Drawing the honest family portrait in grade school

Q:

My daughter is 10 years old and I have been with my lesbian partner for four years. My daughter’s father and I separated six years ago and we remain friends.

My daughter is having problems at school. When she drew a picture of her family, she drew two stepmothers, a mom and a dad. Kids asked her about the additional women in the drawing, and without thought she said “those are my stepmoms.”

Now the kids in school make fun of her for having a lesbian mom and they say she is gay, too. This hurts my daughter who is still learning about gay and lesbian people herself. She knows she loves her mom, her dad and her two stepmothers (my partner and her father’s wife) but doesn’t know how to deal with her peers. What can I do?

A:

Your family has discovered what every LGBT family discovers sooner or later: Even the most innocent childhood activities become political acts when our families are not accepted or viewed as “normal.”

I remember the “draw your family” assignment well. I consciously decided to omit my father’s partner. When I brought my drawing home, my mom thought it was because I was fantasizing about my mother and father getting back together. In reality, I was just trying to avoid presenting anything that would invite unwelcome attention from my peers.

For other kids, the assignment is the epiphany that their family is viewed differently by other people. As 33-year-old Derek explains in my book, Families Like Mine: “I drew our family. Dad, my brothers, me, Mom, and Donna. The teacher asked who Donna was. I told her ‘Donna.’ I thought every family had a Donna.” (p.97)

How involved is your daughter’s teacher? It’s critical that he or she understands your family and supports your daughter in speaking matter-of-factly about it. Have as many conversations with her teacher — and principal, if possible — as necessary to make sure they know they need to intervene when they hear your daughter getting teased.

Practice with your daughter the types of responses she can say to the kids who tease her. Try role playing different scenarios. Take turns playing the role of your daughter and playing the bully. Listen to her closely when she is playing the bully; she will give you a realistic peek into what she is dealing with in a way which she might not tell you when directly questioned.

Let her know that how ever she chooses to react — provided it’s not mean or violent — is okay with you. She needs to know that it is not her responsibility to stand up for you or protect you. If she wants to stand up for herself using respectful language, she can. But if sometimes she feels safer saying nothing at all, you will not be disappointed and she is not letting down her family.

Finally: as much as parents tell their children that it is really the bully, not the victim, who has the real problem, that doesn’t take away the fact that teasing is scary, hurtful and causes anxiety. Make sure you validate these feelings, or your daughter will worry that her feelings are a sign of weakness and she will stop coming to you for help.

5 thoughts on “Drawing the honest family portrait in grade school”

  1. My daughter was in 8th grade last year at a parochial grade school here in Louisville. Some families at her school found that I am transgender. My daughter was kidded out of a car pool, ostracized by students and had a miserable second half of the school year. Her Family Life teacher made the statement last year that gays, lesbians and transgender individuals are sinners.

    As her father, I want like any parent the very best for our daughter. Kids can be very cruel. She is in her freshman year at a Catholic high school. At the Christmas concert, she asked me to be present, but not to come up to her and speak. I went to the concert and left (at our next time together I let her know I was there and proud of her). I do feel it is important to put our children ahead of our wishes. They must deal daily with their home away from home. We must listen to our children and do our best to help them deal with a world that does not understand and in some instances is hostile to them and their families, this while they try to come to terms with parents who many in society consider “not normal”.

  2. As usual, you have eloquently answered another question from a reader! I would just like to add that kids are teased for anything…their looks, behaviors, income, intelligence…everything! I have found that letting children know that everyone is teased for something helps. Chances are the bully children aren’t teasing her because of the content (the issue of having a gay mom), but just because it’s something different. As the adult child of a gay mom I think it’s important to tell kids that, it takes some of the sting out of it when they know that some kids tease other kids no matter what the reason.

  3. I know that the path to bullying starts way back in preschool. Our daughter is not yet 4 yrs, and her friends at her Montessori school (up to 6yrs) are saying things to her like “why don’t you have a dad? why do you have two moms? which one is your real mom?” All these questions sound very innocent until you see that the 5 to 6yr olds follow up their own questions with answers that make them feel better and aligned with the typical family (what they see everyday). “That’s sad… that’s weird… that’s wrong… Every kid should have a dad…no one can have two moms…nana nana boo boo!” But it is up to us parents to first employ the school’s directors / principals and teachers as advocates for our families. If they have a problem with our gayness, we don’t go to that school. We don’t hide our presence only to pop up and then be a target to everyone’s shock. We interview the school’s teachers, principals, directors, etc.

    While at school, I try to be aware of what is being said. When I see my near 4 yr old shrink back in the face of edgy questions, I answer for her in a loving manner in a way that teaches tolerance.

    It’s not easy. My girl at 2 years old came out to everyone in every playground on every weekend! “I have two moms!” she’d shout swinging high in the child-swing. I’d look happy and proud. Most people smiled. Others replied, “You are so lucky!” I couldn’t believe the response in Connecticut. I love the people here.

    But, I have to face the music each time a new remark is made from someone else. “Yes! Mercedes has two moms and that makes her so lucky!” The kids usually ask curiously ‘lucky?? how?!” I tell them all the great things that could happen when a kid has two moms. So, it’s very important not only to be a role model and practice role playing with our child at home, it’s more important to let our children see first hand our proud and matter o’fact way with coming out to other kids everyday. To see her face when I answer and engage the curious child is precious. The students see that I’m approachable and that the topic is okay to talk about, in a matter o’fact
    manner. Now those same kids beg their parents to come to our house!

    Not waiting for the uneasiness is key. Coming out and being together as a family to every kid in the class and being open to having them over our house and being seen in the same venues has, I’m sure, brought many people to wonder “what’s all the fuss about?”

    Our pride and self esteem must be in tact everyday to face every pop-up unsuspected event.

    Thanks for the forum!

  4. I am just starting this journey with my kids, two boys ages 11 and 7. I was married for 14yrs. I divorced after many years of emotional and verbal abuse and also falling in love with my best friend. My oldest has been told about the nature of our relationship. (they already knew and loved her. she was like a favorite aunt) My youngest has not been told the word lesbian or gay yet. He has asked if we love each other “like married love” I do worry about the teasing they may encounter. I am trying to be proactive about it. This site has been helpful for me to read all of the comments. The one comment Abigail gave Randi earlier worrying me though. My partner and I are starting to sleep in the same bed when the kids are there. It really feels natural to us and them I believe. We of course would never be intimate when they are there for fear of them walking in on us. But don’t you think natural affection is healthy and good? holding hands, hugging, snuggling in front of the tv. They sometimes like to snuggle with us.
    I hope we can be a help when kids start to make fun. We live in the south, the bible belt and many people here think it is a sin. But the part of town we live in is the most liberal.
    L

  5. We dealt with the “real mom” question by going over all the things that real moms do. They both feed me, they both take me to school, they both buy me the clothes I need, they both punish me when I’m bad, they both read me story at night… they are BOTH my real moms!

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