“Actually Sally, their family has two mommies”

I was recently looking through my facebook feed when I came upon a picture of Haley, whose wife Melissa writes at Permission to Live.

“Ooo, she’s pretty!” said Sally.

I smiled. Haley is a transgender woman, and I was pleased that Sally immediately identified her as female. I started flipping through Haley’s pictures, and Sally admired them and was excited to note whenever Haley’s children appeared in the pictures with her. And then, finally, I came to a picture of Haley with Melissa, smiling into the camera with one of their daughters sandwiched between them.

“That’s Haley’s daddy,” Sally said, pointing at Melissa.

(Sally doesn’t have a grasp on the terms “husband” and “wife” yet. Instead she is liberal in her use of the terms “mommy” and “daddy.” In other words, Sally was saying that Melissa was the daddy in Haley’s family, and Haley was the mommy.)

I frowned. Here I was feeling pleased that Sally had no trouble identifying Haley as female while not even realizing just how heteronormative Sally’s upbringing was making her. I scrambled mentally, wondering exactly how this could be. We live in a very liberal college town, after all, and Sean and I have numerous LGBTQ friends. It’s not like they’re never around when Sally’s around, either. Just the other evening we had a gay couple we’ve known for years over for the evening (Sally was quite taken with the chocolate pie they brought!). What I realized, though, is that none of the LGBTQ individuals Sally comes in contact with in her day to day life have children, and that, to my knowledge, the children she knows all have both a mommy and a daddy.

“Actually Sally, their family has two mommies.”

And with that, we went on flipping through Haley’s pictures. See, it’s not that Sally has a problem with a family having two mommies, or two daddies, it’s just that in her limited experience every family she’s known (every family with children, that is) has had a mommy and a daddy. So she (quite naturally) assumed that that’s how it is for everyone.

And now I think it’s time to head off to the library to check out Heather Has Two Mommies, And Tango Makes Three, In Our Mothers’ House, and King and King. Oh, and All Families Are Different and All Families Are Special. Sally and I have some reading to do.

Feel free to suggest additional resources!

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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.

  • http://amethystmarie.com/ Amethyst
  • Derek

    In first grade my daughter had two classmates that had two mommies. It was no issue. We’ve never spoken about it, she’s never asked about it. There’s been no need it’s just how some families are as far as she’s concerned.

    And isn’t that how it should be?

  • Meyli

    That’s really interesting, Sally’s assumption that Melissa is the ‘daddy’. A cool window into how a 3-year-olds mind works. Sally recognized Haley as female, and thus the mom. Did she identify Melissa as another woman? Its interesting that if she did, she still called her ‘daddy’. I guess gender and pronouns and all that take a while to cement in kids’ brains. Makes me think about how much of it really is culturally learned!
    Thanks for the book list! I must bookmark them….

  • Arallyn

    When I was a kid, I had a similar experience – my dad’s sister is a lesbian, and her partner’s name is “Gail”. I have an uncle Dale, and automatically assumed that 1. Gail was basically the same as Dale, and 2. couples were automatically male/female (they didn’t have kids). So for a while, I was under the impression that she was “Uncle Gail”.
    When I was 3 or so and they realized what I assumed, my dad corrected me, and while it took a few times to “take”, I never really wondered “why” or “that’s wrong”. It just *was*. That’s how they were. I loved both of them, and wouldn’t have cared if either, both, or neither of them were male.

  • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

    I actually really didn’t like Heather Has Two Mommies. I mean, I love the idea, but I found the book itself kind of … too earnest, I guess. Also, the fact that the mommies are called Mama Jane and Mama Kate, or something, drove me nuts when I was reading it to DD, because those names are so similar that I kept tripping over them and getting the two mommies mixed up :P

    We both loved And Tango Makes Three, though :D Marriage equality AND penguins! What could be better? And Patricia Polacco is awesome.

    I also like Asha’s Mums and Uncle Bobby’s Wedding — I’m a sucker for cute woodland animals ;)

    I look forward to the day when instead of having to go out and look for LGBTQ-friendly books to read to our kids, we can just assume that a respectable majority of kids books will include LGBTQ families …

  • Alexandra

    Hayley is very pretty!

    Though I wonder if she said Melissa was daddy because of her cute short hair? I know my pixie cut has gotten me a few ‘how can I help you sir?’s and I’m still pretty feminine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

    Children aren’t nearly as confused over these issues as adults assume.

