How To Raise A Child Who Is Different

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D.

This is another post about parenting, but from a different perspective.  A while ago I wrote about how parenting styles don’t matter. This is about something that does.  We know through research that kids who are ‘different’ can be shielded from the effects of a judgmental world through the efforts of their parents.

This piece  started out as a blog about this terrific article, “My 7-Year Old Son Wants a ‘Likes Boys’ T-Shirt, and Here is Why He’s Going to Get It.” These parents are raising a boy who already identifies as gay and has crushes on other boys, and they are doing it in a way that both affirms and protects him.

They are buying him the t-shirt he wants, a copy of one worn by Blaine on ‘Glee,’ that says ‘Likes Boys.’  They are monitoring under what circumstances he can wear it, so that he will not risk being an object of hate.   And it struck me that my partner Nancy and I used the same strategy raising our son, born in 1983.

Cory was one of the first wave of ‘turkey baster babies,’

Kids born through donor insemination (often self-insemination, hence the name) to lesbian couples.  It represented an audacious move for gay women.  Lesbians had always raised children, but they were typically children born into the heterosexual marriage that many lesbians had been in before ‘coming out.’  The ‘lesbians choosing motherhood’ movement, as it was called in the early ‘80’s, was a way of our asserting that gay people were good enough to have children raised equally by two women from the beginning.

So, one of the first issues confronting me and Nancy was – what would our son call us?

In the suburban area in which we lived, the few kids with two moms called one ‘Mom’ and the other ‘my Aunt’ or ‘my Mom’s friend.’  We didn’t want one of us to have a diminished role in Cory’s eyes, and we felt teaching him to address us in this way would install that.  So we moved to a gentrifying neighborhood in Jersey City to be surrounded by other gay people but also by liberal straights who wanted a West Village atmosphere.  We shopped for daycare centers and schools that were progressive, surrounded ourselves with gay-friendly families, made play dates with kids whose parents we knew and trusted.  That seems to be exactly what blogger Amelia and her husband have done.

And it turned out fine for us – and for Cory – just as I’m sure it will for Amelia’s son.

He didn’t really have to confront homophobia directly until his teens, and by then he’d learn to see homophobes as dangerous crazies. I learned a lesson that the parents of many children already know – say, the parents of a Jewish kid in a Christian community, a black kid in a mostly white area, the parents of a disabled child in an world ignorant and fearful of disability.  It’s a tricky balancing act:  if it’s within your ability, you want to protect your child from those who are small-minded and prejudiced, surround him or her with validation, at the same time you need to prepare the kid for all the haters in the world. But the thing is, if a child is older when they face the haters – teens or twenties, let’s say- their egos and self-esteem have already been formed.

They are able to see the bigots for what they are, without feeling shame about who they are.  And growing up without shame, with self-love – what better gift can a parent give?


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