Each month, Gwendolyn answers your questions on LGBTQ parenting. Write to her with your question here.
We are doing a private domestic open infant adoption. We could wait anywhere from
two weeks to two years until we are chosen by a birth mom.
Of course, I have lots of questions but I will simply ask you one: How and when do you
explain to your child that many of their relatives are not supportive of their parents’ relationship nor of our adopting? For instance, neither of our parents are supportive of our adoption because they are very religious and think we are living in sin.
Glad to give you an easy one. (insert sarcasm here)
First – Congratulations to you and your partner on beginning the adventure of parenting!
Second — Insert sarcasm, indeed!
The only thing more rigorous and time-consuming than rearing one’s children is rearing one’s parents and few of us start early enough on that project.
The answer to your question depends a great deal on the degree of interaction you have with the Disapproving Parents/Grandparents. If you do not interact with them – because they think you are living in sin and you don’t need that kind of buzzkill – then things are relatively simple (though far from painless).
When: You discuss the situation with your child when she or he is old enough to ask about the existence of grandparents.
How: Keep it simple and keep your tone neutral.
“We don’t visit Grandma and Grandpa because, although we love them, they have some very wrong ideas about lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.
They think it is bad for two women or two men to love each other and to have children.
We hope that someday, Grandma and Grandpa will understand that it is just as fabulous for two women or two men to love each other as it is for a man and a woman.
No, we don’t understand where they got such silly ideas.”
Maintaining a neutral tone is important. One of the most critical things we can learn to do for our children is to be calm. Children are very sensitive to their parents’ emotions and if you are feeling significant tension around a topic, they will often sense it. Your parents’ disapproval and estrangement may cause you great distress but it is preferable not to communicate your distress to your children, who need the opportunity to have their own feelings.
One way to develop a neutral tone and calm presentation on emotionally-loaded issues is rehearsal. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Figure out exactly what you want to say – simple and on-point – and rehearse it with your partner or a friend until you both are bored comatose.
This accomplishes two things:
1) It drains the emotional charge from the words.
2) It prepares you so you are not caught off guard.
When we are caught off-guard and are unsure how to answer our children on sensitive topics, we tend to stammer and choke and sound less intelligent than we hope we are and sometimes, even convey distress that we do not actually feel. At worst, the children think, “Wow, Poppa gets really upset about this,” at best, “Geeze, Momma’s not very smart.”
To avoid being thought to be insufficiently intelligent, it is helpful to think about distressing but predictable topics beforehand, create a message, and then rehearse it. Even with extensive preparation, some day your progeny will surprise you with some unexpected question. Trust me, at some point, you will be caught off-guard and your children will think you are stupid. It is pretty much an unavoidable part of parenting.
It is wise to rehearse every few months because if too much time passes, you will again feel unprepared. You will probably collect an ever-evolving list of topics that all need periodic rehearsals.
All of these questions become more complicated and difficult if you actually interact with these Disapproving Parents/Grandparents. The only circumstances under which it is appropriate to interact face-to-face with the Disapproving Parents/Grandparents is if you all have decided to agree to disagree, not discuss the topics upon which you disagree, and behave in a civilized manner.
“Mom and Dad, I love and respect you but I do not agree with your views on same-sex orientations nor with some of your religious ideas. I already know what you think on these topics and I will agree not to bring up sexual orientation or religion when we are together if you will agree not to bring them up when we are together AND agree to treat my partner and our children with the respect and affection due to members of my family.”
If you, your partner, and your various sets of Disapproving Parents/Grandparents have made this exceedingly civilized agreement, then you are fine, at least until the children are old enough to bring these matters up themselves, at which point, you must acquaint them with the agreement.
If your parents or your in-laws cannot agree to treat your family with respect, then do not interact with them face-to-face. You can send letters and cards and gifts, showing that you do continue to love and respect them and wish them to be part of your family life. If they respond with a letter or a card that addresses the forbidden topics, you respond by reminding them of your standards for interaction.
Setting boundaries is repetitive and dull and may not succeed but it is one of the few things that might be effective — if you can be disciplined and stay on-message. Family therapy is a wonderful option but convincing Disapproving Parents/Grandparents to participate and finding a therapist with whom you all feel comfortable is such a herculean task that it often proves impossible. Setting your boundaries clearly and sticking to them while demonstrating the love and respect you want your parents to show to you and your family is a strategy you can adopt and pursue without your parents’ participation.
If the Disapproving Parents/Grandparents cannot abide by your boundaries, your children should not spend time with them. It is very difficult for children when they are told to treat someone with “respect” and yet that person says things that the child has learned are very wrong – unethical as well as incorrect.
Children should be taught to treat the person politely and courteously, as we should always treat people. Children can and should be taught to say, politely and courteously, that they disagree with a statement and would prefer that it not be repeated in their presence but this is a scary and difficult thing for many adults and far too much for a child dealing with grandparents. It is preferable, especially for young children, to avoid such encounters. In your situation, it is even more serious because the wrong, terrible things your children would hear would be about their own family.
On a more positive note, many same-sex couples are surprised that very, very Disapproving Parents can suddenly turn into very, very Doting Grandparents, whose distaste for same-sex relationships is swept away by their delight in a grandbaby. It is not always the case but grandbabies can be a powerful force.
Write to Gwendolyn with your questions on LGBT parenting at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gwendolyn reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity.