On Raising Progressive Children

The other day my daughter asked me why I wear a ring. I told her it’s because I’m married, and I called my husband over and showed her his ring, too. I told her that when two people get married they wear rings.

But of course this meant I had to explain what “getting married” meant. So I told her that when two people love each other very much and want to be life partners, they get married. I told her that when she grows up and finds someone she loves very much and wants to share her life with, she can get married too.

I watched my language carefully. I carefully avoided using male pronouns. I wanted her to know that she would marry someone she loved very much, but that that person didn’t necessarily have to be male.

And yet, as my daughter and I finished our conversation about getting married, my husband chimed in to add something else I had completely failed to think about:

“But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to get married. Not everyone gets married.”

Here I was trying so hard to avoid being heteronormative, but I still couldn’t avoid making marriage normative and thus excluding people who choose to remain single. And I’d also excluded polyamorous individuals as well.

Raising progressive and inclusive children can be hard, especially when that’s not how I myself was raised. It means I have to be on my toes and watch what I say. It means I have to avoid the programming in my head and instead think about what I say.

The other day we were watching a TV show and there was a sex scene. It wasn’t very explicit, but my daughter looked very confused about what was going on. So I told her that they were having sex. But of course, that didn’t mean anything to her, so I had to find a way to explain to her what sex was.

I carefully avoided the pre-programmed language playing in my head – “sex is something mommies and daddies do” or “sex is how babies are made” – and told her that sex is something grown-ups do, and that when she grows up she can have sex too, if she wants to.

Similarly, the other day she was pointing to my belly and talking about how she’s not “big enough” to have a baby in her belly yet. I told her that when she grows up – when she’s twenty-five or thirty or thirty-five – then she will be big enough to have a baby in her belly. And then, I hastily added, only if she wants to.

That brings up something else, though. I tell her I have a baby in my belly, her baby brother. But technically, it won’t be a baby until it’s born. But how do I explain this to a young child? The word “fetus” would mean nothing to her. Not saying anything makes no sense – I want her to be prepared for her new sibling. This is one where I’ve thrown up my hands and decided there’s time enough to help her understand the intricacies of fetal development and the politics of female reproduction when she’s older.

Don’t think I’m paranoid for being so careful about how I phrase things around my daughter. I grew up in an extremely traditional home and had traditional messages fed to me from the get-go. I want to avoid sending my daughter those same traditional messages, but even our very language makes that difficult to do. And rather than feeling paranoid or worrying about messing my daughter up, I see this as a challenge and an opportunity. In thinking carefully about what messages I send my daughter, I have one more opportunity to grow, think, and process myself.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Antigone10

    Oiy, I sympathize. I don’t have kids (and never will) but I teach a bunch of preschoolers and kindergartners. I don’t want to lie to them, nor do I want to give them the wrong impressions of things, but I have the added minefield of what I say will be scrutinized by their parents. A lot of things have to be given an answer of “I think your parents would like to talk to you about that” because I can’t step on anyone’s toes.

    • Monimonika

      My younger sister studying to become a teacher, and at one point was asked the “How are babies made?” question by a couple of small kids she was assigned to (she suspected some of the kids just wanted to see her squirm). My sister promised them that she would give them all the nitty-gritty real-life no-lies details of how babies are made only and only if the kids can show her that they can kiss their own elbows.
      Lots of contorting, wriggling little bodies filled the classroom that day.

      • Ibis3

        Wow. That seems kind of…deceptive. Isn’t a teacher there to teach, not to avoid teaching? I’m sure with a bit of thought, it wouldn’t be difficult to talk to kids about reproduction in a manner suitable for their level of understanding. She could even talk about different kinds of reproduction for comparison–how chicks develop in eggs and kangaroos are born even less developed than human babies and have to spend time in their mothers’ pouches, how plants use flowers to attract bees to help them “make babies”. It just seems like such a wasted opportunity.

      • lucrezaborgia

        Ibis, I don’t think you realize how it is in the classroom and that teachers who don’t play along with the office politics that come along with it either don’t get promoted or raises. You cannot talk to children about sex at all without a billion permission slips.

