Guest post: Starting pre-school - 'will my son be treated differently for having two mums?'
As parents wave their children off for the first day of school or nursery, Caroline Briggs-Harris reflects on what spending their days away from the familiarity of home means for kids. Will her son know how to respond if he's questioned about his family?
One of Two Mums to Two
Posted on: Tue 02-Sep-14 15:08:05
(30 comments )
Our son starts playgroup this week. This will be his first step into ‘the system’, and like many parents, I am apprehensive. For the first time, there will be a stranger changing his nappy, dressing him to go outside, and tending to him if he is hurt.
He picked up a toy gun at a friend's house a couple of days ago and asked me what it was. Such innocence will soon be a distant memory. From a couple of days' time, everything will be monitored and assessed, from his food intake to his ability to construct sentences and form social relationships in 'the setting' - I am yet to learn why they can't just say 'the village hall'.
I went to the playgroup's open evening for prospective parents a few months ago, not long after giving birth to our daughter. Entering the village café at 7pm felt strange. I was greeted by a sea of faces I didn't know and sat in the corner reading a brochure about the playgroup. When I say ‘greeted’, what I actually mean is ‘ignored’. It felt like my first day at adult playgroup and, to be honest, I was deeply uncomfortable.
After a while, some nice people came over to talk to me. And they seemed friendly enough. So why was I still so miserable? Perhaps it was the postnatal hormones. Perhaps it was something greater.
It is likely to be at playgroup that our son realises his family is different. Until now, we have got along okay. One of his mothers has always been there to jump in when he is questioned about whether he gets his red hair from his daddy.
But soon, we won't always be there. The family bubble will burst. Everyone wants to wrap their children in cotton wool from time to time, but I would prefer heavy duty loft insulation. With an organic silk lining.
It is likely to be at playgroup that our son realises his family is different. Until now, we have got along okay. One of his mothers has always been there to jump in when he is questioned about whether he gets his red hair from his daddy.
I think that our son is aware that there is a ‘daddy’ in most families. He is exposed to this on television and in books, and pointed at my partner a few weeks ago and said she was ‘the daddy’. We have not hidden the existence of fathers, and all of our son's little pals have a daddy at home.
It is still unusual to come across a family where there are two women or two men as parents. What would make it much easier, though, is if people did not assume someone's sexuality. This was bad enough before children, but is now even more the case, and understandably so. If I am out with my children, people could be forgiven for assuming that they were conceived in the conventional manner, but what I find odd is that it is automatically assumed that I have a husband – 9 times out of 10, even if my partner is with me. I do not do this to others - perhaps due to a heightened awareness of different relationships - but more so because it is not unusual for a woman to be separated from her child’s father or unmarried. It must be even more frustrating for single gay parents.
The majority of forms we have had to complete regarding our children require details of the mother and the father. Once or twice, when we have said we are both mothers, the form filler has innocently asked ‘but who is the real mum’ so they can put the biological mother in the ‘mother’ box.
We have already had to put our son's family set-up in the ‘additional information’ box of his playgroup enrolment form. But staff will forget, or not know, or he will be spoken about as a ‘special case’. And children will innocently ask him about his daddy. I don't know what he will say.
Should we prime him? Provide him with a script? Or will he just say ‘Mummy Sue is Daddy’? I am not sure that he is cognitively aware enough to say he doesn't have a daddy and has two mummies instead. Maybe this should be drilled, but why stress his difference to him? It is our duty as parents to give our son confidence in himself and our family, to be proud of who he is and where he is from. If ever he questions his family situation, we will answer his questions with honesty and clarity. And without excuses.
Whatever he says in response to a question at playgroup about his daddy, I won't be there to hear it. Nor will I be able to defend him or protect him in the event of an adverse reaction.
I am probably worrying unnecessarily for the time being. In our experience, small children really couldn't give two hoots whether a child has two mums, or is raised by a pack of hyenas. They just seem to take this stuff in their stride. He has not had any problems at any of the groups he has been to with us, and our neighbours in our rural village have been brilliant - albeit we were a bit of a local curiosity at first. Small children are also resilient, and our son may be less affected than we fear.
We do not want our son to be treated as a special case. He will not implode if he is read a story about ‘Mummy Bear and Daddy Bear’. But it would be ever so helpful if adults could sometimes open their eyes over the top of the box and accept who we are, or even who we might be, without us having to explain.
For me, my biggest issue with playgroup is that for the first time, it will be strangers wiping his tears. For my son, the issues could be far more profound.
By Caroline Briggs-Harris
I can only speak as I have found.
I work at a school, all boys, we have a boy with 2 dad's.
His peers may have questioned him along the way but in no way has he been bullied or made to feel different at school.
He is a well rounded, talented boy who is a credit to his dad's.
