Is She Your Mother? Explaining my Same-Sex Relationship to a Child

Well…it’s been happening more and more often, now that we have children. Other children, seeing us with our twin boys, ask the inevitable. “Who’s babies are they?”, or “Which one is yours?” Children who don’t know us look at us quizzically – back and forth, trying to make sense of it all.

Tonight, we had family visiting us from Texas. Our sweet 7 year old niece K was quietly watching Steph and I, and she looked utterly confused when I called out several times to my “honey”. Finally, she couldn’t take it any more.

“Is she your mom?”, K asked me, while she floated in the pool.  I quickly gloated (I’m so blessed to look so youthful) and then said “Nope.”

FamilyPhotoBeach

Oh my! I look so youthful, it’s almost embarrassing.

 

“Should I say more?”, I thought. But I distracted myself with keeping the boys upright in the pool.

I didn’t need to wait long before the next question came.

“Do y’all live here together?”

“Oh yes”, I said. And made funny faces at the boys.

More swimming and silence. I continued to gloat about my youthful charm.

“What is she, then?”, K asked me.

I had to tell her then. “She’s my partner.”

With no pause, she asked “What kind of partner?”

“My life partner.”

“Oh.” She nodded, like she understood.

But the thing is, she didn’t understand. She was truly trying to make sense out of everything, and I was not being helpful in the least. In fact, I was being rather obstructionist.

It really bugs me that I didn’t have the hutzpah to tell her what Steph and I are to each other. To take this experience and turn it into a teaching moment and explain to K about how two women can love each other, or two men, and that there are all different types of families, and that they are all beautiful. That God, or spirit, or whatever you believe in, doesn’t make mistakes. To show her that we are just like other families. To help plant the seed of tolerance, so that it spreads.

K is a very sweet girl, but ignorance breeds hostility, and if we can show others that we’re normal, loving, parents that are no different than their own parents, then that’s probably about the most important thing we can do.

But, I didn’t say or do any of these things. Instead, I continued to float in the pool, acting like I had no elephant to address in the room.  Why did I sit there floating, like a spineless idiot?

Honestly, I’m shy about all of this. I feel like it’s not my place to explain it – that it’s their parent’s place. I don’t want to overstep my boundaries. I say that, and yet I have the gut instinct that I need to get over myself. That parents would probably prefer if I explained it in my own words. And, honestly, I really irritate myself when I am quiet about it – like there’s something wrong.

I’ve never once in my life felt like there was anything wrong with being in love with a woman, so I’m not sure where my hesitation comes from.

Thoughts?  Should I get over myself and matter of factly explain things to a 7 year old? Or should I leave that to her parents?

Comments

  1. Huh. When I read your interaction with K, my first thought was, “That’s the right thing to do–answer the questions that the kid asks, but don’t add more or you’ll lose them.” When my 6 yr old asked, “Do Brantley and Luis love each other?” I just said, “Yes.” Do they live together? Yes. Why? Because they want to have a life together just like Mommy and Daddy want to have a life together. Can boys marry boys? Yes (and here’s where I had to stop myself from saying “only in certain states, but we’re making progress towards equal rights….”). And then she wanted to watch Peppa Pig.

    My point is, I answered her questions but didn’t give her any background “big picture” stuff that she’s not ready to process. Kids process information at the same pace they ask for information.

    Maybe your brevity with answering was in the same vein? The greatest lesson you are teaching her is simply by living your life. You are giving her terms she never knew, like “partner” and examples of NORMAL that she might not encounter in her life. Just by being you and being a loving mother to boys who need to be watched in a pool and a loving honey to your honey–that’s the lesson. Her world has expanded to include the idea that boys marry boys and girls have families with girls because she SAW IT, not because she asked the question.

    • hbuckman says:

      Ashley, thank you. This is such a thoughtful response and it reminds me that I don’t have to turn every interaction into a big teaching moment. And, that just being authentic is probably the most important thing we can do. Thank you, thank you!

    • Wendy Atwood says:

      I completely agree. At that age, it’s hard to know what they are ready to process, or how long of a conversation they are ready for. Whenever I have a “birds & bees” or “your changing body” conversation with my kids, it’s best to answer questions and let them know you are open for questions at any time. I understand feeling there may be a need for more, but it’s easy for young kids to get confused if given more than they are ready for. I think Heather did perfectly in that situation.

      • Thank you Wendy!

