There’s no right or wrong way to be a family, but children of same-sex couples will inevitably face questions regarding the non-traditional nature of their family unit that kids of hetero parents just don’t encounter. So how can you help your kid navigate these social interactions with confidence and ease? We asked Dr. Bethany Cook, clinical psychologist and parent with a same-sex spouse, to weigh in with her professional (and also personal) advice.
3 Parenting Tips for Same-Sex Couples (from a Child Psychologist & Parent Who Also Happens to Be Gay)
1. Never lie to them
When a kid first notices that their family looks different than some of their friends’ families you might have to field some hard-hitting questions. If you’re tempted to omit information, gloss over the details or outright lie…don’t. “Parents should never lie to children about where they came from or what people are in their inner circle of family members,” the expert tells us. Eventually children of same-sex parents will be asked by peers about their non-traditional family, and Dr. Cook wants parents to keep in mind that kids, just like adults, “feel confident about any topic when they understand it clearly.”
In other words, when it comes to preparing your kid for these inevitable interactions, knowledge is power. That said, it’s best to keep conversations about the family structure as matter-of-fact as possible: “Stick to simple, black and white language, as if you were teaching them how to fold a towel,” advises Dr. Cook.
What to say:
“We used a donor dad to create you and your sister. I’m the biological mom and you have the same donor, so you’re full genetic siblings.”
“I was married to a man before I met Mommy and that’s how you came to be our child. Your dad didn’t want parental rights or responsibilities, so he signed them over to Mommy who happily stepped in and stepped up.”
“Your father’s soul was born into the body of a woman and then when they were 25, they realized they strongly identified as a male and wanted their body to match how they felt on the inside.”
2. Give them a script for talking to other kids
Kudos to you for having a straightforward, honest conversation about your non-traditional family. That alone goes a long way towards preparing your kid to do the same with peers. Still, a little extra help might be needed since kids can get tongue-tied when put on the spot by a curious peer. As such, Dr. Cook recommends coming up with a short-but-sweet script that children can fall back on when asked why they have same-sex parents.
What to say:
“I have two moms because my parents fell in love and got married. How did you end up with a mom and a dad?”
“Some kids have two moms, some kids have two dads, some kids have step-parents...I just have two moms. All families are different. Families are about love, not the gender of people who are in it.”
3. Have a plan for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
Dr. Cook tells us that her own children have run into a few issues at school surrounding these holidays—mostly Father’s Day, which is not celebrated in her family, but also Mother’s Day because her kids have to double the gifts they make at school. In her family, she is celebrated a month earlier on the U.K. Mother’s Day, while her British wife is celebrated on Mother’s Day in the U.S. That said, Dr. Cook points out that this can be an issue for kids who don’t have same-sex parents, too—something she experienced herself growing up: “My sister and I celebrated Father’s Day with my mom (as well as Mother’s Day) for a few years after our parents divorced…relationships were strained with my father initially and repaired over time.”
The takeaway? Every family is different when it comes to how or what they choose to celebrate, and ideally kids will feel comfortable owning it. To that end, Dr. Cook recommends giving children a single ‘this is what we do’ statement that briefly explains the unique way in which their family chooses to celebrate (or not).
What to say:
“I have two moms, so we celebrate them both on Mother’s Day.”
“I have two dads and we celebrate one parent on Father’s Day and the other on Mother’s Day. We draw names each year to see which day each one gets.”
“My parents prefer to rename those holidays as ‘Parent Day’ and we celebrate both Parent Days of the year.”