I hope your boy doesn't meet with too much prejudice along the way.
Again I can only speak from experience of my children's infant school. The family with two mummies are treated just the same and the school are very sensitive to children without a daddy whether that be because they don't have one to start with, or he's dead or not involved. (Eg Father's Day).
My children were utterly unbothered by the DCs having two mummies and have never asked why or about why they don't have a daddy. They just said 'so and so have two mummies' and I said 'lucky them'.
I know that the mums did have to content with people assuming at the start. That's a big problem generally for LGBT people, the assumption of heterosexuality, I guess. It's a bigger issue than the school gate. But once people were familiar with the set up it became a non issue.
This is a church school in a not very diverse part of the country, if that makes any difference.
I wish your family a smooth transition to school and I hope your experience is as positive as our friends' have been.
I've no experience with this but just today in a playgroup my two daughters were playing with two boys, making friends as they do, and they were discussing who was going to get married to whom and they had a bit of trouble deciding because "of course a boy can marry a boy and a girl can marry a girl" so you might be surprised at how accepting and unprejudiced kids are! (Ok, so there may be issues with sisters getting married, but i'll ignore that in this instance!)
Your son will not be the only one without a daddy.
The little boys with 2 mummies in our school take it in their stride, and so do the other kids. Boys A and B have 2 mummies, so what?
I think the problem lies more with you and the other parents. Little kids usually accept other people's lives as their normality.
I think your son will be fine, OP. It just isn't important to most people these days. IMO its not like it used to be for us LGBT families.
However, I would say that it is important to actually point out the difference between his family and lots of other families, as otherwise there is a danger that it is seen as a secret, or as something that can't be discussed openly. You may think it is obvious, but I think its important to give him the language to describe his own family,
Oops! Posted too soon...
It should say:
.....rather than waiting for him to figure it out, iyswim.
Thank you all for your comments. I agree that small children are pretty accepting. It is only when the parents get involved that there can be problems. For example, if FrancesHB's reaction had not been so accepting, her children may have started to act differently towards the children with two mums. I think that this is how problems start. Naturally, young children are easily swayed by their parents' attitudes towards certain things - I know I was.
It is an oft-cited criticism of same-sex parenting that it is selfish to bring children into the world, knowing that they will be bullied(!). Perhaps we have this at the back of our minds.
As I said in my post, we have been very lucky so far, and hope that the luck continues.
Titting, thank you. Is this something you did yourself with your own child(ren)?
my son has two mums, and he's been in nursery for about a year (he's 2 now) and I'm expecting our second child in November.
The nursery has been totally welcoming to us both as parents. This has been shown in really important details, such as them knowing our 'names' are Mummy and Mama, and not just referring to us both as Mummy for example. He's come home with Valentines Cards for both of us, and he made a card for his Grandfathers on Fathers' Day - which I thought was a nice touch on the nursery's behalf.
On the registration forms I just put myself down as the mother (this is what his birth certificate says, as I gave birth to him) and cross out 'father' and replace with 'mother' again for my partner's details. They've never questioned this.
We live in a fairly affluent/educated area of London, but it's not massively diverse. However, I know that our son won't be the only one with a non-conventional family, and I'm not too worried about it in the grand scheme of things. We have other gay friends with families, so as DS grows up he will look around and see other children like him. He also points to books and says "mummy, daddy, baby" but he says "mummy, mama and baby" just as often.
I don't think you can worry too much about people making assumptions - they change over time, and its through being proud gay parents that we change these. Even my closest friends talk about our son's 'father' instead of 'donor' on occasion, but I can't get too annoyed or angry about it. These things change over time - often our language is slow to catch up with the reality of life! Likewise with administrative forms - the day will come when it will just say parent 1 and parent 2 - at least birth certificates now say mother and other parent - but until then, we just have to take a deep breath, and just explain again, with a smile
P.S I'm a firm believer in role models being the greatest influence on your child and regardless of other parents/adults etc YOU and your partner will have the greatest impact on your children's upbringing, not others. So don't worry too much about other parents' reactions etc. You will raise your children to deal with this, and make their own minds up about the world.
Recognise all of the above. We have 3 children 9&7yrs all settled in school and to my knowledge no other ss families.
I agree that equipping your child with info about your family and how it differs and how it is the same is a great. Tool for them to use, or not, later. I know (or think I do) that my three handle and answer questions about their family differently and in different situatuons. They are clever and skilled in intracate communication and social interaction intuitively, but I always introduce topics at regular intervals at home so they know that they can too.
