Plenty of other people have written responses to, and rebuttals of, the “how will I explain your homosexual relationship to my child?” argument. I think it has been gone over pretty thoroughly, and the answer is pretty obvious to most people (who actually want to find the answer, and aren’t using the question as a stand-in for what they really want to say, which is “but I think gays are icky and I want my kid to think so too!”) but I wanted to share a personal experience that I had recently.
Recently, I was babysitting a four year old, the child of some friends, who I kind of adore. I should say that I know his parents pretty well, and I’m familiar with their politics, and actually knew that they had tried to broach the subject of less “traditional” families with him in the past – so you can’t accuse me of being the evil babysitter exposing the kid to the evil homosexual agenda! But even if I hadn’t known that about his parents, maybe if you don’t want your kids to know about gay people, you shouldn’t let one babysit your kid?
He’s really into dinosaurs right now, which is pretty great because so am I! I brought over some of my stash of plastic dinosaurs (yes, I am an adult, thank you) as well as some dinosaur info cards that I once got for a dinosaur themed birthday party I threw myself (when I turned 23, yup, still an adult).
His primary interest was in making the dinosaurs into little family units, and particularly little family units that look like his family. That’s not really surprising, and after some reflection, I remember that when my sister and I were kids, all of the imaginary families that we created had daddies who worked and mommies who stayed home with the children, children who were almost always pairs of sisters. So he had three dinosaurs (all different models of dinosaurs in the ___ family) which were, in his words, “a mama ‘ceratops, a papa ‘ceratops, and a little baby ‘ceratops!” and I created a little family of ___. Then all the dinosaurs had a dance party, because you know, what else would you do next?
And then, this exchange:
“That one is the papa!”
I took a deep breath, and said, “Actually, in this family there isn’t a papa, there are two mamas.”
“Well, some families have a mama and a papa, like the ‘ceratops family, but some families have two mamas, or two papas, or just a mama, or just a papa. And some families have one baby, and some families have two babies, and some families have lots of babies. In this family, they have two mamas, and one baby.”
He was quiet for a minute, like he was processing all of this information. Suddenly, he stopped making his “dinosaur voice”, paused the game, and looked right into my eyes.
“But I have just one mama,” he held up one finger to represent one mama, “and just one papa,” and another finger to represent his papa. He was all seriousness.
“Yes,” I said, “and that is the perfect number of mamas and papas for you! That is exactly what you are supposed to have! But it might not be right for everybody else.”
He is four years old. He’s still wrapping his head around the idea that other people might have different feelings or needs from his at all. He just started going to preschool, and he’s learning things about the crazy interesting world of other people. For example, even though he does not like spicy food (he only likes “little tiny pieces of spicy”) sometimes other people do like spicy food. I don’t know all the stages of childhood development off the top of my head, but this strikes me as totally and completely normal. First you have to realize that other people have feelings the same way that you have feelings, and then the next step is learning that sometimes they feel differently than you do. The conversation about families seemed like just another extension of that.
“Oh.” he said, after pondering this for a minute, “ok!” and we went back to our game.
Later, we abandoned the toy dinosaurs, and we pretended that we were the dinosaurs. Thankfully, I had him there to instruct me on the rules and particulars of such a game.
“You are the mama ‘ceratops and I am the little bitty baby ‘ceratops and you have to take care of me, ok?” and then we hid under some blankets, and then I protected him from a monster, and then he said “I love you mama ‘ceratops.” and my heart melted into a puddle of mush.
We were on the couch playing that game when his real, human, mama got home. I told her a little bit about what we had done during the day (including the chat about how families come in all different shapes and sizes and they’re all good) and then she sat down on the couch with us. He was in the middle. A light went off in his head.
He reached out and grabbed both of our hands and squealed with excitement “AND YOU CAN BOTH BE MY MAMAS!!!!”
In the moment, that exchange was a little clunky, the way that exchanges with four year olds can be. But it was fine. And it got me thinking.
Kids, at least kids that age, do not think about marriage in terms of sex or even romance. Maybe they think about it in terms of liking each other, maybe hugging or even kissing, but mostly they think about it in terms of what grown-ups can offer children. This child has met my girlfriend/partner/fiancee, and he knows that we love each other and are getting married. I don’t think he sees that as fundamentally different from his parents relationship, but I don’t think he sees it as fundamentally different from two friends, either. If he does see these relationships differently, it’s based on whether or not they have children, because that is what he can relate to, not the genders of the adults involved.
Explaining gay marriage, or families with gay parents, to kids, it’s only hard (or any harder than explaining anything else to kids, which can sometimes be quite challenging) if you first explain to them that marriage is a boy-girl thing. So, let’s just not do that first one, ok?