Helping Your Children Explain to Their Friends What it Means to Have Two Mommies or Two Daddies
Adults in the LGBT community are not the only ones who are faced with “coming out” issues. The fact is that there are a growing number of LGBT couples who are choosing to be parents.
Consequently, there are a growing number of young children who must learn how to explain to their friends that they have two mommies or two daddies. But what is the parent’s role? Because some children will react unkindly to the differences of others, children need to be equipped by their parents to share their differences, whether those variations concern their physical attributes or abilities, their culture norms, or in this case, their LGBT family. Children also need to be prepared to face the ugly reality of prejudice that may have been transmitted to child-peers from homophobic parents.
As a licensed counselor dedicated to supporting children and early childhood mental health, I can tell you that early social connections are significant determinants of a child’s growing self-concept. If the child’s early social interactions are not positive or supportive, s/he may begin to be critical of her/his own self.
For a child with a healthy self-concept, having same-sex parents may simply be something they recognize and feel comfortable with, regardless of the reaction of others. However, if a child has been wounded with criticism about his/her family or has experienced more overt homophobia, s/he may be developing a negative self (and family) concept. Moreover, s/he may understand the dissimilar family make-up as a personal flaw that needs to be hidden or concealed. Therefore, understanding what sense children make of their non-traditional family is an important part of assisting them with fundamental socialization issues.
I believe that healthy parenting must not only include a high degree of involvement in the child’s social world, it will also take into account the child’s growing level of self-awareness as a result of their social experience when the parent is not present. Furthermore, and in spite of wishing it were not an issue, children need direct support in sharing their LGBT family identity with others. This may perhaps be a bit easier for children who have grown up with two mommies or two daddies since birth.
But for children who are adopted by same-sex couples after the child has become social (school years have begun), or for children who have experienced core family transformations (e.g., divorce, foster care, etc.) and now have same-sex parents, we can expect that the child will need a special social skill set to help him/her navigate the tumultuous waters of living outside the “mainstream” box.
Here are three specific activities LGBT parents can do to support their child’s “family” coming-out process:
- Start early in creating social opportunities with other LGBT children and families, and mindfully foster these healthy peer/family relationships. our children will need to learn to socialize with all different kinds of people, but if they have peers who are more like them, they will view themselves as being more acceptable and will then find it easier to relate to others who have families different from their own. And do not be shy in involving your child in community adult LGBT activities, as children learn how to relate to others from watching others relate. If your children know that adults accept and understand them and you, it will help them to feel likable and develop a secure sense of self in new settings.
- Tell your children what you like and appreciate about them as individuals, frequently noticing their special and unique qualities and characteristics and celebrating them. The goal is to dispel any fears or negativity related to “being different.” If this includes your child’s lack of interest in social connections, that should be respected too. Although it may be of clinical concern if your child has no inclination to be social outside the family, be assured there is a broad range of what is considered “normal” social interaction. Often, it is possible during family conversations to construe whether your child has fears of being different in social settings or simply prefers to spend time alone. At the same time, even if your child is not avoiding social situations, your child should be empowered with a secure sense of self and a strong sense of family, to the extent that s/he can proclaim proudly, “I have two daddies,” or “I have two mommies,” “and I love them and they love me!”
- Play with your children. Play helps children develop language, their sense of self, their bodies and the world around them. Play helps children to relate to other children and develop friendships. Play can also teach a child how to express feelings, solve problems and release tension. It would then seem natural that teaching your child how to talk about having same-sex parents should begin with play; playing out various scenarios where the child will likely be in a position to tell his/her friends about his or her own family. A child will be less confused if s/he has observed (through the parent’s demonstrative role playing) various stereotypic responses and/or inappropriate curiosities’ of others, and has witnessed a range of ways to respond. For example, in role play, one parent can act the part of the child with two mommies, while the other parent acts the part of a child with one mommy and one daddy. When the child asks, “Don’t you miss having a daddy?” …the child with two mommies could list all the great reasons why having two mommies makes her/his life special. Of course, the LGBT parent must understand this won’t be a one-time lesson; maintaining age appropriate information will mean a gradual use of mature vocabulary and concepts to present as the child is deemed ready.
Other more general parenting rules to remember include being a consistent caregiver, a positive role model, and to love your own self. Parents should be willing to admit to their mistakes, and to praise their own accomplishments, as kids will need to learn to do the same. Parents should build a secure and nurturing family environment, making hugs, laughter, and unconditional love a part of everyday life. Offering children some choices (no matter how small) in order to promote their decision making skills and reinforcing their self-esteem will also be essential. In addition, parents should keep their expectations realistic. This means giving your child the freedom to make mistakes. When kids trust that you will continue to love them and feel proud of them, even when they make mistakes, they are less afraid of social settings and can often feel less concerned about being different.
Finally, building the concept of Team-Family, where parents construct a framework for the family to work together on projects and family rituals is essential. Stimulating a child’s feelings of being a part of a valued whole, will not only teach them the importance of a family team spirit, but can also nurture their community consciousness and help them to develop the attitudes, ethics, and ways of behaving that are a part of becoming responsible social beings.
If you need additional support on this issue, Tamberly facilitates a Support Play Group aptly named Rainbow Children for ages 7-12 yr. See more information about the classes she offers at her website
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