In Child of the Week, my Blogging for LGBT Families post the other day, I shared a wee bit of the excitement and trepidation that has been stalking me through the our daughter’s first preschool year. I divulged no details about her actual experience there, mind you (which has been just ducky), or our actual reception by the staff and community there (warm, welcoming, appreciative). It was my worries I charted, along with my desire to be of use to everyone who is a part of our daughter’s life.
Among other things, I mentioned having sent a note to fellow parents, in anticipation of our daughter’s being in the spotlight last week as “Child of the Week.” A few readers asked after it, and so, expunged of names — ours and the preschool’s — I’ve included it here. Is it a study in oversharing? Sure. Kicking in an open door? Maybe. Hopefully. But there might be a few chunks here and there that may usable by some of you who are likewise inclined toward the educational. That, or we could compare and contrast how we each do or would go about tossing flower petals on the paths ahead of our kids.
For my part, until I find that it’s backfiring, I fear I will consistently err on the overly informative rather than the underly. I should say, until I find that it’s backfiring, or until the kids get old enough to throw in their two cents, or even lunge at the keyboard before I click the “send” button on another mass email to their peers’ parents.
And with that:
Dear [name of preschool] families,
Our girlie is “Child of the Week” this upcoming week, and we have two things to share: one short, one lengthy.
The short thing is about lunch this Friday: our daughter could not resist treating everyone to her favorite meal, which, when it’s not air (#$%^&*!), is bowtie pasta with parmesan cheese, peas with butter, and strawberries for desert. So lunch is on us. Apologies in advance for the strawberries, for those allergic, or the modest protein intake.
The long thing is a bit about us. Our daughter’s family is, as family structures go, an “alternative” family (two gals are at the head of it). Your children, our daughter’s schoolmates, may ask you questions, and we’d love to help you know enough about us (and LGBT families generally) to be able to answer them confidently. I had a great chat with one mom the other week (her gal had asked why our daughter had a “Baba” and she was all excited to explain lesbian parents to her; turns out all her daughter was interested in was the unique name!). Many of you may learn nothing new below; if so, I hope you can still understand my desire to be of some help for those who might appreciate knowing a bit more.
Our daughter has two parents, both women. Some kids might already have heard that kids can have “two mommies.” Our daughter does; one she calls Mama and one she calls Baba. (If pressed to answer the question, “What’s a Baba?” it’s likely that our daughter would answer, “One of my parents.” Or maybe even, if she was feeling in an educational mood, “It’s a kind of a Mama,” or “A parent part-way between a Mama and a Papa.” All of which is true enough.)
She knows her family structure is uncommon; we live in co-housing community with [my partner’s] brother’s family, which follows a customary set-up (man & woman as parents; not “blended” from previous marriages; no one’s adopted; no fertility assistance; everyone’s the same race; etc.). But one of our daughter’s best friends across the street has a “Baba” too. Same thing as us: two mommies; one conventionally feminine, the other more in-between, gender-wise, functioning socially somewhere in between a daddy and a mommy. We socialize regularly with a tight group of friends, all of whom are two-gal heads of families, with kids all around our daughter’s age. We’re also very active in Our Family Coalition, the Bay Area’s LGBT family organization. So as much as our daughter knows that our family structure is in the minority, she also sees many other families like ours, and doesn’t feel particularly alone, or hampered.
Families like ours might not appear in lots of books, but they do appear in the world she moves around in.
I would be pleasantly surprised if your kids wanted to strike up a conversation with you about our daughter’s family. At the most basic level, it’s simple: there are many ways to make a family, some more familiar, others less common. Most of the variations in family types rest on differences that preschool-aged kids are just beginning to track, much less understand (like differences in appearance, or in social status). For grown-ups, though, it may be of interest to know that as of the last census, the many different types of “alternative” families (e.g., those headed by a single parent, or LGBT parents, or “blended” families with kids from previous marriages, or families whose members are from more than one racial group, or families with kids raised by an aunt or grandparent, etc.) outnumbered the nuclear norm for the first time in U.S. history, just as in California, various racial “minority” groups have outnumbered whites, the previous majority group, for over twenty years.