      • Me too!! And I love and whole heartedly agree with Ashley’s wonderful comments as well as the others. The kids are enriched by both your actions and loving presence. We can make it complicated and they are usually satisfied with simple and honest answers. :)

  2. I thought you handled it beautifully; however, if her parents are loving and tolerant enough to let your niece part of your world than I think you should share your feelings. Kids get it more than adults who get bogged down in dogma. I have a K.I.S.S philosophy about spirituality and morality (Keep It Simple Stupid). Love is love in any form and your niece will be more enriched and tolerant for being exposed to it. Especially two fabulous loving peeps like you and Steph. To have a relationship like you two have is a gift and I feel the same way about my husband. When my 1st son was small, one of my lesbian friends asked if she could read my son the book about families that had two mommies or daddies. I was thrilled that my son was learning all forms of love and tolerance. So spread the love, Sistah. 8)

    • hbuckman says:

      Thank you Candice! Love the KISS philosophy, and I think that’s what Ashley was saying (one comment above), too. Hope to see y’all soon!

  3. your sis bec says:

    That’s a very good question Heather. I guess I would have to depend on the parents of the child and how open they are. But I’m with you you on this one.

  4. Jasmine Season says:

    I had a similar situation in which my friend’s 6 year old asked
    “um…who is the daddy?” In this case she didn’t even know how babies were “traditionally” conceived so how was I to explain our even more complex situation? Knowing this little girl I knew I had to come up with something or she’d never drop it. I think her real confusion was my partner and my relationship. I simply asked her mom if I could tell her in my way or if she wwanted located. Our friend gave me full permmission. I made it as uncomplicated and honest as possible for a.6 year old. When I was done she said ok and that was that. I think the less taboo we can make it the better. If I were in your situation I personally would ask mom or dad first, then just say instead of having a boyfriend or husband that I LOVE, I love (partner’s name) so much that we decided to be together and make our own kind of family. Kids usually don’t press too much for details. If she gets a bit too personal, is defer to mom or dad.

    • Thanks Jasmine! I love what you said about making it so that it’s not taboo. Speaking matter-of-factly is probably the best way to do that.

  5. So, I would totally LOVE it if you would explain it to Zoey if the time came when she asked. We have already brushed over the topic. Milanie Hatfield always tells me answer just the question. Don’t volunteer additional info. At least for this age. And for matters concerning sexuality. Although even as I type this, I realize that this is a matter much bigger than sexuality. It’s about respect, love, non-discrimination, and about having her understand that Spirit doesn’t make mistakes, which is totally embraced by my church. Which I’m glad. Sooner or later she’ll run across it at church anyways. And I’m hoping someone wiser than me will say all the enlightened things. But here’s the deal. The reason why I want YOU to explain it over me, is because I’m afraid that I’m going to say something that unknowingly, or unenlightengly (not a word), would invalidate anything at all about this wonderful, precious life that you and Steph have created for yourself and your children. So as a HUGE supporter of the right for anyone to love whomever they darn well do, openly and passionately, my fear is not for my daughter, (she gets so much love from me that I happen to think I’m a bit like Lily Potter and it’s put a protective shield over her) but for my relationship with you (and insert any other same sex lovin’ friend here) and the fear that I would in some way hurt someone whom I only want to support with some ignorant nuance that I am not educated about. But honestly after re-reading all of this, I wonder if it could be as simple as:
    Zoey: Are Steph and Heather married? (that’s all she understands right now, people that live together are married, as in, Daddy is married to both her and I, because we live together, right?)
    Me: Yes.
    Zoey: but girls don’t marry girls, girls marry boys.
    Me: Sometimes, but not always.
    Zoey: Is that strange?
    Me: To some people, but not to us. And not to Steph and Heather. And not to God. Besides we are all a little strange in some ways. Don’t you think Daddy and I are strange sometimes.
    Zoey: Yes.
    And end of conversation.

    What do you think?

    And I’m totally loving your blog. Read every one. :)
    Zoey:

    • Thank you so much Lily. Milanie always has sage advice, huh? Do you go to the Unitarian church? I love that Zoey will be able to grow up just knowing that all kinds of different families are “the norm”! I also love your hypothetical conversation with Zoey, and especially the ending ;)

  6. Hey! I found you through Karen Lee-Duffell and was wondering if I could email you about something, but I couldn’t find any contact info on the blog.

    You have a beautiful family :)

    • Oh dear, gotta get on that. I’m such a novice! Just read your email and will respond shortly!

