“How is Rachel related to Rowan and Isaac?”
The question comes from the seven-year-old son of our good friends. We’ve known him—and his younger brother—since the days they were born. These two little boys have grown up next to my boys. They’ve been in and out of each other’s houses, at each others’ birthday parties, have watched movies and eaten pizza in each other’s basements. Over the years, they’ve met and hung out with Rob (our kids’ biological father and our sperm donor) dozens of times.
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So I know that this little boy, looking up at me impishly, knows exactly how Rachel is related to Rowan and Isaac. I know that his parents have discussed with their kids how different families are created, what it means to be LGBTQ, what discrimination is, what difference is.
“She’s their mom,” I say, even though I know that’s not what he’s getting at.
“But how is she related to them?” he repeats.
“She’s their mom,” I say, again. “She takes care of them and loves them and goes to their soccer games and she’s been there since before they were born.”
“But they came out of you.”
“Well, what about adoption?” I ask.
Adoption, he says, is different: With adoption, you have a real mom who gives the baby to the new mom.
That’s true, I concede. “But what about you just skip all that stuff about the real mom and the new mom and think about people who fell in love and wanted to have a baby, so they got a little bit of help to do it, and now they’re both the real moms?”
He giggles at this one, but doesn’t challenge it. “It would be funny if you could just give Rowan and Isaac to Rachel.”
“I can’t give them to her,” I say. “They were always her kids. We’ve always just shared being their moms.”
This seems to satisfy him, and I’m happy to let the subject drop.
Conversations like these might bother me more if they happened more often. Mercifully, though, they’re fairly rare in my life, although I’ve heard too many stories from other two-mom families where their kids are asked constantly—sometimes harassed—by other kids about how their families “work”: But how can you have two moms? Where’s the dad? Who’s the real mom?
I can easily see how the subject could become contentious: Forcing a kid (or a grown-up) into an inane conversation peppered with unanswerable questions seems like a surefire recipe for frustration, or worse. I, for one, do my best to be matter-of-fact and move on. Because, frankly, either you get queer families, or you don’t. If you do, we generally don’t need to explain the more philosophical questions about exactly what constitutes a “real mom.” And if you don’t, well, then you’re generally not looking for answers to your questions. Too often, you’re trying to get me defensive about my family. And I have better things to do than defend my family’s reality against people who can’t really deal with the fact that it exists, right there in front of them. Reality bites sometimes, dude.
But I will talk to kids, because kids do what kids do, which is test, and ask questions, and gauge from your words and your openness and your body language just how comfortable you are with a given subject. When kids ask questions—questions they already know the answers to—they’re trying to figure out the bigger picture, to solidify their own place in the world relative to everyone else’s, and how we all fit together.
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We fit together because we take leaps of faith with the people we love, and we build relationships with them. We create families together in myriad ways, and—if we’re lucky—our families get to be part of a larger community of adults and children. If we’re even luckier, that community becomes our extended family. Which is why, every so often I get to talk to neighbourhood kids about existential things like why my children’s parents are my children’s parents. I didn’t say it to that little boy, but what I should’ve said is, “Rachel and I are the real moms for the same reason that you and I are friends: because we choose to be, and we show up, and we are.”
Thunder Bay, Ont., writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences. Read more of Susan’s The other mother posts and tweet her @MamaNonGrata.