Throughout the world, there are thousands of same-sex parents raising children. In the US, approximately 220,000 children under 18 are being raised in same-sex households (Source). My sister, Carrie and her wife, Rebecca, are married with two beautiful children. In our family, including some very conservative extended family, I’m proud to say that my sister-in-law was welcomed with open arms. Carrie and Rebecca’s children are treated no differently than any other cousins or grandchildren. I hesitate to use the word normal because it is such a subjective word that is often poorly used. However, I can’t seem to think of a better word that fits our situation. This is my story of the ways and reasons that I teach my daughter to respect all kinds of families.
I want my daughter to be open minded about the many different kinds of families in the world. This includes same-sex marriage. AJ has always had Aunt Rebecca in her life. For the most part, I’ve taken the approach of treating everything as perfectly ordinary and just addressing AJ’s questions as they come up. Because of how normal everything is to me, sometimes her questions even catch me by surprise.
“Mommy, was my cousin Ruby’s birth a passover birth?” asked AJ as she sat behind me, deep in thought in her car seat. I tried to understand the question, but had to ask, “What do you mean, honey?”
“Well, she has two mommies and no daddy. Was she born to a mommy and a daddy and then passed over to Aunt Carrie and Rebecca?”
“Oh, you mean an adoption!” I said. “No, she was born out of your Aunt Rebecca, and Carrie is her mommy too.” I braced myself for the next question, reminding myself that it’s best to answer as simply as possible.
“Where is Ruby’s daddy?”
“Well, sweetheart, Ruby’s mommies loved each other and wanted to have a baby. Fortunately there is a sort of bank where they could get the daddy stuff they needed to make a baby. Ruby’s mommies wanted her to be born and Rebecca got to give birth to her. Does that make sense?” Eventually I’d have to explain sperm and eggs and maybe show her the book that my own parents had shown me. For now, however, she seemed satisfied with the explanation.
My daughter was too young to remember the details of Ruby’s dramatic entrance into the world. She doesn’t remember the week that Ruby spent in the hospital without anyone knowing if she would even survive. She especially doesn’t know how close we came to losing Ruby because my sister, Carrie, couldn’t sign for the life-saving treatment that Ruby needed at her birth. Even though Carrie and Rebecca had made a public commitment to each other and legally become next of kin, their state at that time did not allow them to marry. This meant that when Rebecca passed out due to the emergency C-section that had to be performed before the anesthesia had taken full effect, there was nobody to sign for Ruby’s treatment. Even though the hospital staff recognized Carrie as Ruby’s parent, the hospital could not recognize her as such for legal purposes. Fortunately, Rebecca came to in time to sign the paperwork. The innovative new treatment prevented brain damage and saved her life. Today Ruby is a spunky six-year-old.
Even though same-sex marriage is part of our normal, it was inevitable that my smart girl, AJ, would catch onto the excitement when Carrie and Rebecca finally did get to legally marry last August. We had planned to attend their wedding ceremony and be in town for the birth of their second child, a son. We missed it due to rescheduling when their sweet boy came early. (Carrie will still have to go through a legal adoption process to legally adopt their son, Luca.) I shared the wedding photos with AJ and tried to explain why her aunties were getting married for a second time. I think she understood because she told a store clerk that same day that she was buying a present for her cousin whose two mommies were getting married “legally for real.” The store clerk beamed and told us how happy she was to hear it. AJ probably doesn’t realize how much it really meant to our whole family to make it official. Some day she will know about the politics involved. For now, she is being raised to see all different kinds of families as normal and equal.
When we give respect and equal rights to all types of families, we are helping 220,000 children to have easier lives. I think they already face enough discrimination and bias in various areas of life, from the language people inadvertently use to outright dirty looks and comments from strangers. Ruby, for example, is getting good at thinking up creative answers when her teacher at school talks about mommies and daddies. She once explained to her class that she has a bapa daddy, her way of saying that her grandfather (bapa) is her male role model.
Because of Ruby and Luca, the language we use to describe parents and families is on my radar. For example, when people talk about adoptive or step-parents as opposed to “real” parents, I will correct them. Being someone’s biological parent does not make you any more real than the parent who cares for you every day. Nobody in our family calls Rebecca the real mom and Carrie the step parent. In fact, people often say that Ruby looks like Carrie or takes after her. (She really does look like Carrie, maybe because kids pick up our facial expressions or maybe because she was always meant to be her daughter.)
Moving forward, I see positive changes happening in social acceptance and language usage. I know that these changes are happening because some of us speak up and advocate for the people we love. I obviously believe in extending legal rights to same-sex families. I’ve seen how important these rights can be. The lack of rights almost cost my niece her life. Though I will advocate for their rights, I don’t make a big deal out of my sister’s family on a day to day basis. When I asked Carrie about it, she commented that they don’t think of themselves as a gay family or a unique family. They are just a family.
Recently, AJ and I had dinner in a restaurant with Carrie and Rebecca’s family. When a well-known, conservative politician was seated at the booth next to our table, Carrie joked that she and Rebecca should make out (this same politician supports a national ban on gay marriage). We shared a laugh that made my daughter question what the joke had been. AJ is starting to pick up on the things we hear on the radio and talk about at home. Since same-sex marriage has been in the news more recently between the Winter Olympics in Russia and the proposed legislation in Arizona, I’m even a little bit glad that she is starting to realize that our family is not the norm. As much as we treat things as normal in our own family, there is a whole world out there where my sister and sister-in-law will continue to face some discrimination. My daughter is a born activist who dreams of being an animal rescuer. I don’t know if she will grow up to also advocate for human rights, including rights for same-sex couples. I want her to choose the causes that mean the most to her. For now, I’m glad that AJ is learning acceptance and love for all kinds of families.
In case you’re wondering, Carrie and Rebecca didn’t make out in front of the politician in the restaurant. They just went about their usual life together, responding to their children’s needs, chatting, enjoying a meal. The family at the next table could probably tell that Carrie and Rebecca are a same-sex couple. They may have noticed the wedding rings on their fingers and that they equally parent the two dark haired children. In spite of strong political and religious beliefs, I’m happy to say that the politician and his family treated all of us as equally normal.
Stephafriendly is a wife, farmers’ market manager, health coach, food blogger and mother of two children (a baby boy in Heaven and a seven-year-old girl here on Earth). She also enjoys writing, researching, organic gardening, cooking, canoeing, watching old movies and making music with her husband and daughter. She usually writes about real food and health at http://stephafriendlyfoods.com.