We have had mixed responses from staff and parents (as in the rest of society) most dont even notice, some try to box(is she your mother,sister, friend etc) I simply reply wife! Yes two mums! to children, and no overt reactions so far, a few people have been less interactive ??? but the kids relationships never seem to alter for that. Boring form filling things, apparently it is still too difficult to change the form from mother/father to parent/parent Annoying! I annoyingly raise it periodically. And occasionally assertively, next of kin stuff etc but often due to poor clerical rather than prejudice. Overall it has been fine, so far, for all of us, but I am always 'alert' and probably always will be!
As a teacher in a primary school I can confidently say that your child will not be treated any differently than any of the other children - anyone who thinks most children come from a straight forward and male/female family is pretty naive. We have children who are brought up by grandparents, countless single parents, gay parents, transsexual parents, deaf parents, blind parent, parents who can't read and write etc, etc.
There is one thing that worries me about your child - and that is that his mum seems very negative about where he is going. You seem annoyed that the village hall describes itself as a setting, for example. That's perfectly normal and it's just the way the government describes a variety of different education settings. You see anti the place before you've even given it a chance and if your child senses this, chances are they too will feel somewhat negatively about it without even realising why.
Doing your best to support your child also means doing your nest to support their 'setting.'
Years ago when my ds was 3, he started nursery with a boy with 2 mums. None of the other kids were remotely interested. Kids of this age have far more important things to be interested in, like which toy their friend has.
This particular boy has been his friend all this time, he's been to his house where both mums have been there, he's been to parties with both mums and he's seen family photos on the wall with 2 mums.
Ds also has always known (separately to his friendship) that you marry who you love, man or woman and we have (our grown up) friends whose house ds has been to, they are 2 gay men.
Anyway one time, five years later, ds was discussing something and I said oh well your friend X has 2 mums you know and he said really? I did not know that??? Now either my ds is a complete space cadet (possible) or no child your ds comes into contact with will bat an eyelid.
I was just thinking the other day how nice it is my daughter's generation (age 8) is perhaps the first generation in the UK where it is entirely 'normal' and unremarkable when a kid has same sex parents. My daughter has lots of friends at school who have two mums or two dads. The kids, parents and staff don't really seem to notice - other than in the way mentioned above that they are sensitive to kids that might not have a dad or a mum that they know (which could be for a range of reasons). Families are a long way from nuclear these days. (That said I live in central London and perhaps things are different in other areas.). I agree that some of it is about your attitude and whether you are expecting negativity.
My DS doesn't have contact with his Dad. Most kids have no interest what so ever.
A few parents have spoke to me and said there children were asking ( has been his close friends parents) they basically tell them that all families are different.
My Ds has met a couple of children in his life at different settings with 2 mums and I don't believe it even registered and if it did he wasn't intersting in the boys mums , simply the children.
I have two DDs, once 5, one almost 3. I'd say, you have nothing to fear - we live in Ireland, and have encountered no actual problems (our legal status is not secure as a family, but that's an argument for a different day). We do have to explain a fair bit, and that can be a bit tedious, but mostly people don't take much notice. It's hard to know once you're caught in the madness of the school gates quite why some people don't talk to you - no doubt for a few it's because they don't like same-sex parents. My girls know that all of their books/movies/dvds etc describe standard families (although they do have a few that don't, and that's really helpful), and in DD1's case (oddly) of the 28 kids in her class only two don't live with both their mum and their dad, but both my girls know what their family looks like. They think nothing of it because other people don't
or at least keep their opinions to themselves I have to say, being a same-sex couple is the least of my problems! parenting, now there's something that I struggle with!
Thank you for the further comments. As I said in my original post, and my comment, I totally agree that many many children will not bat their proverbial eyelids. But even a 'you have two mummies? That's strange. Let's play trains' may have an effect. We do not live in a very cosmopolitan area. Educated yes, but socially naive too. (goodness knows how you put the '..' over the 'i' on an iPad - sorry). And certainly not what might be described as 'diverse'.
Please be assured that we have not been in the slightest bit negative about playgroup with our son. Quite the reverse. And we have heard nothing but praise for it from other local parents and teachers. We are both really pleased he is going, but it is still a milestone. And I guess that because we have been met with negativity about our sexuality and family set-up over the years, we are a bit nervous. We know that many think that there is no issue about people being gay now, but we also know from personal and anecdotal experience that this is not the case. Throw a happy-go-lucky toddler into the mix, and I think any parent would have some concerns. We expected these issues, but they are still real.
It is possible that my dislike for government-inspired jargon like 'the setting' has invoked a feeling that we are generally negative towards this playgroup. Sorry if that is the case. I just wouldn't say 'the setting' when discussing the playgroup with others, in the same way that I would not use language specific to my profession in correspondence with those outside it.
Many of your posts have given food for thought. That is why I love Mumsnet! In particular, the attitude of the parents is vital, I agree. That is what inspired this post...
Sorry. Rubbish link thingy in last message.