  • http://thechurchproject.me Tracey

    I was wondering too if Sally thought one parent was male or if she thought “when one is named mommy the other is named daddy”. My niece used to sometimes call me Uncle Tracey but she was never confused as to my gender (or comparing me to a partner named Aunt). She just thought Aunt and Uncle were very common first names and forgot which belonged to me.

  • ako

    I always think it’s funny when homophobes talk about letting kids know about different sexual orentations might confuse them as if that was a horrible thing. It’s normal and healthy for young kids to ocasionally be confused about the world, and, as Sally shows, it doesn’t tend to be particularly traumatic if the adults around them don’t make it so.

    (This is also a great example of how kids can learn about these things in simple, age-appropriate ways. Which seems obvious, but a lot of people still have the weird idea that telling kids some people about sexualities other than hetero means telling them inappropriately graphic and detailed information about what exactly they do together.)

    • Steve

      Many adults think that they have to explain such things to children they have to explain sex to them. In reality, children don’t think about any relationship in sexual terms and go “ewwww gross” at any hint of it.

      • ako

        The whole “Telling kids about gay people means detailed descriptions of their sex life!” crops up in the weirdest places. I’ve seen people who seemed to be mostly pretty open-minded about different sexual orientations get weirdly hung up on the idea that telling a kid “That man is in love with that other man” or “Those two women are married” somehow means sharing the graphic details of their sex life. Which, considering how much of childhood involves hearing about heterosexuality (stories of men falling in love with women, women falling in love with men, kissing, marriage, having babies together) without turning into a sex ed lecture, is ridiculous.

      • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

        Totally. There is no way my DD could *possibly* be any more grossed out by seeing two women or two men kissing than she is when she sees me kiss her dad ;)

        You know what *is* really hard, though? Explaining to a kid born and raised in twenty-first-century urban Canada why in some places quite close to where we live, a guy is not allowed to marry another guy and a girl is not allowed to marry another girl. Because what you get is this look of great puzzlement, followed by “But … why, mummy?”

  • Rilian

    Is it because Melissa has short hair? I remember her having short hair in a picture on her blog.
    Two of my cousins refer to their mom’s girlfriend as their dad. They are like 10-12 years old. The girlfriend dresses in common men’s clothes, but I’m not really sure if she’s actually transgendered or not.

  • ki sarita

    Actually Sally is correct. Every person in the world has a biological father, somewhere.

    People may disagree about the significance of the absent biological father.

    But not to acknowledge him altogether is to perpetuate yet another immaculate conception myth, only this one is being pushed for different reasons.

    • Kate

      Are you being deliberately obtuse, or?

    • Ma Nonny

      I don’t think Libby Anne was implying or perpetuating any such myth, since Haley and Melissa are in fact the biological parents of their children. The kids really do have two mommies. Therefore, your comment is based on incorrect assumptions about biology and gender.

      • Ma Nonny

        [addendum] … and not to mention that your comment also de-legitimizes anyone out there who is raising a child they are not genetically related to, as if that makes them less “real” of a parent.

    • Rilian

      Also it is possible to make a baby in a lab or whatever using two ova. They extract dna from one and insert it into the other.

      • Steve

        Actually it isn’t. At least not with humans. There have been successful experiments with mice I think, but it doesn’t work for humans. The part that keeps the two haploid chromosome sets separate during recombination and controls that process comes from the sperm. If you just put the chromosomes together they don’t combine properly.

    • Sophie

      Obviously it does depend on what the arrangement is but in the case of a sperm donor from a sperm bank then no he isn’t a father, he just donated some biological material. In a lot of countries the donater has no legal rights or responsibilities and in some he may remain completely anonymous. So not a father at all. I don’t know enough about this particular family to be sure but as Hayley identifies as a women, even if she did provide the sperm that led to the conception of her children, she is still a mother.

      I think Libby was perfectly right in what she said to Sally, if a family has two female caregivers who self-identify as the children’s mothers then it is a family with two mommies. Explaining anymore than that would likely to inappropriate for Sally’s cognitive level, and is something that be approached later.

    • Jess

      Did you miss the post where it is obvious that these women -are- these children’s bio parents? Even if your point held any water (and it doesn’t), you’d be wrong in this case. Furthermore, children raised by a loving households are the ones who do the best. Regardless of how many mommies or daddies they have. This idea of “masculine” influence is really a lot of claptrap.

    • http://amethystmarie.com/ Amethyst

      When a little kid says, “Is that the daddy?” ze’s not asking “Did that man’s sperm create those children?” Ze’s asking about family. My brother and sister-in-law adopted their son from foster care. If a little kid asked who my nephew’s daddy is, I’d say my brother. Should I refer to the man who conceived my nephew instead? Would it be “perpetuating a myth” to call my brother my nephew’s daddy when, in fact, he’s never conceived a child?

