Just in time for Pride in June, "Rainbow Relatives: Real-World Stories and Advice on How to Talk to Kids About LGBTQ+ Families and Friends" (May 8, 2018) is a collection of intimate, real-life stories and advice about coming out to family members—parents to children, aunts and uncles to nieces and nephews, grandparents to grandchildren.
The concept for "Rainbow Relatives" was born when author Sudi "Rick" Karatas asked his sister if her children knew about his (their uncle's) sexual orientation. She said they didn't, as she hadn't been sure how to approach the topic and wished there was a book she could read to help her have those conversations. So, Sudi wrote that book. He hopes Rainbow Relatives will make readers more accepting of all people and families, especially in the LGBTQ+ community.
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Two Moms, Two Dads, Today’s Families
On one hand, many families are already formed when a parent comes out and usually it is a surprise to the kids and many adjustments have to be made. On the other hand, many same-sex couples decide to adopt or have children through a surrogate or in vitro fertilization. Being a parent and raising a family is not easy. Is it harder if you don’t have a traditional family? Since I don’t have kids, I relied on the interviews and surveys to get a better understanding of the challenges these families face for Rainbow Relatives. I will leave most of the advice to them and let their answers speak for themselves.
If you could give advice to other gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender parents or same-sex couples with kids or thinking of having them, what would it be?
- Andrew: I think that it’s the most amazing thing I’ve done . . . and the hardest. I’ve learned more about myself in this journey (both good and bad). Someone gave us the advice that if Oliver ever says, “I want a mommy,” to think about it as if he said, “I want a horse.” Our son doesn’t know what a mommy does versus his daddies . . . and it will keep us from feeling like we’re depriving him of something.
- Thea: It’s awesome, but only do it if you are 100 percent sure. I always thought I wanted a biological child but I could not love my adopted kids more.
- Bruce: Having kids, it’s the greatest thing ever.
- Primrose: Adopt from foster care! So many kids in our own cities and states need parents.
- Albert: Make sure you are both on the same page; it makes life better when you both know what the other is thinking.
- Kathy: Join an organization such as Pop Luck Club (PLC), an organization in Los Angeles, California, made up of families with two dads and go to Maybe Baby (a fertility group). Seek out other gay parents. Visit with other families, be a camp counselor, go read to kids in schools, volunteer. If you have never been in charge of other kids, like mentioned above, then it can be tough; already knowing how kids act can really help.
- Ted: Do it. It’s the best gift in the world.
Were there any issues, challenges, or interesting stories (serious, humorous, or heartwarming) at school or other social settings regarding your kids having a gay/lesbian/bisexual/ transgender parent?
- Andrew: On Mother’s Day we were going to brunch, two dads and our son, and a woman stopped us on the street and said, “It was nice to give mom the morning off.” We pointed out that Oliver didn’t have a mother but that he had two dads and she said, “I’m going to pray for you and remember Jesus loves you,” and she then crossed the street. I thought the woman’s reaction was rude, while my partner thought she was being nice. I don’t know what her motivation was for saying it, so I decided to be happy someone was praying for us.
- Daniel: One main issue that continued to come up in their early years was other parents’ confusion when our children stated that they had two dads. Classmates usually didn’t care, but they did mention their parents said that our lifestyle was “wrong.”
- Eduardo: We’ve really encountered very few negative responses when people learn we are gay parents. I expect this will get a little more complicated as they move out of the private preschool into public school. We try to prepare them gradually for the reality of how some people think badly of gay people and gay parents. For example, I recently donated some money to help some gay Ugandans escape Uganda. We talked about that and how there are some places in the world where people like their dads might be hurt or killed for loving each other.
- Frank: I am a stay-at-home dad in a very “soccer mom” area. Going to the grocery store always brings on comments, and of course the old Southern ladies ask the most questions. When they say, “Your wife must love that you do the shopping and take your daughter,” I smile and say, “My husband lets me be a Real Househusband of Atlanta.” Their looks are priceless.
- George: Tough time was at Mother’s Day when the boys would make something for a grandmother or aunt. I would talk to teachers ahead of time, but they usually forgot. Most classmates didn’t care. Having worked with kids before and being very present at their schools helps offset any weirdness. When applying to schools, I always asked if there were any other same-sex parents at the school.
- Harry: It’s liberal here, so not too big an issue; I don’t think it even came up at all in preschool. In kindergarten, an older kid came up to me and asked, “Does Wes really have two dads?” I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “Oh,” and went about his playing. They have told him he must have a mother somewhere, a birth mother at least, and he’s asked about his birth mother and we tell him again how a woman grew him in her tummy for us. It’s a bit confusing since her name is the same as about three of our friends!
- Igor: He has a classmate (with two gay dads) who came out of the same tummy as his sister (!) and that hasn’t been an issue. It’s probably actually helped, because it makes gay dads less unusual and he’s not the only one. I really do think "Will & Grace," "Modern Family," and Facebook have helped the country accept gays.
