Family / Kids / Parenting

Shacking Up without Telling the Kids


The following is the second in our ongoing Wednesday series, offishly Lawfully Wedded Life. Do you have a story to tell about marriage, marriage equality, or the lack thereof? modafinil south africa price Submit yours here. We’ll be running the series through the SCOTUS marriage equality decision(s), expected late June 2013.


Our kids don’t know that we’re not married—that is, they don’t know that we aren’t as married as all of our heterosexual married friends and family. As far as they are concerned, the wedding pictures, taken at our commitment ceremony in 2003 and pasted into a photo album are as good as the legal marriage certificate from British Columbia.

We haven’t told them that that neither of these things renders us as married as our neighbors here at home. (And neither will a same-sex marriage at the state level, which we expect Illinois to pass soon.)

We have always represented ourselves and other committed same-sex couples we know as “married” to our children. We have always called the committed people in any coupling “partners.” (This made for a funny moment when my daughter described Minnie Mouse as Mickey Mouse’s “partner” recently.) We have never taught them the distinctions between one kind of marriage, one kind of partner, and another.

At eight and five, they are certainly old enough to understand at least some of the legal matters that keep their family in a position of second-class citizenship. They are old enough to be outraged by unfairness. In fact, they are smack in the middle of the developmental stage in which they care more about fairness than about breathing, if their arguments over who got more blueberries in her oatmeal are any indication. And given their personalities (one is a born empath and one is a take-no-prisoners playground warrior) I have no doubt they will both grow up to be crusaders for justice of all kinds—including gender and sexuality justice. But we don’t want to make them champions of this particular cause, and our own ambivalence about it as a cause isn’t even the main reason for that.

It’s hard to put my finger on one simple way to explain it, but I think it boils down to a desire to protect them.

Our kids have a lot of counter-cultural and sub-cultural identities to develop and resolve. They are Black and their every day parents are white. They are adopted, which means they have not one, not two, but three moms each. They are homeschooled at the moment (and for the foreseeable future). They have a big brother by mutual assent,  20 years their elder and also white.


Photographic Evidence Beats a Wedding Certificate in the Eyes of an Eight-Year Old

While we take pride in all of our family’s differences from Leave it to Beaver, we also know from experience that being different all the time, in so many ways can be exhausting. The kids are bombarded with kid-culture that represents a “family” as MommyDaddyBrotherSister, almost always white (unless they are anthropomorphic animals still coded white) and related by DNA. The kids look around them and see that even among our colorful tribe of friends and family, most of the married couples are “straight” (a word, along with “gay,” “lesbian” and “bisexual,” we taught them to understand young). Most of our friends share their race with all of their family members.

Carrying all that difference, however we “naturalize” it to the kids, however much we talk openly about it, however accepting our more Leave it to Beaver-y friends are, requires a lot of strength and good cheer from our kids. If we can save them one extra worry, we will.

As far as we know, they’ve only been told once, by another child, that two women can’t get married, and our matching wedding rings were enough evidence to disprove this to both our own kids and their playmate. Fortunately, the other kid didn’t know about the DOMA. And ours never will—at least not until they learn about it in homeschool history class, well after it’s over. (Indulge me in believing—much to my own surprise, mind you—that it will be over soon.)

It doesn’t matter to our kids whether we can file our federal taxes together. It doesn’t matter to our kids what some republican said at a hearing on same-sex marriage. We don’t let them watch the news yet.

What matters to our kids is knowing that their family is a sure thing. They already have to know that their first mothers needed to give them to us when they were born, because life is not fair and their mothers didn’t have what they needed to raise them. They are beginning to learn the nuances of what racial difference means in the United States and its history—that is they are learning about racism. As they learn more about these tragic things that make up important parts of who they are, they need to be certain that at the bottom, Cole-Mom and Mama Shannon are here, are a team, have their backs forever.

Our wedding picture on the bookshelf tells them this. You may have your doubts, but in times of stress, our eight-year old carries that picture around with her, putting it by her bed so she can gaze at it as she falls asleep at night. “I love your wedding picture!” she tells me, “you are so happy and it reminds me of how you love each other!”

She also tells me that she wishes she could have been at our wedding, but tempting as it is, when we go and get an Illinois marriage (as soon as it’s legal), we are not going to invite her or her sister. We aren’t even going to tell them we did it.

We’re married. We’ve been married for ten years so far, and plan to stay that way ‘til death do us part. And that is all the kids need to know for now.

What have you told your kids about the issue of same-sex marriage? Are they little activists or blissfully in the dark?

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