Parenting with a PhD: Talking To Kids About Same-Sex Marriage

By Kristen Berthiaume:

So, you probably couldn’t help but notice that SCOTUS handed down a pretty big deal decision recently. I’m talking, of course, about the ruling that same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states. Your kids probably couldn’t help but notice, too – they may well be asking you about it today. Without getting too political (because election season is upon us and things are about to
get REAL political), we wanted to give you some ideas about what to say when they ask. You’re probably all in different places about this “gay marriage stuff” – some for, some against, some unsure. Search below for the paragraph that best applies to you and focus on that. Please note: this is not a debate about whether homosexuality is “right” or “wrong” –the SCOTUS decision
was a legal one, not a religious one. This article is just meant to give you some pointers on addressing the topic with your kids when they (inevitably) ask.

Supporters of Same-Sex Marriage. Unless you’ve entered this category fairly recently, you’ve likely already broached the topic of same-sex marriage with your kids. You may have gay members of your family or friend group. You have probably told your kids something like this: A lot of the time, men fall in love with women. But sometimes men fall in love with men.

Sometimes women fall in love with women. When people are very much in love, they often decide they want to get married and stay together forever. After this recent decision, you can add: “And now they can!” Your child may have questions about why same-sex marriage wasn’t previously allowed. In as neutral and diplomatic a way as you can, introduce the idea that some
people aren’t comfortable with the idea of same-sex couples and don’t think the government should allow them to get married to each other. You may want to add that many same-sex marriage opponents object because of their religious beliefs. You can go into a little more detail here if you want to highlight how your own religious or moral beliefs have influenced you to be a
same-sex marriage supporter. Be sure to emphasize that being part of a society means getting along with people – even when we don’t agree with them. Give your child some ideas about what he can do if someone says something hurtful about others because of their sexual orientation (or race, ethnicity, size, appearance, etc.). He can: walk away, tell an adult, or tell the
other person he disagrees or doesn’t want to talk about it. Your child may decide to engage someone else on the topic if he’s particularly passionate but let him decide how direct he wants to be.

Opponents of Same-Sex Marriage. Your discussion may be a bit more difficult, I’m afraid. This recent decision was, no doubt, frustrating for you and you may feel bitter about being put on the spot with this conversation. Before you talk, try to get to as calm a place as you can. If you can’t be calm about this topic, find another adult you trust to have the conversation with
your kids. Explain that the Supreme Court made a decision you don’t agree with and that you’re upset/sad/angry about it. Give a few reasons you don’t agree. Keep in mind the difference between legal and religious objections – muddling the two will be confusing for your child. Be careful not to use harsh language and try not to be too judgmental of people who support same-sex marriage or of homosexual individuals. Even if you feel strongly about this issue, kids can’t handle overly intense emotions from adults – especially parents. It’s anxiety provoking and scary. Stick to a few main points to get across your opinion and values. Be sure to explain how you want your child to treat a person who she knows or believes to be gay (i.e., respectfully).

On the Fence. If you’re not sure where you stand on same-sex marriage, it’s O.K. to tell your kids that. Explain the gist of the SCOTUS decision: people of the same gender are now allowed to get married in all 50 states. Your child may wonder why that’s a new thing and you can explain how people feel differently about what marriage “should” be. If he asks where you stand, don’t feel that you have to have a prepared speech. It’s fine to say that you’re still figuring that out. Shed some light on the different points you find most important. Older kids may enjoy debating the issue with you both taking a different side. No matter what conclusion you eventually draw (or don’t draw), it’s important that your child walks away from the discussion
remembering that we are kind to others, regardless of demographics.

No matter where you fall on this issue, we know where you stand on your kids. You want them to have age-appropriate information (and no more than that) and you want them to feel happy and secure. These goals can best be met by expressing your openness to questions (they’re going to ask someone – might as well be you!) and calmly addressing them when they come.

Communicate your beliefs to your children but remember that there is no way to force them to agree with you. Being too heavy-handed with your opinions may backfire and lead to rejection of the very values you’ve tried to pass on. Giving fact-based information calmly will go much further toward helping your child form her views on hot button issues like same-sex marriage than will angry rants. After all, there may be enough about your own marriage that sends you into angry rants…

About this column: Send your parenting- and kid-related questions my way and I’ll tell you what I can: Please be aware that email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information so it’s best to keep your questions general. If your question is featured, your name and email will not be published. Submitting a question does not constitute a professional relationship in any way and this column is not meant to substitute for face-to-face therapy. If you feel you’re doing the best you can and still need help, it may be time to bring in a professional. Start by talking with your child’s pediatrician to get a referral.

Kristen Berthiaume, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with Grayson and Associates. She obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Kentucky. She completed a predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a post- doctoral fellowship in the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) Program at Duke University Medical Center. She specializes in providing assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families dealing with the following issues: ADHD, learning disorders, social skill deficits, organizational problems, behavioral difficulties, anxiety, and depression. She generally focuses on behavioral and cognitive- behavioral techniques, but maintains a flexible approach to therapy. Her other day job is as mom to her daughters, ages seven and one, and four-year-old son.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *