My partner’s six-year-old came home from school and was so riled up. We asked her if there was anything she wanted to talk about. She started crying and said that she was embarrassed that she has two moms. She was barely able to get the words out because she was sobbing so hard. She said that it’s normal for her dad to get divorced and have a girlfriend, but not for her mom. She said, “this is not normal.”
She said she has been feeling embarrassed since she started school. We told her we were glad she told us so that we could all talk about it. She says no one has been teasing her, but her biggest fear is that everyone in school will find out. Yet her teacher told us that on the first day of class she had told her whole class that has two moms.
What’s your reaction? Are six-year-olds observant enough to determine what “normal” is? I keep thinking someone must have teased her, but maybe I’m not giving her enough credit that she does feel this way. How can we support her?
“This is not normal” is a repeat of something she has heard recently. Considering all the talk in the election debates regarding “morality” and gay marriage, you can bet she’s heard those words somewhere — and probably more than once. If she hasn’t heard the rhetoric directly from media, then she has classmates who are repeating to her what they have heard.
When if comes up again, you might try something like, “You might hear from other people that it’s not normal, but what we know in our hearts…” Such a statement validates that the “not normal” belief exists without validating the actual sentiment, and it acknowledges that you are fully aware of the “opposition.” You are not denying that opposition is out there, but it’s not stopping you from being a family.
You asked her if she was teased, but maybe that’s too specific. “Teasing” by most kids is thought of only in an obviously taunting way, as in: nee-ner-nee-ner-NEEEE-ner. Hearing someone say in an otherwise rational tone “that’s not normal” might not let her feel justified to label it teasing. Also, coming out to her own class is one thing. Worrying about how the big third grade kids might react is another.
Her innocent pride may have backfired, leaving her with the unexpected sting of homophobia. Maybe she simply mentioned having two moms and someone said, “that’s not normal.” It only takes one judgmental or dismissive comment to make a child rethink how “out” they are about their families.
I think it’s great you reinforced that she can talk to you about it. Even if it’s crushing you and your partner to see your child struggle, put on your best game face so she doesn’t shut down the communication about this. She will reveal more to you over time, provided she feels confident that she doesn’t need to protect her parents from the truth of her experience.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: See Chapter Four in Families Like Mine. The chapter, “Out Into the World” addresses how children navigate homophobia when their parents are not with them, and explanations for kids’ strategies.