School’s Back, Are You In or Out?

So Labor Day is gone and that means Fall is here. The start of Autumn means the leaves start changing colors, the air turns crisp, and we begin the awkward ritual of back to school preparation. For students there are people to meet, social situations to navigate, and a whole new crop of people to tell “I have two moms.”

For some kids the start of school is something to celebrate, for others it invites feeling of dread and anxiety. For lesbian parents there is an extra layer of anxiety about how open to be about being a lesbian parent or parenting in a two mom family. Deciding how out to be with the teacher of your child’s class, other parents, and with other school staff members can be both complicated and nerve-wracking for any parent.

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For some of us who, perhaps for our children, are out to everyone in our lives it seems insane to think about retreating to the closet when it comes to our child’s school. The Family Equality Council encourages parents to be as out as they feel is safe within their communities and to introduce themselves and their families to school administrators and their child’s teachers. It suggests that parents tell their child’s teacher about their family, including any special names they may have (for example, what names your child uses for her parents).

Some parents may worry that their kids will be subjected to negative treatment from other students or their parents, or even from school officials if they know that the child has a gay parent. So for these parents, what should they do? Do they respect the wishes of their child and keep a lower profile or should they be more proactive in introducing their family and alerting the teacher and other officials to potential sources of conflict or bullying?

I readily admit that my perspective is limited by the fact that our daughter is about to start at a liberal preschool and is only three. But for a child her age, who assumes that all kids have two moms, we are very open with her teachers, classmates, and other parents about the makeup of our family. Not only does it send the message to her that her family is not something she needs to hide or about which she needs to feel shame but it also helps her to have the vocabulary to talk to others about her family when she sees how we do. I would not imagine sending her to a school without letting her teacher understand her family so that awkward moments that might crop up during the course of the school year, like when the class makes Father’s Day cards, can be handled in a way that minimizes discomfort.

Could the day come when she asks us to be less open about our family? Could she reach a time when she would rather that her classmates don’t know that her parents are both women? Sure. Parents are the source of constant embarrassment to kids, especially at the lovely middle school and high school years, so having two moms might just fall in line with having loud or nerdy or awkward parents. The question becomes whether pulling back from being out everywhere is something that is nonnegotiable for parents or whether it is something they can stomach for either their child’s safety or simply for the child’s peace of mind.

What do you think? Do you think parents should be “completely out” for their kids at school? Would you consider being less than completely out if your child asked you to?