A stepmother wonders about her stepkids’ closeted mom.


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.

2 thoughts on “A stepmother wonders about her stepkids’ closeted mom.”

  1. Take it from me, the kids need and deserve to know the truth. I am speaking from experience. I hid my “roommate” and my relationship from my daughter for 8 years and it came back to bite me in the butt!

    You need to talk to your husband’s ex-wife (assuming your relationship is good) and let her know she needs to tell them the truth. If I had been honest with my daughter from the beginning when she was 6 yrs old then she would have grown up accepting and understanding as it is now she has been influenced by the negatives she hears from the media, peers, etc. and it has hurt us all. I know the kids in your family don’t have a problem with other people who are gay, and neither does my daughter, but as my daughter says “those people are not her mom”.

    The old cliche is true, honesty is the best policy.

    Jill G.

  2. My brother was 13, I was 11 and my sister was 9 when my mother finally told us that our father was gay. They were divorced at the time and we use to visit our father on Tuesday evenings and weekends. It had been agreed that he would tell us when the time was appropriate, but I don’t think he ever would. My father was a man ruled by fear. My mother had to tell us, because we already knew. Well at least my brother and sister did, I think that I was very much still in denial myself.

    My sister had found some lubricant and my brother knew what it was. A lad who knew about my dad was also bullying my brother, at school. This apparently went on for months without him telling a soul. It all came out though when my brother lost it one day and beat the lad so badly that he put him in hospital. My brother had at this point lost all respect for my father and it’s safe to say that he pretty much hated him.

    We stopped seeing my father when the truth came out about him. My brother and sister hadn’t wanted to see him for quite some time. I still did but didn’t have what it took to stand up for what I wanted. Like my father I think that it’s safe to safe that I am ruled by neurotic fear.

    My brother never saw my father. He recently changed his name, as he had the same one as my father. My sister saw him a few times some years later. I got to know my father again in my late teens and helped nurse him through the last couple of years of his life. I got to know him, as much as we could let each other.

    I grew up with a great deal of shame about my father s sexuality. Having said that it’s safe to say that so did he. My stepfather certainly helped foster these feelings. I know that this has certainly helped create a lot of my own identity problems.

    It sounds to me that you care deeply about your stepchildren and that you are trying to ensure that they grew up as healthy well balanced individuals.

    I think that you do need to speak to their mother and suggest that she speaks to her children. I don’t know how out she is and I’m sure that she’s frightened of her children rejecting her. It doesn’t sound like they will to me. Having said that if they lose respect for her, which may lead to them losing it for themselves, then this may well happen. They will not take her and her relationship seriously, if she doesn’t do so herself.

    I wish you all the best

    Much love

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