      • These blogging websites don’t exactly make it easy, sometimes. I have literally twenty years of internet experience and I still can’t figure out WordPress.

  7. Sorry about that last “Zoey” … somehow that got inserted in there accidentally…

  8. So this is the first time, i’ve taken a minute to read your blog… And what a great entry to read… First of all; from one youthfull looking adult to another, mazel tov on looking so fabulously young. Now… on to your question… This is a tricky one. I agree that it would be grand to be able to plant a seed at every oportunity we have to teach folks, (young and old) about tolerance. However, with this being your niece, I would hope that her folks would take the time to educate her in an age-appropriate manner as to how your family dynamics are. (did i word that right?) We are very blessed and fortunate to have nieces and a nephew know that my wife and I are married and have a child, (their cousin.) My brother and his wife explain to them in bite size pieces about our relationship and that little man is both of our son and their cousin. Our teeneage niece has known for forever. But I digress… this isn’t about our family. Maybe you can talk with her folks and ask them if they would like to either take a moment to explain in simple terms about your family so she can understand or if they’d be ok with you explaining it to her. Maybe you can all sit together and show family pictures and you can point to all your kids and say who they are and who your wife is, etc. Without a full out biology lesson, maybe you can just make the conversation very matter of fact and see if she is satisfied wit hthe information you (or her parents) give her. I’m interested to hear how it goes if you care to share down the road…

    • Thank you Christy! I love the idea of bite-sized info, especially for little pint-sized kiddolas! And kids don’t want to be “taught” about tolerance, so I think in reading yours and all the responses, that I handled it ok. Apparently my Martin Luther King self wanted to make it into a bigger deal than it was.

  9. i feel really strongly about this. I feel that we as the same sex couple should be able to teach and help others learn and understand. I feel this way because the more its out there and in peoples face with out being in their face will make people more comfortable. The more people encounter it or see it the more comfortable they will become. Again this is just my thought process. But I am also very comfortable and comfortably out and obviously a big ol’ homo. My wife is the feme and no one ever suspects that she is gay and just always assume she has a husband – but i am always referring to my wife and kids none of this partner BS but we are legally married in CA.

    • You go, girl! Love what you wrote. No marriage possible for us here in Florida, so I call Steph my partner. Maybe one day….

  10. Love this post! I have never thought about this situation from your perspective… I have always taught and explained to my children that it is OK to love whomever you want. Girls can have short hair, boys can have long hair. Girls
    can wear boyish clothes and like cars and get dirty if they want and boys can wear makeup and paint their nails! Boys CAN love boys and girls CAN love girls. And also be married and have a family! Around 6/7 is when my kids have started questioning this because this isn’t always the norm with their peers. I can understand your reluctance to explain in depth your relationship to a child.. However.. Your relationship should be nothing out of the ordinary or hard to explain. You love each other and that’s all matters.. Ok so I’m rambling now.. But basically. ‘Some families have two mommies or two daddies… Our families has two mommies, and we love each other very much’. What more could you say? :)

    • Thank you Lyndsay! Love how you teach your children about gender stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. I feel like we often could do a better job of making sure kids know that gender roles aren’t so freaking strict. Boys can love to play with kitchens, boys can have long hair. Girls can play with trucks and wear shorts. I feel like it’s a lot harder for boys and men in our society than girls/women.

  11. Aunt Laura says:

    Heather,
    You are allowed to feel uncomfortable in any situation. While you were answering questions, in your mind you were concerned for this child and her parents. You did great! We teach by example, we teach compassion by thinking of another person(s) not assuming it is okay to say more than what is asked to a 7 year old is fine.
    You have found some one to share your life and world with, the best gift. Love you!

  12. FOR THE RECORD, Niece “K” (not to be confused with nieces A – J), only thought I was your mother because her GRANDDAD is my OLDER brother. ggrrrrr…… I bet had you the conversation the 2 of you had gone further, that explaining our relationship would have been less confusing to her than her trying to comprehend how such a vibrantly youthful person, like myself, could be YOUR Mom. ;-)

    Now that I’ve set the record straight – and ribbed a little – this, my Love, was a fabulous post that inspired some great commentary. Oh, and you do look fantastic for 40. Anyway, I usually hit this straight on when a little one asks me. (By the way, Niece “K” did not ask me if I was your mother”). It goes along the lines of me telling them that we are parents and have a life the same way as their Mom and Dad are parents and partners. Hopefully their parents aren’t involved in anything kinky or illegal that the kid knows about, because then our reps’ll be tainted.

