I am a stepmother with two kids (ages 13 and 10) who I love as my own. Their mother — my husband’s former wife — is a lesbian in a committed relationship. Here’s where I’m at a loss: She refuses to talk to the kids about her sexual orientation despite the fact that her partner has lived in their house for several years.
My husband and I have always tried to be open and honest with the kids about virtually every issue. In fact, the kids participated in our friends’ commitment ceremony. Both of them find absolutely nothing “wrong” or “funny” about two people loving each other, regardless of sexual orientation.
I am troubled by their mother’s lack of honesty, given that the silence seems to create a “this is wrong, so don’t talk about it” atmosphere. Yet I don’t feel that it would be appropriate or constructive if my husband or I “outed” his ex-wife. Any advice?
Take it from someone who has heard from dozens of grown children of lesbian mothers living with nebulous “roommates”: The kids deserve to know the truth.
Too often, the role of the partner is not articulated, which confuses the children. The mother might justify the silence by insisting that pointing out the obvious stirs up unnecessary drama or attention. (“It is what it is — why do I have to point it out or put labels on it?”) But the silence, as you have observed, implicitly communicates that there is something “wrong” with the relationship.
What does the ex-wife think you and your husband know? Has she officially come out to you? If not, she might think this is something she needs to hide from you for fear she will lose all custody of the kids.
It’s time for everybody to get honest. Your husband can reassure his former wife that her sexual orientation will never be exploited in any kind of custody issues. She needs to understand how this huge un-secret is sending mixed signals to the kids. Tell her about the steps you have taken so far to make sure the children respect and honor same-sex relationships. She might be stunned to learn she has your support in coming out to the kids.
After that conversation, if she explicitly refuses to talk to them about it, it’s fair to tell her you will no longer cover up for her. Inform her that you will speak respectfully of her relationship with her partner in the same way you refer to the other gay and lesbian people your family knows.
For more information on this topic, see Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell it Like It Is. The chapter, “Coming Out: A Family Process” explains why parents need to talk to their children about their sexual orientation — even if they think it’s screamingly obvious.