Parenting, for those don’t know first hand, has many heartbreaking moments built in. Some of them are the same for almost all families, and some of them are different.
As an African American parent, I experience it as the moment I know is coming and that I dread, when both my sons will find out what it’s like to be held suspect because of their race. (For, though much has changed, much has remained the same.)
As a gay dad, I experience it in those moment when we have to explain to our son that some people don’t like his family, because his family is different. Particularly when we had to explain (because we’re always honest with our sons, in an age-appropriate manner) that “according to the rules” Daddy and Papa aren’t really married.
It’s not something we ever really discussed with him until recently, when we went to Annapolis for Equality Maryland’s Lobby Day. Our job was relatively easy, as our delegates are very supportive, and our state senator is a gay dad, but we felt it was important to take part.
When we explained to Parker why we were going, the hubby put it this way. “We’re going to see the people who make the rules, and ask them to change the rules so that Daddy and Papa can get married, because Daddy and Papa love each other very much.”
And when Parker asked if we were married I answered, “Daddy and Papa are married in our hearts, because we love each other very much, but someday we hope we can get married in front of everyone else too.”
A couple of days later, Parker turned to me and asked, “Did they change the rules yet so you can get married?”
I had to tell him no, but we were still married in our hearts, and someday soon the rules will change so that we can get married in front of everyone else. As much as it hurt me to have to say that, Parker seemed to understand, and wasn’t that bothered by it. (Why should he be? He’s happy and safe at home, and he’s got Daddy and Papa to love and care for him?) But it became even more important to me that our son know that his parents are married to each other, and what that means to us and for him.
Even as we were having the conversation with Parker, the hubby and I exchanged looks that wordlessly expressed our concern. Would he worry about something happening to our family? Would he worry about being taken away from us? Would he feel less secure?
Fortunately, I think the love and honestly we’ve tried to raise him with have gone a long way towards preventing that. But what if we’d lived in a state where one day we were legally married, and the next day w weren’t because that was taken away from us.
What’s that like a child, to find out that an awful lot of people voted that your family can’t be a family any more? Not legally, anyway.
Ed Swanson couldn’t move on.
The day after the election, the San Francisco lawyer and his husband, Paul Herman, a stay-at-home dad, had had to face the fact that Proposition 8 could mean that their marriage would be invalidated. They’d also had to go to parent conferences and tell the teachers that their five-year-old daughter, Liza, might be struggling in school because she was scared that her family might fall apart.
Liza, who has a twin sister, Katie, had peppered Swanson and Herman with questions once she’d realized that marriages uniting “a boy and a boy” were no longer allowed.
“They can’t take yours away, right?” she’d asked her parents. “They can’t take yours away when you have children, can they?”
“That’s when we realized she was afraid something would happen to us,” Swanson told me by phone on Wednesday. “We said, ‘They can’t take us away from you. We will be here for you forever.’”
“It’s difficult to explain to a five-year-old why it is people don’t want your parents to be married,” he continued. “They’re young enough that there was a chance they could have grown up thinking all their lives that their family was equal and accepted. Now they’re not going to have that chance. They’ll have to spend at least part of their lives knowing that their family is something that people don’t feel is acceptable.”
The Yes on 8 campaign made a great deal of political hay telling outright lies about what legal same-sex marriage could mean for children in schools, etc., and scaring people into thinking the purpose of proposition 8 was to “protect the children.” When the truth is they did a great deal of harm to a great many children. Dana points out that the 52,000 children being raised by 26,100 same-sex couples in California, or the 125,000 children being raised by LGB Californians (including single parents) were in the bullseye of the Yes on 8 campaign along with their families.
Would it have made a difference for parents to think about their children’s friends and classmates waking up on Nov. 5, feeling like their families were torn apart by the state? Having their self-confidence shaken when they were told their families were second-class? Hearing the hateful rhetoric from the right? Questioning the values that our country stands for? Would it have made a difference if parents knew that regardless of the curriculum, their children would learn about same-sex parents and relationships because they shared classrooms and playgrounds with the children of LGBT parents?
Yes, parenthood comes with many moments of heartbreak built in. But some of us get extras moments of heartbreak installed.