Family / Parenting

When do we teach our kids about hate?

Eliana cropMy partner and I are lucky. We can afford to live in Maplewood, an unusually diverse New Jersey suburb, where the gays are plentiful and tolerance seems to have graduated to full acceptance. As far as our two daughters know, their two-mom family is just another flavor of family in the variety pack, no better or worse than two dads, a mom and a dad, one mom, one dad, etc. We may be different, but no more so than any other family type.

Last year, when I was organizing the North Jersey Pride Festival, my then-six-year-old daughter, asked me a question I was apparently not prepared to answer: “What’s Pride?”

What’s Pride? I stood there, mouth agape. My partner and I have attended dozens and dozens of Pride celebrations in our lives. We’ve marched on Washington. We’ve always been politically active in our communities. How could we have skipped over this essential lesson during our child’s formative years? That was when I realized there is no way to explain Pride without explaining the hate that precedes it and makes it necessary.

Frankly, I didn’t want to go there. I gave the simplest, most benign, and what I believed would be the most digestible explanation:[pullquote]I realized there is no way to explain Pride without explaining the hate that precedes it and makes it necessary.[/pullquote]

“Pride is a day to celebrate families that have two moms and two dads,” I said.

“Why?” she asked, suspicious.

“Because…it’s nice to celebrate different kinds of families.”

“So this is a party just for kids with two moms and two dads?”

Not really, I thought, but for simplicity’s sake, I nodded.

Concern gave way to full-blown alarm on my daughter’s face. “But what about my friends with one mom and one dad? They’re not allowed to come?” Her then-three-year-old sister, too young to understand even this conversation, just stood next to her, hands on hips, and demanded, “Yeah! What about our friends?”

I let them know that Pride is welcoming of all families and that, of course, all their friends would be invited.

MayaSign

But the question has plagued me ever since: When do we tell our children the truth? When do we tell them there are people out there who don’t like our family and who wish they could make families like ours illegal? How do we tell them we are married, but that our marriage is not legal and that my partner had to adopt them, even though she’s always been their mommy? How do we tell them their family is lesser-than when they’ve always believed they are equal?

Even worse would be telling them that if we lived in Russia, they might be taken away from us or that, if we lived in Uganda or Eqypt or Jamaica or dozens of other countries where being gay is punishable by torture or death, we’d be so deep in the closet, they never would have been born.

There is a part of me, the activist who has taken part in rallies and demonstrations, who, year after year, marched down Fifth Avenue in the New York City Dyke March demanding equality—that part of me thinks we should tell them the truth. They will find out eventually, and it will hurt. Wouldn’t it be better to warn them so they’re not blindsided? Shouldn’t we train them to take up the fight?

But the other part of me, the part that’s not a gay mom or an activist mom, but just an ordinary, overprotective Jewish mom, that doesn’t want to tell them yet. Because they will find out eventually, and it will hurt. And I want to give them as much shelter before the storm as I can. That part of me thinks, if we continue to raise them in a world where they are equal, by the time they find out they’re not, they won’t believe it. They will have enough of a foundation to reject the hate, and maybe, they won’t internalize the homophobia because there will be nowhere for it to go. They’ll be told, “You’re not equal,” but they’ll know in their hearts that they are.

Or maybe the rest of the world will catch up to our little corner of suburban utopia and we won’t ever have to tell them.

Hey, a mom can dream, can’t she?

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7 Comments

  1. I am reminded of the resilience of children, that they understand things on a level that we, as adults, can’t or refuse to…

    Every time I have feared telling my children something, whether about their own family or the world at large, they have surprised me with the depth of their compassion and understanding.

    That said, I’d love to default to bubble ’em up, because teaching about hate makes me sad. (And angry.)

  2. We call it a Rainbow Parade, a day to celebrate how awesome we are. We worked really hard to create this little family of ours, and that’s very worthy of a celebration.

    While we were at Pride this year, though, we encountered a hater, and had to explain that to Roozle, who is four. I just told her there are people who think our family is bad because we have two moms. There are way more people who think we’re great, and those people aren’t being kind. It was a great way to talk about what to do if she is bullied for having two moms or given a hard time and how to get out of the situation and find a grown up to help.

  3. Sadly, they’ll have to learn about injustices all over the world and how lucky they are in comparison to live when and where they do. I’m all for taking advantage of that teachable moment to foster awareness and activism while they are still protected by the love and support of their community. Inequality is wrong, and that’s worth teaching at any age.

  4. Good points, all around. Our kids are definitely more resilient than we sometimes give them , credit for. We’ve had a few more teachable moment recently, particularly when we watched the DOMA news together with our girls. They still don’t quite get why we have to get married again. I agree that it’s absolutely worthwhile to use these moments. I just wish we didn’t have to.

  5. With both of ours starting school in a couple weeks for the first time, I’m a little nervous that we may be facing a very similar issue ourselves. Okay, I’m a lot nervous, but I’m just a huge worrier. I’m doing my best to just wait and see what happens though because we’re in a new city and I know we’re not the only two-mom family here. I’m just hoping the discussion on why some people hate our family can wait until they’re older.

  6. I love this post. I really, really, really relate. Our youngest is nine now, so the conversations are getting more complex, but this did start coming up around age 5 or 6 and where I eventually tried to focus the conversation (after 2 or 3 awkward attempts) was to talk about how people who don’t know a lot of (whatever it is we’re talking about – two-mom families, LGBT people, kids in wheelchairs, adults with Down Syndrome) can have “wrong ideas” – sometimes they’re afraid, or sometimes they’re mean, but most essentially, they’re misinformed. I nearly got stuck launching into “why” they feel/think these mean or wrong things, but the TRUTH is I really don’t know why, so I decided not to go there. People are people and my goal is to raise a kid who will recognize bias or hate when she sees it, and stand up for what’s true and kind.

    • With you, sister(s). This is such a big thing for all of us.

      As to the “why,” I split both ways. I say, “Well, to a large degree I don’t really know why. I can’t re-trace that thinking where I disapprove of someone who’s simply different than me, or where I get angry or mean. But really, if I had to say why anyone would be mean, it would just be that for some people, what’s different is scary. And it makes you vulnerable to feel scared, so many people try to cover up the vulnerable feeling with anger.”

      Truthfully, that makes perfect sense to our kids, even now. Like you, we emphasize that we not judge or be mean back, but simply try to keep being full of love ourselves, and hope it rubs off somehow.

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