These days, it's hard to throw around the word "typical" when talking about the American family. With so many variations on what was once the nuclear norm, including blended families, "grandfamilies," and families led by a single parent or by a lesbian or gay couple, the definition of that term is constantly broadening.
In particular, the growing number of lesbian and gay couples raising children together is now a firmly established trend in the United States: In 2000, the Census Bureau reported that there are almost 770,000 gay and lesbian coupled households, up 314 percent from 1990, and that 20 percent of these households, or 155,400 couples, are raising children together.
“By the time my daughter heard the word ‘gay‘ on the playground at school, she already had many lesbian friends in her life whom she loved dearly, so it was not hard to explain to her about how some people love people of their own sex," says Rebecca G., who had a lesbian partner but has since ended the relationship. "But her life got so much harder when we moved to a small town in a western state where homophobia was rampant. She really struggled for years."
It can be difficult for straight parents to help their kids navigate these shifts, especially because there aren’t a lot of resources for understanding families who seem, on the surface at least, to be different. As Circle of Mom members explain, the best bet is to teach tolerance by example.
Linda O. says she's baffled by negative misconceptions about and ostracism of gay families. Parents need to actively teach their kids to “have tolerance and acceptance" towards gay families, she says.
Chicago teacher Tina Fakhrid-Deen shares ways to increase acceptance for gay families in her new book, “Let’s Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parent," which includes reflections on her experience growing up as the child of a lesbian mother. But, as she tells WBEZ public radio, she wants to help knock down the stereotypes surrounding gay families and help all parents and kids have greater understanding of and compassion for families that are "different."
We turned to Fakhrid-Dean and Circle of Mom community members to share tips on what to do and to say to help teach acceptance and tolerance when kids ask about gay families. Here are some of their suggestions:
- Immediately address negative or uncomfortable feelings about gay families that your children may share.
- Explain to them that people should be proud of their individuality.
- Talk about how upsetting it must be for gay families when people discriminate against them.
Elizabeth B. a mom of six ranging from teenage to nine months, and a member of Moms Supporting Gay Marriage, uses these tactics to instill acceptance of differences in her children. She says, “I constantly reinforce that everyone has a right to make their own life choices and to be happy. I would be just as happy if my children were gay or lesbian or straight, makes no difference to me as long as they are happy and their partner is a good and decent human being that truly loves my child. We can change the world by raising accepting and loving children.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.