My son is about to start fourth grade. I'm excited to shop for school supplies with him and thrilled that he's growing and learningbut like many parents, I also wonder what the school year will have in store for him.
As an LGBT parent, I worry about whether this will be the first year he will be teased or harassed about having two moms, or will hear negative phrases like "That's so gay." A number of LGBT organizations, such as the Family Equality Council, HRC's Welcoming School project, PFLAG, and others, have created excellent guides and other materials to help parents, teachers, and others work towards a world that better includes students from LGBT families (and LGBT students). I recommend them heartily. But they address only one facet of my concerns.
For all I know, my son will be teased for his glasses but not for having two moms. Or he will struggle with an academic subject and self-doubt. Or he will encounter any one of the endless possible situations that can make kids feel excluded or socially awkward.
I try not to let my worries get the better of me, though. The world has enough overprotective moms as it is. I'd rather rest easy knowing he has the resilience to get through whatever obstacles come his way, both LGBT-related and not. Okay, maybe no parent ever rests completely easyconcern for our children is part of the job descriptionbut I try my best.
Part of that effort involves teaching him what I like to think of as the ABCs:
Awareness: By this I mean first and foremost self-awareness, a sense of his own feelings and perceptions. I try to ask him "How are you?" as well as "What did you do today?" when I pick him up after school, for example.
Coupled with self-awareness, however, is awareness of others. This can mean helping him understand how his actions affect the people in his life, but can also mean teaching him about the wider world of people, families, opinions, and perspectives. Just as I insist that others be inclusive of him and our family, I want him to be inclusive of others in return. I do this in part by discussing personal experiences with him, but also by exposing him to a wide array of people and viewpoints in books, movies, and other media.
Bravery: I try to help my son be brave, whether that means answering in class, standing up for himself or others, or knowing when to walk away. I try to build his self-confidence through praise, encouragement and the assurance that everyone makes mistakes. I will love him no matter what. I hope he is always brave enough to be himself. I hope he is brave enough to admit when he is scared.
Communication: Nineteen years of marriage have taught me (sometimes the hard way) that good communication skills are essential to avoiding and assuaging misunderstandings. I hope to pass the same lesson on to my son. And if confusion or conflicts occur with peers or teachers (not to mention his moms), I hope he is able to discuss them with his other mom and me and work towards a resolution.
In addition to the ABCs for my son, I try to keep this set of ABCs in mind for myself:
Allies: I am grateful for the allies I have on LGBT issuesand try to be a good ally to others in return, on the issues that matter to them. I know that although we are one of the few LGBT families in our school, we are not alone in wanting an inclusive, safe environment for all our children.
Bridges: We need to reach out, take risks, meet people halfway, and find common points of connection even to those who may not be obvious allies. This applies not only to LGBT issues, but also to the great variety of matters that affect our schools.
In many ways, our ability to build bridges is a test of how well we ourselves have learned the lessons of awareness, bravery and communication. Sometimes I still get my feet wet.
Community: From allies and bridges can come a web of community, and a community in the strongest sense of the wordcaring and connectedis a powerful force against many ills.
Do I always remember to live by the above principles? By no means. I am still learning and growing just like my son. But September reminds me, as we begin the adventure of the new school year, how important it is to try.
May the year be welcoming and wonderful for you and your children.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.