  • Becca

    Sounds like you are doing a very good job with your daughter: its good that you are even making the effort to be liberal around her because so many wouldnt bother.
    Also, it would take all day to go through every possible relationship when telling your daughter the options: friends-with-benefits who hae a child but dont raise it as a couple, infertile couples and their donors, gay, straight and polyamourous, bigamists, single people, and one that you missed out, couples with kids who are faithful and live togethr and everything but just dont get married.

    • Reader

      Yes, and with my kids I sum this up saying “there are so many wonderful ways to be a family.” As time goes on they have real life experiences, such as two families we are close to where both of the parents have passed away and the children are raised by their aunts–who in both cases happen to not be married. (One is divorced the other is gay, but partner-less) I try hard to always bring up the love that is shared in any family, no matter the make-up, or where on the planet they live.

  • http://www.firsttheegg.com Molly

    I don’t think you’re paranoid for being careful about language and inclusivity of all your child’s potential futures–I think you’re great.

    Like you, I’m pregnant and have one child already. But my child’s a little older: he’ll turn six this summer. That means he’s had a few years post-basics (when he initially asked how babies come to be, and also what sex is) to get a more detailed notion of human reproduction and various other things, and of course it’s been easier to accomplish that at his own pace with our own terminology without a pregnancy happening *right then.* Now he talks in terms of “the fetus” because we do and is a little baffled by other people calling it a baby, and he knows what a fetus is because we’ve talked a million times through the various stages of development through birth, in which he has been very very interested since age three. (I’m sure other kids are less into it–this is all the constant topic of conversation at home anyway, because I’m a feminist birth & parenting scholar.) We were also really up front with him about the fact that a pregnancy doesn’t necessarily result in a baby; he knew about this pregnancy way back when we were just speculating about whether I might be pregnant, when a miscarriage was still pretty likely.

    But basically, I think all we need to say is “a fetus is what can grow into a baby”–the seed-to-plant concept is probably pretty familiar, and we all teach our children new words all the time. Maybe talking about how an acorn isn’t a tree and a caterpillar isn’t a butterfly could be of use? I know it sounds simple and sort of smaltzy, but they’re decent metaphors for little humans.

    • Rosa

      I really like the “fetus is what grows into a baby” explanation, and it explains a lot of things about pregnancy (our pregnant friend was really tired even early on, because growing a baby takes a lot of energy; and now she can barely get out of a chair because the baby’s almost big enough to be born).

    • Froborr

      My parents explained a fetus as being like a seed that grows into a baby, as near as I can tell I got it. (I would have been about 4 at the time.)

  • Kevin Alexander

    Good answer, Molly.

    After my daughter in law had one miscarriage and then a stillbirth they decided to try again but this time stopped saying to their eight year old daughter that mommy was going to have a baby. Instead they said that she hoped to have a baby but you just don’t know until the baby is born.
    She miscarried again but this time the tears were for a lost hope not a lost baby.

    • Rilian

      If that helps people deal with the pain, fine. But it’s not really realistic. It’s not as if the baby’s brain gets turned on at the instant of birth. It becomes a person at some point between conception and birth. And if I lost a baby to miscarriage, I wouldn’t play word games to deny the loss.

      • Caravelle

        It’s not as if the baby’s brain gets turned on at the instant of birth.
        Actually an argument could be made that it does. People need sensory stimulation and consciousness is tightly related to perception, and there is comparatively little sensory stimulation in the womb. There is also the possibility that the fetus is sedated while in the womb, in which case birth does literally “turn on” consciousness. The concept that an organism that isn’t conscious and never has been is a person is surely arguable at least.

        There is also the point made in one of the articles Libby Anne linked to – that regardless of brain development (which does continue after birth after all), before birth a fetus is part of the woman, and after birth the baby is part of society, and that makes a difference.
        By the same standard, there is a difference between losing a baby you saw and held in your arms and cooed at, with a fetus you felt inside you but didn’t get to interact with fully as with another human being.