Just to say that my experience of my own children (aged 4,6 and 8) is that they are totally accepting of any situation, as everything is new to them. My cousin (who is my kids' age) has 2 dads, and they have frequently spent time with my friend's children who have two mums, and they have never had any issue with it. As they got older and started to understand how babies are made, they have occasionally asked, "if you need a man and a woman to make a baby, how can two ladies have a baby?" but they seem quite happy with the basic explanations I've given about how you do still need some sperm from a man, and it's a little bit more complicated but it can be done. We've also talked about adoption as my cousin was adopted by my uncle and his partner. As others have said there are also plenty of single parent families / step families and all sorts of complicated set ups going on, so I think most parents as well as kids are pretty chilled about it all these days.
I think you and your son will be fine. Young children don't usually dwell on things, they accept the facts and move on. They don't have a pre-defined vision of the universe around them, so just take things in as they come.
I wouldn't worry about the 'setting' terminology. My both children have a combined 8 years of day nursery behind them, plus a few years of school, and in normal, day-to-day conversations, whether with staff members or other parents, we were always referring to 'nursery' and 'school'. I would be surprised if your playgroup was any different in this respect.
I know how you feel about 'a stranger wiping your son's tears', I've been there too. It is very hard to let go and let strangers look after the most precious person in your life. But with the right carers, the children do develop very good relationships with them so they are not strangers for long. Things often seem scary before they become familiar - I'm sure your son and your family as a whole will settle in and become comfortable with the new situation very soon. I wish you all best of luck.
Not that it's your job to provide your playgroup with books, but there are some good stories that involve same sex parent couples (my son's favourite was the one with the penguins in the zoo in NY). At primary level, only one child my son has brought home has lived with both parents (gay or straight) - they are very used to the idea that families come in all shapes and sizes. It's natural that they will think their own set-up is the best (until they become teenagers at which point you're the worst parents in the world).
Well prob in this day and age of postpostmodernism, he wld be cooler than most kids. Your a two parent family, regardless of the gender.
Lots of kids without dads, or even mums for whatever reasons and that just life. So long as both you and your partners bond is strong with him, so long as he knows he is loved and you teach him right from wrong, (like in a good person way) then he will have what it takes to brush any crap he might get from his shoulders and soldier on. Kids ask questions and can be cruel, but just teach him that fact n how to deal with it in a general sense not in a subjective way. Ie, tough toots u have something to say about my family, is yours perfect??...There is no such thing as normal and "nuclear families" are not the 1950s version any more. If they were, my mother wld be dead from domestic violence.
Explaining where he came from?...well I wouldn't even want to get into that with mine n they are much older! that's for the biology teacher.
If he's getting a real hard time just tell him to say his dad is Santa and he's next in line for the sleigh so they better shut up or they won't get presents(joke obv) soz. It's a tough one. Wish I had better advice.
Happy healthy home is what a child needs, security and lots of love. Cross bridges when you get to them, lots of folk can be ignorant, fact of life.love your child, teach him love, respect and understanding against any odds he will be fine.
And relax a bit, stress rubs off on wee folk.
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It's for the biology teacher to tell our children where they come from??? I would hope they are well aware before then!
The reality of it is that small children could not give 2 hoots about your family
The professionals will be aware and are used to all different types of families
But you might find some of the parents talk about you, just as they talk about the working mothers vs the stay at home, the tall vs the short, the fat vs the thin etc etc
Playgrounds up and down the country are rife with gossip
Some parents form cliques very quickly, other parents stand alone for a variety of reasons
If you have a secure, nurturing family at home and are open with your children then you are in the best place to support your child's ups and downs through the course of their school career
Honestly, the "really? That's strange" comments will be made by all children to all children - if you choose to interpret it as a statement that you are different from all society, rather than different from the child making the comment, it's about you.
We are an incredibly conventional family - married husband and wife, two DC (one of each), DH works long hours, to all intents and purposes I'm a SAHM (I do work but from home and flexible part-time hours so it doesn't impinge on the children's consciousness). I am always amused at how other DC are amazed at the exoticism of our lives. We've had comments (from other DC, obvs) on how odd it is DH isn't home for bedtime, how odd that DH doesn't do the cooking, that DH isn't at home, that I am at home and not at work, that my DC's mummy is the same colour as their daddy, that neither DC have the same colour eyes as me, that our home has stairs inside (ie not a flat), etc.
Children notice differences but they're so self-centred that the difference is always as it relates to them, they've no real concept of society at this age. Try telling your DC that it's 'normal' in our society to eat with cutlery instead of fingers - they won't understand or accept that at all, they will simply identify the one other child in the room eating with their fingers, or the adult eating a breadstick or something at that precise moment.
I think you may be worrying needlessly .
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