- Julie: My churchy conservative friends from school days see me and my family on Facebook and I think it must give them pause at first. I wonder, are they going to reject us because we’re gay? But they haven’t and now they get to see we’re pretty normal folk, with granite-cleaning issues and stain-removal questions. We don’t have after-hours parties and thongs. I have family members who stopped watching "Friends" because of the gay wedding, and now "Modern Family" is their favorite show, so we’ve come a long way pretty quickly.
- Ted: Not yet. We did put a “I love my dads” T-shirt on the boys and the teachers at school “love the shirts.” I heard that about two or three times when I went to pick up the boys, who are two and five years old.
What are some questions your kids have asked about having a gay/lesbian/transgender parent? How old were they when they asked, and how did you answer? Describe the coming-out process.
- Julie: We have a nineteen-year-old daughter and a twenty-one-year-old son. Some of the questions they asked at ten and thirteen years old were things like, “How are we supposed to respond to people saying that our lifestyle is wrong? How are we supposed to make friends?” Our first response to their question was that they cannot always change the way people view others. Also, that true friends would judge them on their friendship, not their parents’ sexuality. We never actually came out to them—we were out before the children came into our lives.
- Kelsey: We have a six-year-old boy and an almost three-year-old girl. Our son sometimes is into bridal dresses, and asked if we got married and when. We told him we had, then he asked, “Which one of you wore a bridal gown?”I said, “Neither of us. We’re both men, so we both wore regular clothes. We got married during a heat wave and the ceremony was outside, so we just wore regular clothes.” (I realize now that we could have worn dresses!) Then our son asked, “If two women get married, how do they decide which one wears a gown?”“They both could, or neither could—it’s up to them; it’s their wedding, so they can do what they want.”He was probably four years old at the time. We didn’t have to come out since they’ve been with us since birth and they know and see other gay and single parents, so they know there are all sorts of families. When school starts, it is clear most families have a mom and a dad, so it comes up. He has been around pregnant women, and he knew they were carrying babies, so we have told him, “We really, really, really wanted a baby, and since we’re two men and babies only grow in women’s tummies, a woman grew you in her tummy for us.”
What do you feel are some of the benefits of raising kids as an LGBTQ parent? What are some benefits for the children?
- Katie: The ability to show them, firsthand, about love and diversity. And the ability to teach them about and exercise tolerance.
- Lauren: The obvious advantage is that most gay parents have their kids on purpose. (Almost) no accidental pregnancies in our group! I think gay parents tend to be very accepting of their kids being different from our expectations for them. We know what it’s like not to be accepted by our parents and we try very hard to love our own kids unconditionally.
- Lawrence: We have loving homes, with two parents that really wanted children, who have to not only put a lot of time but money into having a family.
- Michelle: LGBT parents can be more open to recognizing depression, bullying, or even just holding back. I think it promotes a healthy attitude towards sexuality and being able to talk to your kids about sex when the time comes. Hopefully, it’ll help kids learn to be more understanding of others.
- Maurice: We have a lot of friends who don’t have children, so our daughter is very lucky to have so many people love her.
- Ted: I’d like to think we have a built-in “accept everyone” policy in the household. And I think it’s easier to say, “be whomever you want to be.”
What are some of the disadvantages of having LGBTQ parents?
- Nico: People expressing their opinions can be very cruel.
- Nannette: Our kids are likely to be exposed to discrimination and negativity about their families, but it can be character-building as long as it isn’t too extreme.
- Oliver: People asking about their mom or why I’m not married . . . I don’t want my kids to feel different. I want them to feel loved!
- Paul: Possibility for being picked on, and, if single, you definitely need a strong female presence from an aunt, grandma, or friend.
- Ted: Well, life as we know it. They will get ugliness. And we’ll be here to remind them there is more happy than ugly in the world.
Many of the topics, issues, and inspiring comments that came up in the surveys were common among the families. To get more of a feel of households with same-sex parents, I did a few personal interviews and have shared them with you in the following pages.
Can You Miss Something You Never Had?
Many people worry that a child with two moms or two dads might be missing out by not having a mother or a father. I believe this is a legitimate concern. In a perfect world, every child should have positive male and female role models, but the best we can ask in this real world is for a child to be brought up with love and taught to be kind and to respect others. Whether a child is raised by a single mom or dad, a mom and a stepdad, grandparents, or two dads or two moms, love and strong values are what matter most. As a child of a traditional family, it took me a while to come to that conclusion. My only suggestion—which really comes from those I interviewed—is that if a child has same-sex parents, it might be good to have a friend or godparent of the other sex to be there as a role model as well.
In the book "Now That You Know: What Every Parent Should Know about Homosexuality," by Betty Fairchild and Nancy Hayward, the authors highlighted many advantages for children of same-sex parents. One woman they interviewed about female same-sex parents stated, “There are things that a father would miss that the second mother picks up every time.” Their research did not turn up any evidence that heterosexual parents are “better” parents in terms of offering love, support, or stability in the home.