I’m incredibly fortunate to have a family that was always accepting of who I am and whom I love. My relationship with my husband was always treated as equal to everyone else’s and never something to be embarrassed by or to hide. My brothers and their wives never used any euphemisms for Kelly with their kids. He was never my “friend” or my “roommate.” He was always Uncle Kelly. And for my nieces’ and nephews’ own kids, who are in the same age group as our boys, having cousins with two dads is perfectly normal. In fact, when they were toddlers, my great nephew Jaxon turned to Niko and said, “You have two dads? Good job!” and high fives flew all around.
But two-uncle families with kids are not the norm. It was only after they were much older that we discovered an amusing number of our sons’ friends thought Kelly and I were brothers. That’s icky on a lot of levels.
So, how should LGBTQ+ parents explain to their kids’ friends the nature of the adults’ relationship?
On the one hand, you definitely don’t want to lie about the situation. Saying you’re “friends” sends two messages to your own kids. First, it will be immediately recognized by them as a fib.
Research published in Science Daily showed that parents who tout honesty to their children but then lie themselves can “erode trust and promote dishonesty in children.”
Secondly, the researchers argue, it sends conflicting messages. If you’re proud of your family, why would you lie about it? Is the makeup of your family something that the kids should be ashamed of?
On the other hand, you also don’t want to overstep your boundaries with someone else’s children. There are plenty of topics only a child’s parent should tackle, which allows them to frame the situation within their own moral and value structure. But they need to be prepared for those conversations.
It’s always a good idea for parents to introduce themselves to each other before the kids start hanging out at each other’s homes, of course. But in the case of LGBTQ+ parents, it’s an opportunity to ensure there are no surprises when it comes to just who is a part of your family.
Abbie Goldberg, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and the director of women’s and gender studies at Clark University, and the author of several books on LGBTQ+ parenting, says, “It might be appropriate for parents of kids of all ages to have a simple and friendly conversation with their kids’ friends’ parents that clearly delineates the family structure.”
Of course, the way you discuss your family dynamics is going to vary depending on the friend’s age. When the boys were much younger, we discovered their friends were simply curious why there wasn’t a mom around. And we explained it, in the same manner, Dr. Goldberg advises, “For young children, I suggest parents explain to kids’ peers that there are different types of families and couples, and some families have a mom and a dad, others have one mom, two dads, etc.”
I would also add that you should mention to these parents what their child asked and how you responded. That prevents them from being blindsided and opens the door for them to discuss it further with their child.
Interestingly, as the boys grew older, living in a two-dad family lent them cool creds. Apparently, it’s incredibly “sick” to have gay dads. And all the 16-year-olds mean that in the best way possible – I guess it’s a more mature way to say, “You have two dads? Good job!”