        (I hope I don’t seem to be diminishing the pain of miscarrying a wanted child; if I am I apologize deeply. I’m just trying to say that thinking the moment of birth makes a difference isn’t an unreasonable position)

  • Beguine

    I think Molly’s seed analogy is good. The other one I was thinking of is baking cookies (if either of you bake) and say that you’re MAKING a baby. She’s likely to be able to understand that while flour, butter, sugar, and chocolate chips are what you use to make cookies, they aren’t cookies yet until they come out of the oven. It’s also a way to explain that sometimes things can go wrong and you don’t get a baby. I don’t really think it’s absolutely necessary to clarify for her. It sounds like you’re already doing a great job thinking about how you teach her, and since you aren’t teaching her that there’s some horrible sky monster that will torture her forever is she thinks the wrong thing, she should feel comfortable adding the complexities to her knowledge base as they come up. Still, if she has more questions or if it’s worrying you, I would go with a cookie or seed analogy.

  • Margaret

    You seem to be doing really well and I’m impressed by what you’ve written. Adapting language is hard when the language you’ve grown up with and that surrounds you still is very slanted towards values you may not hold. Congratulations and thanks for recognizing just how much words have an impact.

  • natalie

    What I don’t understand is why you will post articles about children killed by the Pearl’s discipline methods AND post articles that say POST-birth abortion is acceptable, because the baby hasn’t reached “personhood.”

    What initiates “personhood?” Writing a bitter, opportunistic blog?

    In that case, your daughter has not yet arrived.

    liseusetheloverofreading.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/me-dice-musa/

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      If you actually read the articles that I posted on abortion and infanticide, you would see that both authors refute the idea that infanticide is morally acceptable, and argue that it is not, which is my position as well. And besides, when I post “worthwhile reads” links, it means I think they are worth reading, but not necessarily that I agree with them.

    • http://kagerato.net kagerato

      What was the point of this comment? It’s very unproductive and comes across as a personal attack.

      A good rule to hold: read before writing.

      • Natalie

        I do apologize for my comment, which I wrote hastily and in anger, and not at all like a Christian should. I will attempt more civility in future comments.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jalyth Jalyth

    I wouldn’t worry about calling him either a baby or a fetus, some people are more sentimental, some more scientific in their speech patterns. I used to call fetuses “it” until they were born, but I was cured of that by glares from expectant mothers (I have no kids). Molly’s comment was quite interesting. Most 6 year-olds aren’t quite as versed in development as hers, though. I agree with your assessment that pro-choice ideals can wait until your daughter is older.

    Language is hard to change, but certainly not impossible. There were soooo many phrases I left behind, but it was just me, not worrying about what to say to children, so it was somewhat easy. Actually, to this day I have no idea what to say to toddlers, but if I do, I try to say things like girls are strong, and both genders are smart, and never say “pretty”.

  • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot.com JW

    This is slightly off topic but still in the same ballpark- I was asked this weekend at work why I was wearing 2 rings. I wear my engagement ring on the right hand and wedding ring on the left. I told the ladies that my wife and I decided to wear both of them. Why buy a ring only to wear it for so long and then ditch it. Why throw that money away unless you sell it. I was married in the Philippines and it took 4 hours for us to find a ring that fit my fingers. We didn’t want to go through the resizing of it.

    I bet it would be a funny and thought provoking ocassion to have a conversation with a little one about marriage. Knowing how deep you can go with them before it is too much and yet in which they will understand with their little minds.

  • Sarah

    I think you need to more explicitly say that she could marry a man or a lady, or she’ll assume in that preschooler way that it has to be boy-girl.

    I don’t see an issue with calling it a baby. After all, you don’t tell a small child that you are pregnant until you’ve made the decision to have the baby. Of course late losses and bad discoveries at the big ultrasound would be more difficult than if you’d carefully made sure they weren’t envisioning a very small person, but they’d be awful anyway, I think.

    • MadGastronomer

      Or perhaps even “man or woman” — “lady” has connotations that some of us find really unpleasant.

    • Sophia

      What, no love for the gender non-conforming people? ;)
      I think saying “person” would be adequate enough, because it covers all of the above, so to speak, and even creates the idea that there aren’t just two genders (or even sexes, because of intersex conditions).

      • MadGastronomer

        That, too.

