Returned from a blissful weekend in Suffolk to Family Guardian and Charlie Condou’s The Three of Us column again. To Charlie’s surprise, but not mine, not quite two and half year old Georgia is noticing that her family is different to others. She has a mummy, a daddy and a ‘wawa’ – Georgia’s name for her Charlie’s partner Cam. Other children do not have a wawa and nor is there a ‘wawa’ to be seen in any of the families on children’s television. As Charlie says, Georgia is far from the only child growing up in a non-stereotypical family, so why aren’t there more of them on TV and in standard – rather than special – children’s books.
At DC Network we have known for a long time that it is around the age of two that children born into solo mum or lesbian mother families first notice that they don’t have a dad. Up until now we have not been approached by male gay couples with children or contemplating a family. Three couples have been in touch in the last ten days. Things are changing and we need to act fast to support these families, but as a peer support organisation this is not easy and we have no current members with this particular experience. What seems important is not to behave as some professionals do when confronted with a donor conception family – act stumped, back-off or do something inappropriate – but look to what we do know already, and I think that’s a lot, and seek some advice from those with experience of gay parenting.
When children notice ‘difference’ they take their meaning of it from those around them. If parents are not flustered, defensive or over-protective their children can learn through simple, age-appropriate language and concepts about their particular family. They can then be told how all families are different and see how the one they are growing up in fits into this ‘coat of many colours’ modern world. This applies to all donor conception families, not just those in solo mum, lesbian or gay families. It is easier in a large city, but also entirely possible in smaller communities if parents are open and matter-of-fact about their situation but don’t seek to push their difference into others faces. Difference can be many things. Some people find it threatening, but it can be exciting or liberating too…or neutral…something that just is. The challenge for those of us with ‘different’ families is to understand what difference means to us as adults. If we find it scary and something to be shied away from, then maybe some time needs to be taken to address these feelings as conveying this notion to children will not be helpful. Children need their parents to be comfortable with the decisions they have made, their sexuality and their lifestyles. Children may choose to make other choices when they are adults but deserve parents who accept who they are and who can help their children be confident of their place in the world.