Why—and how—parents need to talk to their kids about same-sex relationships

As a parent, how comfortable are you talking about same-sex marriage? Or about sexual orientation?

In March, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement supporting same-sex marriage, because it’s good for children to have two married parents. Last month, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), saying it was unconstitutional—meaning that same-sex couples are eligible for the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. And last week the AAP encouraged pediatricians to create a more welcoming and supportive environment in their offices for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) youth. In that report, they said,

“Pediatricians should be available to answer questions, to correct misinformation, and to provide the context that being LGBTQ is normal, just different.”

Normal. That is the important—and remarkable—word.

For LGBTQ youth and adults, this is obvious. Of course it’s normal. It’s who they are, who they have always been. For others, it may feel less normal—because of all the things they’ve heard people say over the years, because of what they’ve been taught to believe.

Our children need to grow up differently than we did. They need to hear that “normal” word from us.

There are 2 million children in the U.S. being raised by same-sex couples. They deserve the same rights and protections as any other child. And they deserve the same respect, understanding and acceptance as any other child. Nobody, especially not another child, should make them feel bad or different for having two mommies or two daddies.

That’s up to you. Your children will treat other children the way you teach them to.

We don’t know the exact numbers, but there are thousands and thousands of LGBTQ youth in the U.S., and the world is not always a good place for them. They are more likely to be bullied and otherwise victimized—even experience violence. When they encounter homophobia, it understandably puts them at higher risk of mental health problems and self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse. It’s no wonder that many of them don’t want to “come out.” They are afraid. What makes a difference for them is caring adults—and a safe, supportive social environment.

Again: that’s up to you. Your children will treat others the way you teach them to.

Remember, a big part of teaching is role modeling. We can say whatever we want; it’s what we do that our children watch. This is a new experience for many parents; we can’t fall back on what our parents said to us.

Also, our parents didn’t know what we know now—like that what matters for the well-being of children are the relationships they have with their parents, the relationships between their parents (or the significant adults in their lives) and that they have enough money and social support. The sexual orientation of their parents really doesn’t matter. And our parents didn’t understand that what puts LGBTQ youth at risk is society’s response to them.

We know all this now. As we think of what to say to our children, of how to teach them kindness and tolerance by our actions, we need to do some careful thinking—and careful soul-searching.

Sometimes the best approach is the simplest one. That’s what I’ve done with my children. When same-sex relationships come up—among people they meet, or in the media, or wherever—I’m very matter-of-fact about it. “Sometimes boys fall in love with boys, or girls with girls.,” I say. Like I’m telling them the sky is blue or water is wet.

A dear friend of mine from childhood and his husband have two children that they co-parent with a lesbian couple; they are a wonderful, loving extended family that has been a great example for my children, as have the other same-sex couples and families my children have met over the years. That’s the thing: getting to know people changes everything. Being friends with a boy who was beaten for being gay changed everything for my daughter; the experience made her passionate about gay rights—and in doing so made the world a little safer for any LGBQT youth she encounters.

Which, really, is what we want: for the world to be safer and better for all our children.

Everyone has the right to their own beliefs about same-sex relationships. But nobody has the right to be mean or hurtful. And no parent should raise a child to be that way.