  • Aimee

    I do much the same, though my 4 year old has a hard time really understanding that it can be two women or two men who are married. We live on a small overseas military base so heteronormity reigns supreme. Her little friends are all raised Christian (or at least Christian flavored) so in their play it is always “prince and princess” etc. She likes to watch me play the Sims on the computer and in that game many of my relationships are gay or lesbian which she asks questions about and seems to understand and accept. Since I am the main caretaker she understands two mommies better than two daddies, but again that is an age thing :).

    However I have no fears that when my kids are personally introduced to non hetero relationships that they will readily accept them because our language has always been inclusive and about love and partnership, not gender. I think at this age relationships are too abstract aside from what the parents show them so alternatives are difficult to process.

    I think we are pretty good at keeping the option of marriage “if you want to someday”. It helps that her favorite (and only) aunt is in her late twenties and not married or particularly interested in it. This one is harder because so many movies put the characters happiness on being married at least eventually, and because we as her parents are (at this time) still happily married. I think the main thing again is to show that as they do get older and start to form their own opinions that these choices are supported by you.

    My oldest was only 2 when I was pregnant and we told her that she would be getting a new brother or sister soon but she was too young to understand or even really care about the process. Now when we see other pregnant ladies I tell her that they are making a baby in their belly. Abortion is always going to be really hard for children to understand and support because the anti-choice rhetoric is very persuasive to them. I honestly don’t think its too important to talk about until such time that the children are potentially able to become pregnant.

  • Rilian

    Technically, you’re wrong. It is a baby. Baby isn’t any kind of scientific term, so there’s nothing wrong with calling a fetus a baby. It’s a gestating baby. Especially since you’re planning on keeping it. Or, him.

    • MadGastronomer

      Actually, no, she isn’t wrong. “There’s nothing wrong with calling it a baby” isn’t the same thing as “it IS a baby.” Baby may not be a scientific term, but it has a specific meaning, anyway — both connotative and denotative — and she has every right, and is perfectly correct, to not use it.

      • Rilian

        It has a specific meaning which includes fetuses and embryos. It means, basically, a very young human. My dictionary even explicitly says that the word baby can mean fetus. People use it that way all the time.

        Baby has a lot of other specific uses too. But they are all metaphorical extensions of the fetus-infant meaning.

        That’s not to say that anyone is wrong not to call a fetus a baby. But she said it’s wrong to call it that, and she’s wrong that it’s wrong.

      • MadGastronomer

        From Merriam-Webster Online:

        Definition of BABY
        1
        a (1) : an extremely young child; especially : infant (2) : an extremely young animal b : the youngest of a group

        Nope, nothing about a fetus there. When we’re talking about h. sapiens, a baby is a child. A child is a person. Calling a fetus a baby is saying that it is a person. If a fetus is not a person, then calling it a baby is not accurate, which I think is what Libby Anne meant by “wrong”.

      • Rilian

        People use the word baby to refer to fetuses extremely frequently. Also, from dictionary.com

        ba·by
           [bey-bee] Show IPA noun, plural -bies, adjective, verb, -bied, -by·ing.

        noun
        1.
        an infant or very young child.

        2.
        a newborn or very young animal.

        3.
        the youngest member of a family, group, etc.

        4.
        an immature or childish person.

        5.
        a human fetus.

      • MadGastronomer

        Use it commonly, yes. But using “baby” for a fetus definitely and emphatically has the connotation of the fetus being a person. Using it that way reinforces the idea that a fetus is a person. A fetus is not a person. That makes it an inaccurate term, and philosophically a poor choice if one does not believe a fetus is a person.

  • Caravelle

    But how do I explain this to a young child? The word “fetus” would mean nothing to her.

    What, you don’t have one of those books that show how we develop in the womb ? With pictures of course ? I was three and six when my two older brothers were born (not older than me, older than my youngest brother), I can’t remember if I was shown those books when I was three, six or both… But I remember being fascinated by embryos and how they look like little tadpoles. Those books include the vocabulary so I’m pretty sure I knew what a fetus was after that. (…and I also remember going around patiently explaining to everyone that babies are born nine months old, there is no such thing as a one-month-old baby, don’t be silly now… So come to think of it I must have been closer to six than three, that was in the schoolyard)

  • http://getinhangon.wordpress.com/ Meg

    Your story reminds me of when my DD was young (she is about to turn 18). She loved playing the game “Life” and I clearly remember the first time she got to choose her spouse and wanted a wife.

