We talk a lot about marriage equality in our house — and those discussions are sure to continue, especially now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. We are not a particularly political family, but it’s a question that comes up every once in a while. Apparently kids are prone to talking politics on the playground these days. Imagine that? I can’t be certain, but I’m fairly sure that I spent a lot of time discussing scratch and sniff stickers and Strawberry Shortcake at recess when I was kid.
Every once in a while, one of my kids comes home with a story about how someone’s parent said that a girl can’t marry a girl. This, of course, causes my children to reevaluate what I teach them: “You love who you love and love is all you need.” So we talk about what it means to be a family and why everyone should be able to marry the person they love.
Early elementary school-age kids are, of course, trying to make sense of the world around them. Some might be trying to figure out whether it’s okay to marry a best friend. Others might wonder who they will want to marry. Some might know a child with two moms or two dads and have questions. In fact, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, between one and nine million kids have at least one parent in a same-sex relationship. There’s a good chance one of your children knows, or will soon know, a child with same-sex parents.
One thing I’ve learned from many years of working with kids is that kids, on their own, see the good in differences. I will never forget the look on my daughter’s face when she learned that a friend has two moms. “That is something very lucky,” she said, as she contemplated the benefits of an extra mom in the house.
Kids don’t come into this world with a need to spread hatred. They come into this world full of wonder and curiosity; they want to know everything, and they look to their parents for answers. They echo the sound bites they hear from loved ones (yes, both the good and the bad). No matter your personal, political, or religious views on the topic, it’s important to give kids honest and direct answers when they ask questions.
1. Keep it simple.
You don’t need to provide a lengthy explanation of the history of marriage to explain same-sex marriage to your kids. You simply need to answer their questions in age-appropriate language.
Families with two moms or two dads are just like any other family. One or both parents work. They have rules, chores, and family meals just like other families. Use your own family as a point of reference. “You know how we like to play board games on the weekend? Families with two dads or two moms love to do that, too.”
It’s important to teach kids that all families are different, and different is good. Some families have two parents, some have one. Some kids live with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or foster parents. Some kids are born to one mom, but live with another. All kids need parents or caregivers who love them and care for them every single day.
2. Tone down your own anxiety.
“Where do babies come from?” is one of those questions that parents fear most. And yet, most preschoolers blurt out those very words at some point. Another one that sends parents running for cover? “But how does the baby get in there?” I’ve had more than one parent express concern that talking about same-sex parents will open the door to talking about reproduction. It doesn’t. Whether you discuss same-sex marriage with your kids, you are likely to hear one or both of those questions at some point.
It’s important to keep your personal views and worries out of the equation when discussing same-sex marriage with your kids. All kids need to know is that their friends have parents who love them and that kindness always counts. If you try to change the subject because you’re uncomfortable, your kids will get the message that something about this topic is very wrong. That will only add to their confusion. When kids don’t understand things, they tend to fill in the gaps on their own or ask more questions at school. They need to hear it from you.
Stay calm, provide information, and listen to your children. They just want to ask questions and have a conversation.
3. Don’t be afraid to use the words “gay” and “lesbian.”
Your kids will hear those words at some point, and it’s better that they hear an accurate definition from you versus something inaccurate and potentially mean from someone else. When you empower your kids to understand the meaning of words and use them in a positive way, they have a better understanding of the words.
This is another great time to provide a quick and meaningful explanation, because that’s all kids need. You don’t need 15 examples and an after-school special, you just need to take the mystery out of the words.
4. Talk about kindness.
The most important lesson you can impart to your child is that kindness is all that really matters. All families are different, and those differences should not be used to tease, exclude, or avoid another child. Circle back to that piece about kids living with grandparents or other caregivers. Is that a reason to tease? Of course not. The same goes for kids living with same-sex parents.
Adults don’t always say the right things and kids will hear opinions of adults voiced through their friends. Listen carefully when your kids come to you to discuss these mixed messages and try to focus on empowering your kids to use words and make choices that are blanketed in kindness.