In a 1989 episode of “Sesame Street” (see clip below), Grover holds up a sign that reads “Love” and asks a boy named Christopher who he loves.
“You!” responds Christopher, as he playfully scratches the puppet’s furry blue head. “I love Big Bird, too.”
“You love birds and monsters,” says Grover. “Can you love people, too?”
“Oh yes,” responds the tyke.
What kinds of people can you love?”
Without missing a beat, the boy earnestly responds, “Any kind.”
Children have a very simple idea of love, but they may not fully grasp the concept of a same-sex wedding. You want your family and closest friends at your wedding — and since weddings are a family affair, you probably want their children to come as well.
Being a good friend to your guests may mean helping their children understand just how wonderful your wedding is.
The key here is the outlook of their parents — who are, after all, your friends and family.
“It’s not going to be scary and confusing for kids if it’s not scary and confusing for parents,” says Christi McGeorge, an associate professor at North Dakota State University who specializes in heterosexism and homophobia. “They get, more than anything, that love is love. Both my research and life experience supports that kids don’t know they’re wrong until they’re told they’re wrong.”
According to McGeorge, the wisest approach in explaining a wedding between two men or two women to a kid is to begin educating them as early as possible. She encourages all families to first have a positive conversation about the many shapes that love comes in, so it is clear to a child that individuals of the same gender often fall in love with each another. This conversation should be casual and doesn’t have to be complicated.
“From the ages of two or three, children are already developing their opinions and are good emotional readers,” McGeorge explains. “If the goal is to raise your children with an understanding of social justice, then parents must convey the message in the most affirmative and normative of ways.”
Once a child understands that gay and lesbians exist, they then have to understand that their own family accepts and embraces all other families.
“By the time kids are pre-adolescents, they’ve started to internalize some homophobic ideas in society,” says Abbie Goldberg, an associate professor of psychology at Clark University. “If you haven’t had these conversations, it’s much harder to convince a kid who’s already hearing homophobic things from their friends and at school.”
Ideally, your friends and family, who love you, support the idea that you plan to marry, but in some cases you may need to help them along. According to John Gerson, a psychologist based in Katonah and New York, unspoken reservations or biases could impact a child’s perception, “inoculating” them, in Gerson’s words, with those attitudes.
So you may find yourself first having some conversations with your friends and family — Gerson, in fact, recommends that. Presenting the wedding and marriage in a matter-of-fact and joyful way is the healthiest option. Gerson also stresses that the children who understand best are those who are already aware of gay and lesbian people. Parents should offer their children the details they need to understand a gay or lesbian couple’s relationship, but also leave room for them to raise questions — which could come minutes or years after the initial discussion.
“Kids should already know that there’s a family member or friend who’s in a same-sex partnership,” McGeorge says. “We shouldn’t try to hide this.”
McGeorge, Goldberg, and Gerson all agree it’s a great idea to talk about a same-sex marriage in exactly the same terms as any other marriage the child knows about. They each suggest reminding children of past ceremonies they’ve attended, and sharing the news in a positive, excited tone.
“Beyond the fact that some weddings are boring, this is going to be no more exciting to kids than a heterosexual wedding, if parents set it up that way,” McGeorge says. “Parents need to be affirmative and honest.”
And, of course, parents should be aware their kids might have more questions after the wedding day is over.
To children, the thought of love — for straight or gay people — is elementary.
“When you’re two or three years old, you’re more concerned about whether there is going to be cake and what the treats will be,” McGeorge says.
1. Be clear and honest.
2. Use simple language.
3. Allow time for questions.
4. Have a positive, affirmative tone.
5. Encourage children to spend time with the couple.
6. There are plenty of books and movies devoted to children, homosexuality, and gay marriage. From explaining Proposition 8 to a gay uncle’s wedding, the five picks in our above slide show should prove helpful!
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