  • http://elliha.blogspot.com Elin

    I had a mom who was very into telling us the real story about babies and sex. I do not remember who told me about abortions but I think I knew about them when I was about 10 perhaps earlier. I have known about sex and babies for as long as I can remember but of course I didn’t know all the details and I personally do not think a parent should overload a young child asking his/her first questions with too much information. In time they will ask again and then be ready for more details. I know I knew what a fetus was from books showing how it grows inside the belly and I do not think that my mother said anything other than that fetus is what we call a baby when it is inside a woman’s tummy. At a young age I would start there.

    I knew about miscarriages from an early age. My brother’s then girl friend had a very dramatic misscarriage where she bled a lot and my brother found her more or less in a huge puddle of blood. She was rushed to hospital and recovered. I think I was about 4-5 and I was of course aware of all the drama and I heard that word misscarriage being said over and over so my mother sat me down and explained that my brother’s girl friend had had a baby in her belly and that unfortunately the baby had died and she had started bleeding but that the doctor had fixed her but the baby was dead. She told me that they were sad about this and that my brother had been very scared that his girl friend would die and that they would probably be sad and confused about this and that I should not ask them ask her if I had questions.

  • http://mamamara.wordpress.com Mara

    I was raised in a fairly progressive household (married couples I knew included Mark and Barry) and I still find myself not always remembering every permutation. Just remember that it’s not one conversation you’re having with your kids, it’s a long series. So, y’know, you forget transgender folk today and lesbians tomorrow, in the long run your kids will get the message that everybody is welcome.

    I figure that if I can teach my kids that they’re not always the center of the universe and that sometimes other people’s needs are more important, I’ll have done my job pretty well :)

  • http://liseusetheloverofreading.wordpress.com/ Natalie

    The element I don’t understand is how one can teach their children progressive philosophy (make your own choices/there is no right/wrong answer…whatever you want is right) and then teaching them to be law-abiding citizens.

    For example, tell your daughter there is no right or wrong gender to marry; whether she marries a boy or a girl is up to her.

    Tell that girl that there is no right or wrong time to have sex, but she can choose.

    Tell her that there is no god or absolutes, but each person decides for himself what is right and wrong.

    Then as she grows up, tell her she can’t drink alchohol til she is 21. She questions why. The government says so. What should she obey the government? Why should they tell her when she can and cannot drink? Why should they suppress her with their absolutes? She should be able to decide. Why should they dictate what is right and wrong?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I’m not teaching her that there is no right or wrong. Just because I don’t believe in god doesn’t mean I don’t have a system of ethics. The idea that I would think that right or wrong is just about whatever we feel like doing is silly. Furthermore, the idea that “progressive philosophy” means “whatever I want is right” is flat wrong. It absolutely and completely doesn’t. Currently I follow a mixture of utilitarian and rights based ethics, but when it comes to my overriding philosophy I am a Humanist. I would actually contend that I am more ethical today than I ever was as a Christian (the first linked article in this comment will clarify what I mean by that).

      Also, I don’t have a problem with teaching her that even if she thinks a law is silly she has to either obey it or face the consequences. If she wants to drink before she’s 21 and risk getting caught and punished, fine. But don’t think progressive philosophy means thinking you can ignore the government and make up your own laws. It doesn’t.

    • Caravelle

      So, you think that the reason people can’t drink alcohol until they’re 21 is just because the government says so ? You don’t think there’s a rationale for why the government would say so ?

      That alcohol is unhealthy, addictive, that drunkenness impairs judgement, and more to the point that all of these things are much worse for children has nothing to do with it ?

      Not that the age of 21 has anything sacred about it anyway. Different countries have different drinking ages, and different enforcement policies (which aren’t always in step btw. In Japan which has a drinking age of 21 I bought beer three times a week and didn’t get carded once; the UK has a drinking age of 18 and I get carded almost every single time I buy alcohol. Then again the UK has a binge drinking problem; I think they’re using carding as an attempt to dissuade young adults in general from drinking).

