Lesbian and Gay Parenting Questions & Answers Column With Arlene Istar LevDear Ari

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Lesbian Auntie

Posted By on September 1, 2010

Dear Ari:

On a recent trip to visit my sister and her children (ages 10 and 7), my niece asked me if my partner and I “had our own rooms” at home. I skirted around the question, but I would really like to talk openly and honestly with my nieces and nephews about my relationship. Also, if my partner gets pregnant, I want to be honest about this issue as well. I’m looking for some tips with language and approach. Can you make any suggestions? Perhaps some resources I could utilize?  Thank you.
—Denise

Dear Denise:

When we are dealing with being out to children who are not our own, it means that we are – for better or worse – having to also deal with their parents. You did not mention how your sister feels about your being gay, or what she has already told her children. By the ages of ten and seven, it’s hard to imagine that children have not already asked questions about your relationship, so presumably their mom has said something to them. My first suggestion would be to talk with your sister (and her husband/partner) about what they have already told the children, and how the children have responded.

I would generally suggest that you don’t “skirt around” issues of talking about your relationship because that sends a message of avoidance that is stronger than any positive message you may send later. Try to honest and direct, “We do not have separate rooms; we share a bedroom,” or “Of course, we don’t have separate rooms…don’t your parents sleep together in the same room?” Your goal is to normalize that you share a bedroom (assuming you do) just like other couples (generally) do. If they respond by being shocked or surprised, you can then address the next questions that arise with equal honesty.

It is important to model calm, relaxed, acceptance of their questions, as well as comfort with your own answers. Any questions they ask that are judgmental — “Isn’t it bad to be gay?” “That’s disgusting” etc. – should be met with gentleness and clarity. “No, it’s not bad to be gay at all. Some people do have prejudices about it though.” You get meet their responses with a mock surprise, or playfulness, “Disgusting? Like boogers and poop?! I think not.”  It is important to be informative and educational, without lecturing them. In other words you show them how to be “regular” with it, without telling them they have to feel that way. If they have any serious negative responses (versus impulsive reactions) –- i.e., “I think gay relationships are against God and I am not going to accept you” – I would express surprise, disappointment, and sadness, but also not feed it with too much reactivity. Your response should make clear that their rejection is their problem, not yours. As a general truth, children this young will respond positively, if their parents are supportive.

I would talk about the issue of your having a child as if it is a regular thing to do. I would often use words like “when” we have a child, and say things like, “If we have a daughter, I hope she can ride a bicycle as well as you can, wow.” Just make it a normal part of your lives, something perfectly acceptable that their aunt and her partner should have children that will someday be their cousins. If they ask you how you plan to have a child, simply tell them the truth. “When lesbians have children, we use donor sperm to get pregnant. We will go the doctor, and she will do a procedure that will hopefully make a baby grow in Auntie’s uterus. The child will be your cousin.” In my experience, children accept factual truths like this without much reaction. Always make sure that they perceive you and your partner as “aunts” in the same way they identify other aunts and uncles in the family. Again, the most important piece here is your relationship with your sister and her spouse – their support of your family will determine how the children see you and your family.