I have zero expectations about my daughter's future relationships

August 6 2013 | Guest post by Heather Voss

Barbie novia

I don't want my daughter to be monogamous. Or polyamorous, or a swinger, gay, bi, straight or trans. "What's left?" you're thinking. What I mean is that I want to do my best not to lay out any expectations regarding the nature of my daughter's future relationships.

I'm polyamorous, meaning I have a husband (Aaron) and a boyfriend (Lyal), and everyone has consented to it. But this has nothing to do with my daughter's future (aside from the fact that she'll have more close, loving adult role models).

What I want my daughter to learn from me about relationships is how to be empathetic, loving and attentive to others' needs. Having been brought up by two very monogamous, traditional parents it has taken me a long time to recognize that their model — though a loving one — was very restrictive. For example, becoming a full-time working mother, something that shouldn't be a big deal in modern times, was a huge slap in the face to my lifelong homemaker mother.

My family is judgmental about relationship and sexual lifestyles, too. My mom recently told me she's glad I'm not gay because I wouldn't have brought my daughter into the world. When Chaz Bono went on Dancing With The Stars, my parents repeatedly stated how grossed out they were by his transgender body. When I had my unexpected pregnancy with my ex-boyfriend, my mom reacted as if the world had just come to an end. They put on a strong face for me several weeks later, but in those early days they were destroyed because they now had the knowledge that their little girl had had sex before marriage.

Regarding my own role as a parent, though, it's easy to sit here and say I'm going to teach my daughter proper words for genitals like "vulva" and "penis" and I'm going to explain sex to her, age-appropriately, and I'm going to tell her about all genders and orientations so she doesn't grow up thinking some kinds of relationships are superior to others.

But there is more childhood-based bigotry ingrained in me than I like to admit. I get uncomfortable around gay couples sometimes, even though I have no intellectual problem with them being together. I try to refer to Elizabeth's privates as her "vulva" or "vagina," but if I'm bathing her in front of a family member or friend I just call it her "privates" or "bottom." I still engage in ridiculous discussion with other parents about my daughter flirting with toddler boys, but I would never insinuate that she was flirting with a toddler girl. They'd just have to be best friends, right? That's the proper thing to say?

Much of this probably has to do with where I live: a religious college town with a mix of young liberals and very conservative older folks. There are other atheist liberals like me, but it's much more likely that any random parent at the playground is at least moderately religious or traditional, so I'm uncomfortable insinuating anything outside the norm about my daughter's sexuality.

I think my solution is to refrain from assumptions altogether when I'm in public. I'll stop playing along with other's comments about her getting married one day, or meeting a man, or whatever. At home, I'll adopt new words into my vernacular with her. I'll illustrate differences through play — I can show her two girl Barbies kissing and two Ken dolls kissing.

And above all I must continue to work to get my relationships with Aaron and Lyal to a better place. All of my talking and theorizing is moot if I don't show Elizabeth what it looks like to live and exist peacefully with loved ones. Only through effective communication can I build empathy and trust with my husband and boyfriend, and these are exactly the traits I want my daughter to internalize.

Ken & Ken by the Golden Gate Bridge
Ken & Ken by Jon Olav Eikenes

  1. As an asexual queer girl in a half-open relationship with my genderqueer partner who both plan to have children together in the near future and who never intend to marry, I say YAY to this!

  2. You really shouldn't be insinuating anything about your daughter's sexuality at all, because she is a toddler, not an adult. Toddlers do not have "sexuality", and if other mothers at the playground were interested in my child's apparent "sexuality", I would not feel comfortable with that at all. My child does not flirt with other children, he is a toddler and has no idea what that word even means. He is not interested in little girls -or- boys in any sort of romantic, sexual manner.

    Can't we let kids be kids without placing our adult words and feelings as labels for their behaviour?

    • But that isn't exactly true. Toddlers and small children are decidedly sexual. Not to be gross or anything, but masturbation behaviors have been observed in toddlers for some time. The big issue is that they do not know how to give voice to or describe this stuff. However, that doesn't mean they're not feeling it. I've personally met people who talk about knowing they were gay at a very young age – it happens! The idea that sexuality "flips on" at puberty is a myth. It certainly speeds up, but it doesn't start then. I don't think there is anything wrong with teaching kids that delaying sexual behavior is good (especially since they haven't reached physical maturity yet). But it's a myth that toddlers and small kids don't have sexuality – they most certainly do!

      • I think the problem is in projecting adult sexuality onto children.

        It's always creeped me out when adults I know encourage their toddlers to hug and kiss other toddlers. There are situations where this can be appropriate, like family and friend affection, where the toddlers are acting their age. But labeling children with "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" at this age is just creepy. I can't imagine that using these labels and setting these expectations that your child should always be acting like or looking for a boyfriend or girlfriend is healthy.

