5 back to school lessons learned by a LGBTQ family

Guest post by Lisa
true colors

We are mere weeks away from our little one returning to school. Back-to-school supply ads and lists are dominating our dining table. Conversation about which backpack to use for school, which past classmates will be in this year’s class and how we prioritize homework and soccer are taking place daily. For our family, back to school also means that our family has another opportunity to come out, be seen and expand our circle of friends.

Our little man is a remarkable soon-to-be second grader. He’s curious and friendly. He’s independent and playful. And he’s proud to his two mamas. As the only child of an LGBTQ-headed family, our boy often finds himself being the only child in his class whose family is led by a same-sex couple. That also means that, every year, our family is faced with unique opportunities as we introduce ourselves to the teacher, our boy’s classmates and their parents. We’ve had a couple of years to refine our approach and learn our lessons. As we jump into second grade, there are five lessons that we will definitely be putting into action.

Introduce your family.

The teacher doesn’t have a magic ball to see the make-up of her class. There’s no profile sheet that lists all the details of her students’ families so, she may likely not know that she has an LGBTQ family in her class community. Now, as our boy continues on in his school and we become more enmeshed with the campus community, teachers of other grades may become familiar with our family. But, for us for now, it is important to tell little man’s teacher that we are a LGBTQ-headed family and that we are aware of our uniqueness — and proud of it. Last year, I did this through a letter. I invited the teacher to feel free to approach us with any questions that she or the other kids may have and to let us know if she sees or feels that our boy is encountering any difficulty due to our family structure.

Unique is good.

We emphasize to our little boy that our family is unique and special. Some may see us as different. Some may see us as scary. But we see us as awesome! And so we continually reinforce that differences are to be respected and honored. We know that there will be times when these refrains will be hard to hold to, but we hope — and, so far, see — that he is a strong and confident young man who is proud of the family that he loves.

Get involved.

This is challenging for some families because it is common for kids to come from a family of working parents or guardians. But, we have learned that when we get involved with the class, the students and the families, we build relationships that break down the initial walls of formality and separation. When those walls come down, and we know each other’s names and personalities, it is more difficult to feel awkward or disconnected. This serves the children, the families and the teacher. Not only do we do our best to be involved in classroom events and activities, I make an effort to serve the broader school community; by becoming involved in the PTA, we build relationships and friendships with other parents in other grades and with the school administration.

Build a classroom community.

Part of building a classroom community is getting — and staying — involved. Schools are small, contained towns that thrive on personal connection and nurtured relationships. It’s difficult to be mean to someone you know personally. And it is much easier to deal with conflict and challenges when you have a relationship with others in your community.

Be okay with not everyone being okay.

As we tell our son, not everyone is going to like, accept or respect our family because we have two mamas. And that is okay. This is a lesson that my wife and I have to repeat to ourselves over and over again. As parents, we want our little boy to be valued, respected and cherished by others, but we know the reality of homophobia, discrimination, hatefulness and ignorance. And we know that our boy will encounter these challenges as well. We do what we can to ensure that he knows that he can come to us with anything and that our family will deal with it together.

The back-to-school period is always filled with excitement and anticipation. We all hope that the year will start off splendidly and just get better from there. To give it a nudge in that direction, we hope that taking these small and significant steps to becoming an integral part of our school demonstrates the pride that we have in our family and the aloha that we have for others.

Here’s to wishing a wonderful school year for all of you!

Comments on 5 back to school lessons learned by a LGBTQ family

  1. Thank you for sharing these helpful tips. My partner and I don’t have kids (yet) but are approaching that in the next year. I especially liked the “be okay with not everyone being okay”. Also, as a teacher, I would love all of my new parents to use your tips. Getting to know the students and their families is super important in the beginning of the school year.

    • oh, Meghan … learning to be okay with not everyone being okay was SOOO difficult for me. but we have learned that if we don’t find some level of acceptance with the fact that not everyone is going to appreciate our family, we waste an extraordinary amount of energy and time that could otherwise be spent enjoying our life. it’s wonderful to hear feedback from other teachers regarding introducing our family in the beginning of the year. we never quite know how it will be received, but my wife and i know how crazy the start of the academic year is; we are all trying to get to know our students and get started on all the things that need to get done, there’s little time that is available to get to know the families of the kids that we sink all our love and energy into for the next year. good luck with the family-building!

  2. As a teacher, it was wonderful when parents would start the school year with a brief letter introducing their family.
    Then we knew who the important people the student was talking about, how to spell siblings names when the student wanted to write about them for morning news and whether to make one or two Father’s Day cards

    • Mich … one of the reasons that we started this routine was because we quickly realized that not only was our family structure unique in our school community, there were teachers that were not sure how to incorporate or acknowledge the differences in the day-to-day activities for our son, such as father’s or mother’s day projects, units about family – or even the little things, as in how to address or refer to us in parent-teacher meetings. for the most part, our experiences with our school community has been amazing, but we definitely want to do our best to set our son and ourselves up for success rather than allow any opportunity for awkwardness or difficulty to arise. we LOVE teachers who are conscientious and respectful of all the different shapes and forms that families come in! thank you for your work with our kids!

  3. This is really great! My daughter is still only a year old, but as a two-mama family, this has been in our minds. Being okay with everyone not being okay is something we’re working on now, though- we already get looks and comments when we’re out, and it’s hard to not feel super aggressive about it sometimes.

    • oh, Anne, i completely understand the struggle when encountering the looks and the comments. my wife and i still struggle with our reactions – and also how to talk to our son about people’s comments, looks and actions as well as what we feel and think and how it hurts (or doesn’t – sometimes ignorance and homophobia are so ridiculous it makes me laugh). now, we try to use those moments as dialogue starters with our boy. and sometimes, we keep our reactions to ourselves until the end of the day and we vent to one another. on the rare occasion that an immediate reaction and action has been warranted, we do what we can to the best of our abilities and then we work really hard to create a space where all of us feel comfortable talking and finding support in one another. but, we’ve been lucky – negativity about us as a family is unusual and we rarely encounter it. i can only wish the same for every other LGBTQ family out there. and in the meantime, we move through our lives with gratitude and aloha and do what we can to soak up the bliss that we get to experience living and loving as a family!

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