin’s!)–I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll get to it sometime in the near future. In the meantime if you have anything further to comment on the subject, I would certainly enjoy! (like you are just sitting there waiting for things to do!)

  4. Thank you for the wonderful comment, MaMaMia, and for the book recommendation. [Impulse buy link here.]

    Who’s in a Family is one of the half-dozen or more books that the beloved and I up bought for our preschool. I was talking with the staff about the books they have about families, and the slim pickins they had including two parents of the same sex. The director said, “If you find something you think is good, go ahead and buy it and I’ll reimburse you.” Little did she know who she was talking to. The beloved and I said to ourselves, “Let’s run the tab up to $100, and then if she doesn’t want ’em all, we’ll be glad to have copies or extras of the leavings.” They’ve yet to all arrive (alas, our local independents didn’t have ’em so we had to go the Powells route). So I can’t report whether they’re up for $80 in LGBT family-friendly books in one fell swoop.

    Sister, do I hear you, about it being hard to read with two youngins! But I have good reason to re-read Mr. Kohn, and heaven knows if I do manage to not fall asleep on the third paragraph — no reflection on Mr. Kohn, but rather the accumulated sleep debt — I’ll be sure to check in about him. I’m so interested to hear what you think about his take on things.

  5. Great post Polly.

    I’m not sure if this one is universal, but I noticed I bristled at a question on our daughter’s first day of daycare (Monday…we’re surviving so far…). In general, I’m fairly comfortable answering questions about our daughter’s biological parentage (I’m non-bio) when they’re presented in a way that validates the role of both my wife and I (though preferably not on a first meeting). However, several times lately folks have commented when first meeting us about how my daughter’s hair color (very very brown) is similar to mine (red), which it clearly isn’t. I tend to interpret this sort of resemblance talk from someone who does not know the genetic structure of our family as indirect fishing for info about who’s the “real” mom. I always refrain from telling someone who has made such a comment anything about our genetic relations (or lack thereof) for a very long time after such a comment.

    I’d say it’s respectful to steer clear of any resemblance talk when first meeting a queer family. If you did happen to meet us, and listened carefully, we’d probably out ourselves about our family structure soon enough anyway (we’re talkers!). That said, I absolutely love it when someone who already knows our family structure and truly values my role in our daughter’s life mentions that she looks like me…

  6. Thanks for the Mombian link. I think it was a particularly good post.

    I intend to raise my kids to appreciate the wide variety of families–step families, families by adoption, families where kids are raised by their grandparents, families of any and every race and sexual orientation. I’ll find stories, I’ll write stories (my mom wrote stories for me, it makes you feel so special!), I’ll introduce them to families…

    I remember that my mom was very specific about families being a mom and a dad and kids. She was a little less clear about step families. Definitely against communes. And didn’t talk about same-sex couples.

    That was a handicap for a few years, but I grew past it. For me, a family is a group of people who love each other even when it’s not always convenient or easy. I definitely had a family at college–4 girls whom I was there for and who were there for me.

  7. After our “daddy” issue at daycare, we bought several books for the classroom. We also had the wonderful resources of Rainbow Families and Amaze to go and do a training at our daycare center.

  8. I’m glad you found my post useful, Polly. I’ll also point people to a more recent one on back-to-school resources. (A few of the items are the same as ones you list above.) Unlike my “How to Respond” post, which I wrote with the non-LGBT community in mind, this one is geared a bit more towards LGBT parents–but I think parents of all types would benefit from many of the items on how to make schools safer. I also include a few items specifically for allies. We can’t do this alone!

  9. Here’s something I don’t think anyone’s said explicitly — don’t just talk about “different” families in the context of them being different from your own. Your kid may grow up to be gay, or transgendered, or childfree, and you should (I think) accommodate that when you’re talking to the kid.

    Don’t say that boys grow up to be men and marry women and become daddies. Don’t say that girls grow up to be women and marry men and become mommies. Don’t correct your kid if she tells you she’s going to marry a girl, and don’t jokingly refer to her opposite-gender friends as romantic attachments if you don’t do the same with her same-gender friends. Introduce the idea that she could grow up to marry a woman, even if she doesn’t.

    It’s never to early to tell kids the truth.

  10. Thank you all so much! You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about. I’m also going to order some new books (I even found some in French, and if they’re good, I’ll pass them on to the daycare).

    I think that the thing I have to be MOST careful about is the fact that I don’t think that gays and lesbians are as persecuted here in Canada (specifically my neighbourhood, in Ottawa, Ontario) as they are in the US. It’s easy for me to sit back and do nothing, thinking that ‘it’s all good’.

    I also don’t want to be too pushy!

    I think that at our daycare (it’s located within a public French language school), there really is no clear “majority” – we have so many different skin colours, the chef is a man, and one of the teachers wears a head scarf (see? I don’t even have the word in my vocabulary!). The teachers know that this one little girl has a Mommy (they even say it in English, because she’s anglophone) and a Maman (the French word). If she’s doing a craft, they’ll ask who it’s for Mommy or Maman, seemingly with no prejudice, as they would ask another child if theirs was for Mom or Dad. I haven’t encountered anyone being rude or even cold to either Mom. The Maman even came as a parent volunteer for a field trip (yeah, for 2 1/2 year olds, it was insane) and everyone chatted with everyone else. We even traded recipes the next day.

    Anyway, this is exactly why I wanted to send my daughter to the daycare at the public school (her future school) – because I want her to know all sorts of different races, religions and family structures. I’m glad that she’s starting at her school, with her gang of friends, this young, because I want this to all be normal for her.

    Oh yeah – I wanted to point out at least one reason to have “Mother’s name” and “Father’s name” on the forms! (And this is just because I SUCK at ‘foreign’ names.) I know that I just would NOT know what to do if I was confronted with a form with “Parent 1” as Goorjap (for example) and “Parent 2” as Balneet. I just know I would NOT address the correct parent with the correct name! I think sometimes these poor educators can’t win.

    Thanks again!


  11. N. just had her first day of preschool and I can come up with two ways to make her feel more supported already. One is for the other parents (and of course the teachers) to learn what each kid calls their parents and to use that term. At one of our two parent meetings this week (yes, we joined a coop!), I spoke up to tell everyone that our daughter calls her other mom Baba. I think I’ll have to point it out several more times before it sinks in, given that the nomenclature Baba has yet to take over the world. Yet.

    The other thing applies to anyone who doesn’t adhere to a strict gender dichotomy. Today a little girl in the dress-up area said “where are the girl clothes?” Her mom grimaced at me a bit but said nothing. I would say: “honey, any child can wear anything they want.” Or something else that would open up the conversation.

    This reminds me of a painful episode with our neighbors — painful because I said nothing. Their 3.5 year old boy had recently expressed interest in wearing a dress. So they obtained one for him and let him wear it a few times. Then one day, they offered it to us. “He’s done with that phase,” they said to us. I wanted to say, “how do you know? Why not just let it hang in his closet as an option?” But I said nothing and took the dress. And now every time I see it, I die just a little.

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