Should nieces attend their aunt’s commitment ceremony?

Q:

I am a heterosexual mother of a five year old daughter and 11-year-old son. My lesbian sister is planning her “commitment ceremony” and wants my daughter to be the flower girl.

My 11 year old son knows his aunt is a lesbian, but has never really seemed to mind. We have never really discussed it, because it has not been an issue. Now that she is planning basically a “wedding,” it is an issue.

My son is somewhat repulsed by the thought of her getting married to another girl, and my daughter doesn’t understand it at all. She told me they better find two guys if they want to get married!

I’m worried the kids will feel different about their aunt and her partner after watching them get married. I am also worried they will be teased if their friends find out. So, my question is, should the kids attend the ceremony if they don’t want to? How do I tell my sister about my concerns without hurting her feelings?

A:

Should the children go to the ceremony? Yes. This will be a wonderful learning experience for both you and your children.

I can’t imagine a parent letting children wiggle out of attending an aunt’s wedding to a man. That’s the same standard to which supportive family members should hold themselves when acknowledging same-sex relationships.

You say you haven’t discussed “it” because “it” isn’t an issue. Obviously it is. “Family defining moments” — like commitment ceremonies — make this all the more apparent. Gay relatives who have always assumed that straight relatives were totally accepting suddenly realize that’s not completely true. Family defining moments are rarely simple, so it’s up to the grown ups to help the kids along, even when they don’t have all the answers.

Your kids are saying they don’t want to go, but listen to what they are really saying. At five, your daughter only knows a partnership to be between a man and a woman because she has not seen any other possibilities. At 11, your son thinks it’s “repulsive” because any reference to anything “gay” in his world is followed by a bunch of fifth grader boys saying, “Ewwww….” (A previous Q & A was about a gay father’s 11-year-old son who said being gay was “gross.”)

They both have very normal responses for children their ages who are being raised in a homophobic world. Until you give them permission to talk about this with you, and unless you model how supportive you are of your sister, they will continue to be uncomfortable with this. Currently, there is no indication in their lives to assure them that their aunt’s sexual orientation is acceptable.

Considering you put quotation marks around “commitment ceremony” and “wedding,” I wonder if you do indeed question the importance or validity of the event. Your children could easily be picking up on your lack of enthusiasm. You worry that your children will see their aunt and partner differently after the ceremony. They probably will, but I don’t see how that could be a bad thing. They will see them as a couple, like their other married aunts and uncles.

I know you want to protect them from being teased, but I don’t see how keeping them away from the ceremony will prevent that. Part of your conversations with them needs to include talking to them about how to handle potential teasing. If you don’t insist they go and find out how shockingly normal the event is, the only thing you are “protecting” your children from is the opportunity to open their minds and hearts.

6 thoughts on “Should nieces attend their aunt’s commitment ceremony?”

  1. Personally I think that it would be good for your children to attend. If nothing else it would normalise their aunts relationship, in their eyes. Although you say that they don’t either have an opinion or care about your sister’s relationship, I would suggest that they do. You expressed that one thought that it was yucky and the other mentioned that they needed a husband. This does suggest that they don’t regard lesbian and heterosexual relationships in the same way. When they spend time with their auntie, they will also spend time with her partner. Therefore it would be better for all concerned if she is seen in the same way as other relatives spouses.

    Your children may well be teased about their auntie being a lesbian. Not going to the ceremony will not alter this. If they do see that their auntie is in a fully legitimate relationship it will make it easier for them to deal with the prejudices of others.

  2. I think you should talk to your kids about it. They are already at an age that they know the difference between us and them. Meaning, they have already picked up that a large part of the United States look at same sex marriages as being “gross”. Your son obviously picked this up from somewhere other than home if you are saying you don’t discuss it because it hasn’t come up. Maybe you should discuss these things before they come up. My daughter is four. I am a straight parent, and was raised with a gay father. She already knows that her Papa likes boys. She will never be grossed out by same sex marriages because she know it as two people loving each other regardless of their gender.

    There is always age appropriate language to use to discuss these issues with children. Maybe you are uncomfortable discussing it. If so, my advice would be to find some other families who have gay siblings and discuss your feelings so that you can better communicate with your children.

  3. I was glad to read that you decided to have your children participate in your sister’s ceremony. All to often “family members” will make convenient excuses not to participate in this most special time. It’s a shame.

    I was 35 when I committed to my partner. Having never been “married” in the straight world, this was my one and only wedding. I hate that some of my family didn’t feel comfortable in participating. The only thing that would have made that day more special would have been to have more family participate in a loving, supportive manner.

  4. What an appropriate article to read! My daughter and her partner just had a very small initimate committement ceremony and our daughter-in-law chose not to allow or tell my 13 year old grandaughter or 9 year old grandson to be present–the three year old came, guess he was too young to be influenced.

    I felt they missed a wonderful opportunity to see love expressed and so wish they would of been part of that experience and you are right no matter how open a family is there are always things that occur that make you realize that there is still much learning to do. Thanks for the article.

  5. After reading your response, I made the responsible — and I feel correct — decision to take my kids to their aunt’s wedding. My daughter will be participating as a flower girl.

    Before I received your response, I had decided against taking them. Although my sister was very supportive of my initial decision to not take them, she was more than overjoyed when I told her they would be coming. I’ll update you after the wedding! Thank you!

  6. I attended a commitment ceremony for a close friend of the family in May 2003. All of the family of one of the partners was at the ceremony, including the, also gay, twin sister of one partner and her gay brother, straight brother and his wife, and straight sister. Also in attendance, were both parents and a minister and rabbi. Professional pictures were taken of the couple and the family group, as one would expect. The affair was catered and a harp played. It was beautiful and very touching to see so much love expressed. Unfortunately, the wife of the brother decided that their children should not attend. The daughter is 13, son 8, and baby 1.

    This family is VERY close and pictures adorne the walls of the grandparents house with all weddings and other special occasions. It has always been very obvious that there were gay aunts and uncle. Partners or current lovers are always included in Thanksgiving and Passover etc. One wonders what the children will think when they see the formal commitment pictures on Nana’s wall and realize they were not included. I do not think they will be happy to have not even been told what was going on much less not told they were invited. The 13 yr old girl will be very upset. As it turned out, the baby did come with the parents as the mother tried to back out of attending saying she did not have a sitter at the last minute and at that point the brother insisted she come and bring the baby.

    This truly was one of the most moving ceremonies I have ever been to and am sick that the kids missed it. The grandparents were at a loss of what to do not wanting to interfer with the parenting of the grandchildren. How sad that with all the strides we have made so much fear still exists on this subject. Why are same-sex relationships seen as sexual only and not as loving shared lives. I do not know.

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