    I’m just waiting on a youngun of a single parent (who’ve always just known 1 parent like I did) to ask me to explain us. I better start rehearsing that one.

    Teaching by example is fantastic advice, and exactly what we do I think. We live a wholesome, clean, healthy and “normal” (whatever “normal” is) life, where we prioritize family and friends above anything else. I don’t think there is a person that has come into our home (and there have been hundreds lately, quite literally) that have felt out of place or uncomfortable either being in our space or around us, even when it’s super obvious we have special affections for one another. :) Our gayness is not a big deal, and I used to forget I was gay, until you cut down the 75 year old live oak tree in our front yard and planted that 100 foot pole with that gigantic rainbow flag on top.

    I also really appreciate the advice that “less is better” when discussing “us” with a kid. How true – kids really don’t care about the details and accept what they are told (until they because teenagers of course, which is when we realize we know everything). I really hate to, but I’ll start leaving out, or at least truncate the lecture on “Homosexuality as a population control mechanism within our gene pool” that I was adding on so that the kid would further understand why we are the way we are. I will reserve that lecture for 1) my Mom, who “just doesn’t understand” (and has short term memory loss, hence the repeated deliveries of this lecture to her), and 2) a distraction during parties when the conversation turns to religion and politics. Talking about gayness is always intriguing. And then I always like to try to figure out why things are they way that they are. Great conversation after a couple of cocktails! :)

    • hahaha…I think I may start using your “Population control mechanism” speech.

      Do y’all watch Bill Maher? A couple of weeks ago he had Dan Savage on the same panel as Connie Mack and Grover Norquist. He mentioned that he and his husband have a 15 year old son and Bill said, “I assume you adopted?” Dan Savage replied, “Well, we all know the Lord is in charge of babies, so I keep inseminating my husband and hoping for the best!” I thought Norquist and Mack were going to DIE.

  13. My daycare provider was in a long term relationship with a woman and she had a daughter my own age. I remember asking her daughter who the other woman was. The girl told me she was her aunt. I noticed there was only one queen size bed in their bedroom, but I accepted the answer. It wasn’t until many years later than I put the dots together and figured it all out. I’m not saying that you should say she is your sister or give any other non-truth asnwer, but I am glad they didn’t fully explain it to me at that age. It provided an exposure for me that became a sublte processing in my mind over many years. That was about 1968. Today, we live in a much more open culture, so that children become aware of different kinds of families much younger. I think you did just right with your niece, and it seems a bit strange to me that her parents (being family) wouldn’t have explained it to her (in a simple way) before visiting your home.

  14. I think you handled it well! You were matter of fact and that is all you have to be. If a child asked me about my boyfriend, I would naturally feel no need to explain why we are together, and the same should go for you and Stephanie. If a child’s parents have a problem with who you are, then that is their problem. Plain and simple!

    Love you!!!

  15. My kids attend a private school that prides itself on diversity. That is not the reason I chose the school, but I love that my children are exposed to multiracial families and same-sex partners as part of daily life. Unlike how I grew up, they will understand that all these things are acceptable because that is what they see. When my daughter was five, she asked if girls could marry girls and boys could marry boys. I explained that they could love each other and have families, but couldn’t yet marry in every state but would be able to someday–it just takes people a while to accept things and understand before they change stupid laws. I even launched into anti-miscegenation laws as an example of narrow-minded laws that used to be on the books but not longer are (unlike you, I apparently take things too far). It was quite a dinner conversation that night!

    With respect to your question, I think you did great.

  16. I think you did just fine. If she wanted to know more she would have asked. Kids aren’t generally shy about things like that. It’s quite refreshing honestly. I remember after we went to visit my cousin and his husband my son seemed confused. He asked me if Robert and Dan lived together, I said yes. He asked me if they were roommates and I said no, they’re married. (They live in Canada.) He said – “two boys can be married”? I said yes – and I did go into the certain countries, states thing because Nick was a bit older. (He was 10). Then he asked some more follow ups. My point being I handled it pretty much the same way you did, let him ask the questions at his own pace. He’s returned to the topic a few times since then, asked some more questions. He’s 12 now. I think your niece will do the same thing – since you seem open to talking about it, she will ask what she wants to know, when she’s ready to know it.

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