      However while no specific number is sacred having some drinking age is good, because while it might be hard to draw the line it’s still clear that alcohol affects immature humans in very negative ways.

      If you can’t explain why an action is immoral better than “I/The Government/God says so” then how are you imparting morality onto children in the first place ?

      Bonus question : Do you believe there is such a thing as an unjust or a stupid law ?

      • http://kagerato.net kagerato

        The age of adulthood in Japan is 20, so your experience would not be odd at all. Japanese law is also much more consistent with regard to rights assignment; just about everything from voting, drinking, full responsibility for crimes, serving in the JSDF, and so forth is all at 20 as I understand it.

        The significance of that age is why it’s identified as hatachi instead of the more obvious nijuusai (literally twenty years old).

      • Caravelle

        @kagerato : I guess I got 20 and 21 confused, thank you for setting me straight. It was an easy mistake, both are “ungodly late” to me :p
        (thankfully I’m well past the age where I need to care. Except for countries that have ridiculous carding policies….)

  • http://liseusetheloverofreading.wordpress.com/ Natalie

    And why should she obey?

    • Dianne

      Because actions have consequences. If you drink at too much you might become addicted, make poor choices while drunk, or have liver damage. If you have sex with someone you don’t know well you risk STDs, emotional entanglements with someone who doesn’t behave well, and having a lousy time. If you marry a man and you’re attracted to women (or vice versa) then you hurt both yourself and the person you lied to when you married them.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      I think you can’t comprehend that people can’t behave in a right way simply because it’s the right way? Because I’ve been brought up more or less as Libby Anne pretends to bring up her daughter and I’m a law abidding citizen, I’ve never smoked because it’s bad for your health, I don’t drink alcohol and never really have (because I don’t like the taste mainly but also because I’ve watched the effects of alcoholicm in patients), I am studying Medicine and I’ve only have sex with the boyfriend with whom I’ve been together for 9 years (which it isn’t christian morality but whatever I’ve been an atheist all my life XP) and I have never cheated on him despite having the opportunity to do so when I was abroad. Children can be taught morals without god. (Disclaimer: My family isn’t perfect by any means and neither I am obviously but moral instillment was one thing I felt was good done).

      Also for your information my mom asked me if I wanted to have religion classes (catholic) so as to be the same as my other peers even when both my parents were atheists but I didn’t want to because I didn’t believe in god (despite the tries of my grandmother) and even if I liked the crafts books they had (I was 5 at the moment and in love with crafts :P) it didn’t felt right to go without believing in god. The same was offered to my brother 3 years later and of course he didn’t want either. So another example of secular parents not trying to impose their views on their children (I don’t ever remember them telling us god didn’t existed or anything like that and they played the whole Three wise men thing completely with us (they bring the presents to Spanish kids like Santa Claus for people who don’t know).

    • http://kagerato.net kagerato

      Why is blind obedience good?

      If you can’t find an actual reason to do something, perhaps you should not do it. Likewise, if you cannot determine any justification for not doing something you want to do, why wouldn’t you?

      Is it really that difficult to understand that people can survive and prosper based on reason and evidence? We built pretty much all of modern society on these principles. I’ve always found it bizarre that some would give credit to fictional entities for something that human beings did right in front of them…

    • ScottInOH

      Natalie,

      It sounds like you should explore more deeply the sources of ethics in non-believers. Right now, it sounds like you are buying the false statement that people who don’t believe in God always believe they should be able to do whatever they want.

    • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

      I just want to say, people who subscribe to Divine Command Theory kind of scare me. I want to ask them, “Wait a minute… you’re trying to tell me the only thing that is stopping you from shooting me dead and taking all my money is because you think God told you not to? Um… yeah, could you stand a little farther away please?”

      • machintelligence

        And if they belong to a religion that believes in personal revelation, it’s Katie bar the door. See Jon Krakhauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven”

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    Heh, yup, I can identify here. I once said something to my son along the lines of, “Man, the girls will love you when you get older.” and then I’m like, “Um, er, maybe the boys. I dunno, whatever you want.” hahahaha, ah well, we all do our best, right?

