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Why Society Must Alter the Way We Talk to Kids
bibliomaniac
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My husband wasn't really thinking when he dispatched our six year-old to cruise the sample bar at Trader Joe's. He knows that the store policy is that every kid is supposed to have a parent in tow in order to try the latest cracker or chowder variant, a prohibition meant to avoid things like lawsuits and anaphylaxis. But since he was just a few feet away and she was in her famished cranky pants mode, the presence of an edible distraction seemed ideal to him. Not so for the wary sample lady. She saw only a small child before her and asked, loudly enough to be heard across several aisles, "Where's your mother?"

My daughter could have answered just about anything, I suppose. She is quite capable, for instance, of naming the Midwestern state in which her birth mother lives, and if a friend asked this question, she probably would have. She could also have explained the entire story of her adoption at 12 days old and detailed the composition of her family, including the dog. Or she could have made up something wild, say that her mother had choked to death on Trader Joe's gazpacho in a store just like this one. That would have been an interesting moment -- and fair enough, since the sample lady had left herself wide open.

Instead, already sophisticated enough to know that "mom" in this case really meant "parent," my gal just pointed at the bald guy with the walrus mustache who was hurrying their way. Something tells me that my husband is not what sample lady envisioned when casting about for "mother." Nor did she expect him to growl, "She has two dads, thanks."

Now, it's no skin off my nose if someone sees the ring on my finger and asks me about the wife they envision me having. I'm a grown-up and I can handle that scenario without anxiety or defensiveness. But it's a drag for a six year-old to feel like she has to answer questions about her family unit for strangers, not only because she knows full well that the very question invokes her difference, but because, honestly, it's a personal subject. She herself might like to have this query answered, seeing as it's been four years since we've heard a word from her birth mom. So thanks, complete stranger dolling out tortellini, for wading into those waters.

Let me stipulate that I know that sample lady's question was entirely innocent; obviously, the woman meant no offense. But guess what: She needs to glance at the calendar and stop making assumptions that worked better in 1911 than in 2011. Not only are there many thousands of kids like mine being raised by two dads today, but the most recent Census numbers also reveal 2.5 million kids whose households contain single fathers and zero moms.

The issue isn't really gender-based either. If sample lady had said, "Where's your dad?" instead, she would have been barking up the wrong family tree for more than 17 million children raised by single mothers and lesbian couples. The real problem here is starting with the premise that all kids live with mom and dad period. 1.6 million children under the age of 18 are growing up in their grandparents' households, a number that has risen steadily in recent years. And I haven't even mentioned children raised by other relatives, foster children, and children in group homes.

Between the categories above, we're talking about well over 20 million children -- more than one out of four kids in the entire nation. This means that if you press a child you don't know about his or her imagined parents, you risk opening a Pandora's box of scenarios...

  Read the rest at the Huffington Post, thanks to the efforts of  Red Room, which is not only where writers are, but where writers find more readers: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/red-room/gay-parenting_b_907479.html