Love Makes a Family
Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC
OCTOBER 11, 2018
Posted by Kim Cooke, LICSW, Former Program Coordinator, Parent Connection, BIDMC and psychotherapist.
Whether you’re a family of two moms, two dads, if your baby’s physical features or skin tone is different than yours, if you look too young or too old in someone’s eyes to be the parent of your child, chances are you may have found yourself in the bizarre situation of someone asking you very personal questions, that you may not have been prepared for…
My daughter has two moms, and she'll proudly and matter-of-factly share that information with anyone - particularly with folks who voice their assumptions that she has a second parent - and that her second parent is a man. It happens. And so far, she's not seemed to understand that some people might think less-than-kind thoughts about the composition of her family. As far as she knows, based in her vast experience to date, love makes a family. And families come in all shapes and sizes and colors and constellations.
During my pregnancy with our daughter, my then-partner and I talked a lot about how we intended to parent our child. We reflected on the ways in which we'd been parented. We took notes on family's and friends' parenting decisions with their kids. We read books and articles. And we shared our concerns about how others' homophobia might negatively impact our child. Individually, and as a couple, we'd experienced others' hostility and threatening behaviors, seemingly in response to both perceptions and judgments about our sexual orientation. Even before she entered this world on a cold winter's day, we felt a fierce need to protect her, to keep her safe. Yet we also wanted her to feel strong and confident, and proud of her family.
What to do when we can't control others' thoughts and behaviors? We accepted that some people will make assumptions about and pass judgments on the composition of our family. And so we committed to matter-of-factly "coming out" about our family every day and in every way - to show our daughter the love and pride we feel for our family of three. We committed to showing her, through our words and actions that her moms believe that a family is made up of people who love each other.
We've been walking that talk (mostly) for almost 7 years, and as anyone who comes from a "non-traditional" family (by the way, that's most of us) knows, some moments are easier than others. There have been times when someone's seemingly innocent (thoughtless) question, just pushes my very last button, and I work hard to respond in a kind, compassionate and authentic way. I know, I know, that may sound earthy-crunchy-hokey to some. Yet, I strongly believe that:
- I don't know others' experiences and what's led them to hold particular beliefs (my making assumptions about them can be just as toxic and damaging), and
- If I respond to them with compassion and kindness, they are more likely to take that feeling with them and thus might be more open to broadening their understanding of humanity. If I were to react in anger and frustration (even if I feel it inside), that's what they will take away from our interaction, probably (for them) confirming, rather than refuting, their negative stereotype of me and my family.
- My daughter is watching and listening. She takes it all in, even when I think she's not paying close attention. I'm mindful that, even as she's become more independent, spending more time away from me than with me (school and friends), she still looks to me to help her navigate and make sense of this world.
That said, I do feel angry and frustrated sometimes. I don't take on every opportunity to be kind and compassionate. And I do make unkind assumptions about other people. Yet I come back to my touchstone, my daughter, and my wish for her to feel strong and trusting in herself and in her family. And I re-commit to walking my talk. Love makes a family.