Priming Your Kid's School to be Gay Dad-Friendly
Updated: Nov 27, 2019
My kids are in college and high school now, but I vividly remember the days when my husband and I were anxious about them going to school. We wondered if having two gay dads would negatively impact their experience from nursery school to high school. Would they be shunned? Bullied? Or would they constantly have to explain their family to teachers, classmates and other parents?
I can happily report that they loved school and overall their academic experiences have been positive. Looking back, there are eight things we did every year (when our kids were younger) to prime their schools for a gay-dad family and ensure our children’s success.
1. Be Proactive
It's always better to be proactive than reactive. Talk to your kid’s teacher, guidance counselor and principal about your family before school starts. This is an opportunity to set the tone that you are proud and open but also have your children’s best interests at heart. Explain how you would like to be referenced. Are you a "Daddy David" and "Daddy Barry" family or a "Daddy" and "Papa" family? How do you explain your family’s story? Surrogacy or adoption? Birth mother or no mother? It's important that you let your school know how you want your family’s story to be told before an inaccurate or false narrative is set. A simple explanation is usually the best. We used, "We are a two-dad family and our son Zev was adopted at birth." End of story.
2. Have Representation
For younger children, make sure your family is represented in the classroom. An easy way to do this is to give some of your favorite gay dad books to your teacher. You might ask the teacher to read one of them to the class.
3. Coping with Difficult Situations
Ask your teacher before school starts how they would handle a difficult situation involving your child so they think about it in advance. Talk about age appropriate questions you anticipate. We were surprised and thought that once our family was explained in the first or second years of preschool, our children would not get any more questions. But we learned that as children grow older and mature cognitively, they ask more sophisticated questions about family configurations and reproduction.
4. Give Your Teacher Talking Points
If necessary, give your teacher some talking points such as, “Some kids have a mom and a dad, some kids have a mom and no dad, and some kids have two moms and no dads or two dads and no moms.” You can also give your teacher some resources for further references such as HRC organization and GLSEN. It's great to increase awareness about same-sex families, but keep in mind that your child might not feel as comfortable as we do or want to be the teaching example.
5. Empower Your Children
Empower your child to handle any situation and decide what (if any) information they wish to share. We used the educational booklet W.I.S.E.-UP! (from the Center for Adoption Support and Education) and read it to our children and encouraged role play. It stands for: Walk Away, Inform, Share, Educate.
Most children are naturally curious. You can count on your kids getting questions such as:
“Why do you have two dads?"
"Which one is your real father?"
"Where is your mother?"
"Why did your mother give you up?"
"Why didn’t your parents want you?"
"Whose tummy did you grow in…”
Kids of a different race than their adoptive parents often hear, “Why is your color skin different than your dads’?"
6. Be Present
Be as present and involved as possible at school. Studies show that kids whose parents demonstrate a vested interest in their school do better academically. But it also helps to know the other parents, families, faculty, and staff. Join the PTA, auction, or diversity committee. Host the class potluck. Organize the bake sale. Arrange play dates. Volunteer. Try to do as many drop-offs and pick-ups as you can.
7. Enlist Allies
Enlist allies at your school. Is anyone else LGBT or LGBT friendly? Who could you speak to if there is an issue? Is there a Diversity Group? If there is, you should join it to make sure gay families are on the agenda.
8. Contact Others
Speak to other gay families already at your school. Ask school administrators for names from the directory so you can hear first-hand how their experience has been. We often hosted all of the LGBT-parented families at our home for a meal so the kids could get to know each other and be part of a community that reflected their family configuration.
Although the above suggestions require time and effort, doing them will help to ensure that your child (and you) have an A+ school experience!
David Strah, MA, AMFT is a registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (IMF101904), and has a private practice in Larchmont Village under the supervision of Paul Keeley, LMFT #45541.
David is the co-author of Gay Dads: A Celebration of Fatherhood (Penguin/Putnam 2003). He has a masters degree in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in LGBT Affirmative Therapy from Antioch University, Los Angeles and a masters in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.