When my wife and I decided to become parents together, I was prepared to discuss our family with adults. As a queer woman, I’ve had to continually “come out” and explain who I am for years — every new job or move has been a cause to tell new coworkers that I am not, in fact, heterosexual. What I was less prepared for was talking about my queer family with children. I thought it would be several years before I would need to explain my family to kids, and surely by that time, I’d be ready.
I actually had just under two years. The moment our toddler was old enough to chase the big kids, the questions started to come in. At first I was overwhelmed, but the conversations about human differences turned out to be pretty simple and straightforward.
Here are a few things I’ve found helpful in talking to kids about all different kinds of families:
Keep It Simple
While kids might be curious, they probably don’t need to hear a dissertation on LGBTQ+ rights through the ages, or the complexities of sperm and egg donation. What they do need are simple facts.
Some families have a mum and a dad, but some families have two mums or two dads, or a ton of other possibilities! The different types of a families are endless, but the important thing is that families love and take care of each other.
Those are simple facts that most kids can understand. This might be the most obvious tip, but it’s also the most important.
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But Avoid Oversimplifying
While simple is good, you also want to make sure you’re being factual. Sometimes, in an attempt to simplify, it’s easy to leave things out or even say things that are downright untrue.
A statement such as “babies come from mommies’ bellies” might seem fine and harmless, but it is actually not true in every case, and can even be harmful. For instance, some transgender men can and do carry pregnancies, and they certainly are not mommies.
To avoid these flubs, you’ll have to examine your own biases. If you mess up, don’t freak out, just correct yourself.
Many parents want to have conversations about these issues “naturally” and “when they come up”. Practically speaking, this means waiting until the kid meets a gay person, or a kid with gay parents, and letting them ask questions. While I understand the appeal, please don’t.
Kids are constantly absorbing messages from society, whether we realise it or not. If you wait until you are face-to-face with a queer family to talk about family differences, who knows what they will have already picked up? It also puts an unfair amount of responsibility on the first non-heterosexual parents the kid interacts with.
Instead of asking LGBTQ+ folks to be ambassadors, talk to kids early about different kinds of families.
Whether you know real life LGBTQ+ families or not, you may want to spring for some books. Picture books can serve as examples when there isn’t one in front of you, and for most young kids they’re a big part of their world anyway. They can also sometimes offer language that parents or caregivers may struggle with.
I absolutely love What Makes A Baby by Cory Silverberg. It doesn’t once mention gay people, but it talks about where babies come from in a way that doesn’t make assumptions, and leaves space for all different kinds of families. Other great books include The Family Book by Todd Parr and Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers.
Watch Your Assumptions
I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve met who think they are inclusive and accepting, but then turn around and assume their own kids are straight. When I was pregnant, a friend with a daughter even said, “I hope you have a boy so they can get married!” Comments such as “when you have a boyfriend” and “when you have a girlfriend” send a clear message to kids, and that message is that you don’t accept queer people as much as you say you do.
Instead, try statements like “your future partner” or better yet, “your future partner, if you have one” to make it clear that you’re OK with whatever future your child chooses, and reinforce that all families are good.
For most kids, a one time talk really isn’t enough. They’re looking to the adults in their lives to show them what is and isn’t allowed, and you can do that by reinforcing that queer families are no big deal.
After all, not only do you want your kids to be respectful of LGBTQ+ families, you never know, they might be in one themselves one day!