      • To be clear, as a child psychologist myself, children's masturbation is not sexually motivated. Yes, it is completely normal for children to masturbate, for them to explore the genitalia difference between girls and boys, and sometimes to touch other children's genitals at different ages. But let's be clear, this is not SEXUALLY motivated. It is part of normal development around identity, exploration and what feels nice. Read research by Toni Cavanagh-Johnson for really clear commentary on what is normal and what is concerning "sexualised behaviour" http://www.pacwrc.pitt.edu/curriculum/CTC/MOD2/Hndts/HO26_BhvrsRltdToSxAndSxltyInChldrn.pdf . As someone that works in the area of child trauma, we always describe this behaviour in toddlers and young children as "behaviour first, sexualised second".

    • People can have romantic interests at a young age. When I was three I flirted with a boy and I had no idea what flirt meant. I did know that for some reason, that had nothing to do with his personality, I liked him and not the same way I liked my friends. That affected my actions towards him. I had the same kind of fluttery feeling as with my crushes in my teens and adulthood.

  3. Just some info I came across while pregnant which rocked my world and wiped my slate clean of any preconceived notions on child sexuality: a human embryo can experience all the stages of arousal, including orgasm. Children have sexualities and I don't feel there is anything wrong with that inherently; if there is an audience to it, that is wrong. Until children can give a voice to their sexuality, it should be developed on their own, alone. The voice they eventually grow should be from that, along with information from parents given to the child in an honest, open fashion when questions are posed by the child.

  4. Heather, I definitely agree with your conclusion, that you need to prepare yourself and your daughter for whatever her sexual and romantic choices might be, and I especially affirm your goal, along with your partners, to model healthy loving relationships to her. But your premise, that monogamy is restrictive, might be setting yourself up for disappointment if she should decide that monogamy is for her. While I respect that monogamy isn't for you, I doubt that the restrictive environment you experienced as a child was the direct result of your parents' monogamy. It probably had more to do with a fear of differences and an inability to love and accept people who do not do the same things they do. At its best, monogamy is a gift that partners can give to one another, and your daughter may choose that. Whatever her future holds, enjoy, and good luck.

  5. I have long said that I am not going to 'dream about my daughter's wedding day'. Whether she wants to marry a nice Jewish boy in the Park Lane Hilton or her girlfriend at a San Francisco leather bar with a bridal party of leather daddies, or not marry at all, is entirely her business.

    (OK, to be honest I'd probably prefer the leather bar wedding to Park Lane, it'd be loads more fun)

  6. The comments I hate the absolute most about my baby/toddler are the 'oh he's flirting' ones and 'lock up your daughters!' Etc etc. the thing is, only strangers ever say this sort of shit to me and I generally just smile and say mmm hmm because I feel like saying what I really feel aka THAT'S REALLY WEIRD THAT YOU THINK A 15 MONTH OLD IS FLIRTING WITH YOU is really combative. Then later I hate that I just mmm hmmmd it and went along with it.

    • It depends on what you mean by flirting. Toddlers and babies definitely do flirt. I actually read a pretty good article on how flirting is something we do instinctively as children and then have to relearn later in life. If you think of flirting as sexual, then yes, its weird or gross. But that's not really what flirting is. Flirting is gaining the attention and interest of someone. So you make eye contact and then dart your eyes away. Giggle then hide your face. It makes it clear that you find the other person interesting which is flattering and then invites them to put effort into maintaining that interest, thus making them invested. Children "seduce" adults as a survival trait. The more adults invested in them, the more likely they are for someone to pick them up and run when the lion attacks the village.

      • "Flirting is gaining the attention and interest of someone." Makes sense, doesn't have to be sexual!

        But… most of the time when I hear people say a child is flirting, it is also accompanied by some other comment like "he sure does love the ladies" or "look at that little Casanova." And that's when it veers back toward being creepy again. Stop projecting! Which is basically the point that the OP made, is that don't set up expectations for your child.

        Now that it seems everyone in my age group is procreating, I am bombarded with situations that just seem so weird to me- like encouraging your toddler to "find a girlfriend." Thank you OffBeat Families for helping to pinpoint why these situations are so unsettling for me and offering different world-views on child rearing. 🙂

  7. Love this! Whenever I hear people say "I'll be okay with it if my child does end up gay/lesbian/etc…" I cringe a little. It sets a tone that queer is not the first choice, but will be tolerated.

    I really admire how you are prioritizing making your relationships work and letting her define what works for her with all options on the table!

    • That's true that that phrase does imply that a straight child would be their first choice. But I wouldn't completely write off people who say that- that is a big step for a recovering homophobe. And with a little more education and time, tolerance could turn into celebration. I come from a very conservative area, but I have seen homophobes recover into decent human beings.

      Would it be weird to say that I HOPE my future child and the future children of my friends are gay? Because clearly being gay is not a choice, so I just want all the predetermined gay babies to be born into loving and embracing families, not intolerant ones. (And I'm sure this thought could still be considered ignorant or biased, but I don't have any life experience with this particular situation yet.)

  8. Just want to say thanks to OP, all commenters, and especially Offbeat Families for providing a place for this kind of discussion. I VALUE YOU SO MUCH! <3

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