I am a lesbian, and I am wondering how to help my sister talk to her kids about my partner and me. My nieces, ages 5 and 9, used to come spend one weekend a month with me, but since my partner moved in, my sister won’t allow them to stay with us.
After going through a litany of excuses, my sister has admitted that she is not sure how to explain our relationship to the kids. The girls keep asking about when they can come over and it is getting very awkward. My partner and I are having a difficult time deflecting their questions.
My feeling is that kids deserve to know the truth and it is best to be honest with them so that they will grow up to be open-minded and tolerant. My sister has been pretty accepting of my being gay and always includes my partner in family activities, but since she has not yet felt comfortable enough telling her kids that I am gay, I wonder just how accepting she really is.
I agree with you that your nieces deserve the truth. Having their routine visits to their aunt’s house abruptly discontinued — and with no explanation — is not fair to them at all. (Not to mention confusing and heart-wrenching for them and you!)
Before, you could just assume your sister was supportive, but now that a situation is forcing her to take a stand one way or the other, you begin to question that assumption. I call this phenomenon a “family-defining moment,” a pivotal event when validity of LGBT families is affirmed or rejected. It can be a painful discovery, but please don’t give up yet. (For more on tensions among extended family members, see Chapter Five of Families Like Mine.)
Explain to your sister that it hurts you deeply to not be involved in your nieces’ lives like you once were. Try out a few practice coming-out conversations with your sister to figure out what information she imagines you would tell her kids. Her concern might be about talking about lesbian sex, which for young children is not necessary. You certainly can explain that you are in a loving partnership without talking about the mechanics of sexual behavior.
What if you and your sister planned to talk to them together? That way everyone — you, your sister, and the girls — all have the same information. Your sister would be reassured that your explanation is not inappropriately sexual, and you could make sure your sister’s explanation is not homophobic.