  • Malitia

    You can end up with interesting family setups even without LGBTQ issues. I effectively had a mommy and three grandmothers (and some aunts and uncles) and that was it. Oh. And the only one I was actually blood related to was my mom. I distinctly remember trying to explain this to other children… I didn’t have much success.

    • Alexandra

      My best friend had a similar set up! Her parents were divorced and she lived with her mother and aunt, next door to her grandmother and another aunt. She used to tell people she had two mommies, which didn’t go over well in our Catholic school!

  • Sophie

    It is interesting that Sally identified Melissa as the daddy, I wonder if it is as another commenter suggested that to her the titles of mummy and daddy do not relate to someone of a particular gender, that they are just names that are given to parents. It is amazing how children process information at her age, and how easily they accept new information too. Has she asked any questions about it since?

    When my litte brother was in his first year of school at age 4 and a half, he was asked to draw a family tree. The class had a basic model to work from to show them how to demonstrate the generational levels and the connections between people. Anyway at the end of school that day, his teacher gestured for my mum and me (I was 20 at the time and often picked him up) to come into his classroom for a chat. She had his picture on her desk and asked him to explain who everyone was. So he pointed to his grandma, grandad, nana, mummy, daddy, myself and our two other brothers and our dog. But there were two other people on the same level as his parents, a woman beside his dad and a man beside his mum. We asked him who they were and he answered “That’s my other mummy and my other daddy!” He had drawn his dad’s ex-wife and my dad, our mum’s ex-husband! The teacher had thought it was really funny but wanted my mum to see it in case she was bothered by it. My younger brothers had often been confused by how me and our older bother could have a different dad, and grandparents and cousins who were not their grandparents and cousins. Generally they solved this by claiming our additional relatives as their own. For quite a long time they were very concerned that their mum and dad might split up because both their parents had split up from their previous spouses.

    They really surprised us at the ages of 10 and 12, when I was visiting for my birthday. My dad had taken me out for the day and when we’d got back to my mum and stepdad’s house, they were both back from work. My mum asked my dad to stay for a cup of tea and for us to do my birthday cake (which in itself was fairly shocking since she really dislikes him). Anyway both my little brothers came bursting into the kitchen having heard my mum say cake and stopped abruptly when they saw my dad (who they adore) and they grabbed their dad and dragged him into a different room. A few minutes later my stepdad came back into the room howling with laughter, my little brothers had expressed concern that my dad was there to win our mum back and that my dad and our mum were about to ride off into the sunset on his motorbike! My other absolute favourite incident was when my two and a half year old brother turned to me at breakfast one day and asked me where my children were! I was 16 at the time but he perceived me as an adult and adults had children. I was similarly confused by my stepdad when I was 6 or 7 because I knew he had been married before and married people had children. To make matters worse he told me that he did have two children and that they were locked in his ex-wife’s cellar. It was weeks and many nightmares later, that he realised I had believed him and was terrified that he would do that to me. There are many more stories like that but I just wanted to demonstrate how confusing famiy dynamics, particularly the roles people have within the family, can be to children especially families that are not the nuclear family that they often see in children’s TV and films.

  • plunderb

    Some of those books might be a little longish/boring for a toddler or preschooler. My 2-year-old and her class (which includes some kids with LGBTQ parents) enjoy “Mommy, Mama, and Me,” by Leslea Newman and Carol Thompson, which is a board book and more on the level of “Mommy helps me get dressed! Mama makes my lunch!” There’s also “Daddy, Papa, and Me,” from the same author.

  • saraquill

    There’s the book “Dad’s Roommate,” in which the boy has an amicably divorced mom and dad, and dad is in a loving relationship with his male roommate.

  • Jess

    Children’s brains are really amazing things. I’m a few years removed of any studies on how their brains work at Sally’s age, but as far as I recall, it’s most likely that she assumes parent’s have “titles” of mommy and daddy. She doesn’t have experience otherwise. So if she heard or knew that one of them was “mommy” the other title for a parent is “daddy”. I think what you did was perfect, there’s no need to make a big deal out of it and I don’t think you did anything “wrong” for her to make the assumption.

  • Rebecca

    Actually, in the lesbian community, there are some parents who identify themselves as dads, I think as a way of reclaiming the word and broadening what it stands for. You can all read about them at lesbiandad.com. They have other links to sites like Mombian that are excellent resources, too.

  • HopeforTomorrow

    Thank you for raising your child this way. We really need kids like her for the grownups of tomorrow.