The gay community is in the midst of an unprecedented “gayby boom,” and there will be more and more kids like our daughter who will be among your kids’ peer groups in the coming years. I’m hopeful that if enough parents like my partner and me are open about providing friendly answers to parental FAQs, maybe things will be easier for everyone. By the time all our kids are old enough to witness epithets or bullying on the school yard, perhaps less of it will be happening. And when it does, more kids will stand up in defense of one another. I mention this because an unsettlingly high percentage of kids nationwide are harassed or bullied (or worse) in school, based on their or their parents’ percieved or actual gender identity or sexual orientation. (Those who know the recent case of the Lawrence King shooting know the issue is certainly relevant to California.) Mercifully, kids our children’s’ ages seem not to be tangled up by judgments when they encounter variations on the norm, bless ’em.
If anyone of your kids is precocious enough to (a) know that you need something from a man and something from a woman to make a baby, and/or (b) ask how our daughter came to be, if she has two women for parents, this is what we say:
“We had a friend help us.”
Which is true. For grown ups, the term is “personally known donor” (as vs. known, but not personally, or unknown, as in officially anonymous). His wife is one of my oldest friends, and their youngest daughter is a [name of preschool] alum, and basically the reason we came here for our daughter’s first taste of the world outside the enclave of her family and friends. We came here knowing there weren’t any other LGBT families in her class, but trusting in the warmth of the community that the director and staff foster here. So far, so fantastic.
It’s doubtful that kids our daughter’s age will be interested in pursuing the family genealogy any further. Some grown-ups, however, may be interested to know that we refer to our “donor chum” as our daughter’s Special Uncle (his spouse is our daughter’s Special Aunt, and their kids are her Special Cousins, all depicted in the Family Tree which we’ll be bringing in tomorrow morning). Why don’t we call him her “biological father” and his kids “half-siblings”? Because like so many alternative families, it’s the social bond, rather than the biological one, that determines our family structure. Socially our donor chum is not a father to our daughter, and neither are his kids socially her siblings. Biologically, yes. But socially, we each have totally discrete immediate family units, and are bound laterally by blood and, more important, mutual love. We’re totally honest with our kids, and answer their questions when they arise, with age-appropriate answers. So far, our extended family relationship has been an utter delight and a blessing to all of us.
Many lesbian-headed families we know use this same terminology and extended family-making structure, but many don’t. Some lesbian families regard their donor as a father figure, with varying degrees of participation as such. Other lesbian families are made through closed or international adoption and have no social contact with the donor. Still others are made with gay men friends, and both couples actively share parenting. It’s just that our family is a Mama-Baba-Special Uncle & Aunt & cousins-type of family.
I’d be only too glad to answer any questions you might have about families like ours. I’ve attached a few links below for anyone who (God love you!) actually wants to read yet further.
- “Extended Family”
[my friend’s essay about how and why they became donors to us, published on the site Literary Mama]
- “Opening Doors: Lesbian and Gay Parents and Schools”
[a PDF publication from Family Equity Council, the national LGBT family organization, for parents and educators; page 16 has simple ways to address kids’ questions, though most are likely to come a few more years down the line]
- “How to Respond When Meeting Lesbian Moms”
[A short but informative post on the website Mombian: Sustenance for Lesbian Moms]
Thanks for reading this far, if you have! And do have a wonderful rest of the Memorial Day weekend, the few hours of it that are left!
[me and the beloved]
on behalf of [names of our kids]
3 thoughts on “A lesfam primer”
Back when I went to preschool, we got all our notes sent home in an envelope pinned to the front of our shirts. I’m glad you weren’t one of my classmates’ baba back then. Such a tome would have surely given me a permanent back injury.
My youngest son goes to school with the offspring of a lesbian couple. One mother white, one mother black. I were, of course, eager to explain to him how K came to have two mothers, but he didn’t care. The only thing that interested and impressed him was that “She has been to AFRICA! On an AIRPLANE!” – “yes, but… don’t you think it is interesting how she comes to have to mothers?” – “no…” end of discussion.
Black people are rare in Danmark, so the girls skin color is by far the most interesting thing about her. I’ll give it another try in a couple of years.