    But technically, it won’t be a baby until it’s born. But how do I explain this to a young child? The word “fetus” would mean nothing to her. Not saying anything makes no sense – I want her to be prepared for her new sibling. This is one where I’ve thrown up my hands and decided there’s time enough to help her understand the intricacies of fetal development and the politics of female reproduction when she’s older.

    I think you did exactly the right thing there. “There’s a baby in mama’s belly” is close enough.

  • Cactus Wren

    This reminds me of Uncle Ruth Buell’s “Family Song”, about how all families are real families — whether they’re families of a mother and a father and their children (but in the song, Bobby’s “mom’s a doctor and his dad’s a nurse”), of only “Maya and her mother”, or of kids and their mother and “someone that their mother loves a lot”, they’re all families.

    (I once wrote a short fanfiction story, in which I showed the central characters talking with their five-year-old daughter about “how babies happen”. She understands the basics — how two different things, that her parents have called an “egg-cell” and a “life-spark”, can become “the beginning of a baby”, and how that grows inside a woman’s body until it’s ready to be born. But now she wants to know exactly how the life-spark gets from the father’s body into the mother’s … )

  • Ursula L

    Speaking as someone who was raised progressively, it wasn’t a particular problem that I first understood pregnancy as “Why is Mommy getting fat?” “There is a baby growing in her tummy.” “Oh, okay.”

    More nuances came with age and experience. And I asked more questions as my understanding and curiosity grew. I got a simple answer I could understand. And it was a comfortable conversation, so when I was bigger and wanted more details, I was comfortable asking.

    The way you described marriage seems fine to me, and fits with my experience of learning about life. In this particular case, your child was curious about your rings, and answering in a way that talked about your marriage, your relationship with each other, was answering the question that was being asked at the time. There will be other times, such as when perhaps your children will notice an adult without rings, and ask about not being married, when other explanations can be given.

    There is a balance between giving the most complete and progressive answer to a question and giving answers in a way that a child can absorb the information without being overwhelmed.

    These are the types of questions that will be asked many times, in many different ways, where the answer will vary over time, based on your child’s age and understanding, and the nuances of how the question was asked each time. An ongoing conversation, through the years.

    Right now, it sounds as if your daughter is working to understand how your family works. Because your family is in the process of changing, and it’s all a bit curious and confusing. Mommy and Daddy are married to each other. That’s why they wear rings. I’m their little girl. Soon we will have a baby boy. Mommy is making him in her tummy. He’ll be a little brother. I’ll be a big sister. Mommy and Daddy will be baby brother’s Mommy and Daddy, too. I’m their daughter. He’ll be their son.

    When she understands more about how her family works, it will be a framework for learning to understand how other families work, and also how your extended family works – for example that Grandma and Grandpa are Mommy’s Mommy and Daddy, that Daddy is Auntie’s little brother and Auntie is Daddy’s big sister (that one was mind-blowing for my three year old niece) or that some kids have two Mommies or two Daddies rather than a Mommy and a Daddy, that little brother may be trans and turn out to be little sister, etc.

    If you’ve managed to explain it all by the time she’s 18, you’ll be doing fine, and ahead of most parents, even the best and most progressive ones.

    • MadGastronomer

      When there are ways to explain it to them more accurately that they will still understand, why not use those? Why give them inaccurate information first and then correct it, when you can give them accurate if in complete information first and then expand on it later without having to correct it?

  • http://screaminglemur.blogspot.com Lemur

    I think it’s great, actually. As a committed polyamorist who is only now beginning to consider children, I am very conscious lately of child-raising techniques and how they might affect a small human as s/he grows to be an adult. And this is a very humanist thing to do- I feel that you’re teaching her to subconsciously be accepting of and thoughtful to every type of person, which is awesome.
    I am actually stunned how many people never bother to take the 2 extra seconds so that what they say isn’t othering or prejudiced or somehow dismissive of other’s feelings (i.e. “that’s so gay”, “you’re a pussy”, rape jokes, etc.).
    Thank you for taking the time to watch your words and attempting to be a kinder person, and teaching your child this, too. It’s definitely something I hope to emulate if and when our family increases. ^_^

  • Pingback: I had a piece posted on Offbeat Mama today


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