Opinion | My Kid Has 2 Moms. Why Did She Say She’s Thankful for ‘Mommy and Daddy’?
My spouse and I are the parents of newly minted preschoolers, so we were excited for their school’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon a couple of weeks ago. When we dropped off our twins at school one morning, the head teacher was busily working a pair of craft scissors.
“Don’t look!” she exclaimed. “It’s a surprise for later.”
I didn’t peek. But I was pretty sure I knew what was coming, and I couldn’t wait to see what my toddlers were grateful for.
Sure enough, after the turkey had been gobbled and the cranberry sauce wiped off the floor, the teachers unveiled the “surprise.” They had asked all of the children what they were thankful for and written down the responses on paper plates decorated as pumpkins.
“I’m thankful for sister food,” our son’s pumpkin read. We chuckled. Did he mean his sister’s food? Or his sister and his food? Either way, the kid loves to eat.
Our daughter’s pumpkin, on the other hand, could be interpreted only one way: “I’m thankful for mommy and daddy.”
Except our kids have two moms.
We snapped a photo of both pumpkins and texted it to every parent we know. The telltale three dots indicating someone is typing a response appeared immediately.
Fellow queer parents thought it was hilarious. “Keep that forever,” one advised. “I just keep looking at it and cracking up.” “Same,” I wrote back.
Our heterosexual friends, however, were not amused. “Does she need more books with two mommies?” one asked. (Probably yes.) “This is why preschools need to address diversity,” another friend concluded. (Yup.)
Others pointed the finger at her teachers. “Don’t they know that she doesn’t have a daddy? I’d expect someone to catch that,” one pointed out. I explained that, yes, her teachers know she has two moms. They even know that our parent names are “Mommy” and “Ma.” They were simply recording what she’d said.
“Why didn’t they just edit her answer, then?” another friend wondered. Good question. After all, the school wouldn’t have handed us a gratitude pumpkin that read “poop.” (I hope.)
So why was the school’s fidelity to her words acceptable in this case?
We told our friends to lighten up, but I started to wonder: Should we be worried that the universe was telling our child she needed a father figure?
When we planned to become parents, we knew that our children would be curious about our family. We purchased an obligatory copy of “Zak’s Safari,” an illustrated children’s book with the unwieldy but precise subtitle “A Story About Donor-Conceived Kids of Two-Mom Families.”
Our daughter wasn’t asking a question when she said she was thankful for “mommy and daddy,” and we hadn’t prepared for it. This suddenly seemed like a glaring omission.
Then it occurred to us, maybe she thought she had a daddy! We decided to go straight to the source.
“Who’s daddy?” we asked her, keeping our faces as neutral as possible. She stared back at us, then gave an impish grin and ran off to play with a firefighter hat. So much for that.
Once again, our parenting tribe was on hand to help. Had she copied another kid’s answer? That seemed plausible — except none of the other children had thanked their daddies. This was somewhat surprising (and ironic) since nearly all of the other kids in her class have a father at home. Then again, none of the fathers had materialized at the luncheon.
The truth is, I don’t know whether any of the parents, relatives and pets named on the gratitude pumpkins exist outside the minds of the children who named them. Kids blur the line between imagination and reality. I do know that our daughter grasps that she has two parents who love her. She differentiates between us, asking for “Mommy” sometimes and “Ma” others.
But kids reflect back what we show them. It’s impossible to imagine a preschooler with different-sex parents saying, “I’m thankful for mommy and mommy.”
While we’ve added stories featuring same-sex parents to our bookshelf, even those titles tend to focus on the fact that having two moms or two dads is different. That reinforces the notion that having a mother and a father is the norm, even though fewer than half of kids in this country live in a “traditional” family. More than a third live with a single parent, and others are being raised by a grandparent or another adult.
What’s more, our home library can’t compete with what our kids see everywhere else, which remains overwhelmingly a mom and a dad. That’s a disservice not only to the more than 200,000 children of same-sex couples and to those who don’t have two parents (of any sex) at home, but to all children.
Until books, television and advertisements catch up to the diversity around them, our friends will have our backs.
Before our daughter could talk, she loved to babble “dada.” Hearing this, a friend’s older child asked, “Why does she keep saying ‘dada’ when she doesn’t have a daddy?”
“Your baby brother loves to say ‘cat,’” her mother responded. “But we don’t have a kitty.”
Ría Tabacco Mar (@RiaTabaccoMar) is a staff lawyer for the A.C.L.U.’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and H.I.V. Project.
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