Play Doh Heart

When you take away the overpriced flowers and chalky candy hearts, Valentine’s Day is something worth celebrating. Love, in all its forms, is precious. So on this holiday that honors the most beautiful of human emotions, I’d like to talk families, mine and maybe yours.

I have to admit, I struggled with whether or not to publish this post. In July of last year, the Pew Research Center released a report showing that a majority of Americans (55%) now support marriage equality. However, it doesn’t take a mathematician to see that the majority is slim, the topic remains controversial, and many of you reading this will have very different views on same-sex marriage.

Good. I hope you keep reading.

My husband and I fit the definition of a traditional family, complete with two kids, a fish, and a beige split-level in the suburbs. I, for one, bristle at the label. We’re a family. We just happen to live inside the box approved by most of society.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to share why the term “traditional family” bothers me and why I support same-sex marriage.

People are often surprised to learn that I’m a fierce ally of the LGBT community. Maybe it’s because, in most other ways, I’m apolitical. Maybe it’s the modest cardigan sweaters I wear or the fact I’m married to my college sweetheart (who’s a dude). For whatever the reason, folks just assume I’m conservative.

And in some ways, I guess I am. I have many wonderful memories from the day I entered a traditional marriage, yet one bittersweet moment has stayed with me for over a decade.

When my husband and I returned to the hotel after “going way”, the elevator doors opened and my uncle and his partner stepped out. They congratulated us, and we chatted a while about the ceremony and reception. As we stood there talking, I realized that my husband and I, who had only been married a handful of hours, had more rights than two men who had been together for most of my life. So many years later, the injustice of that moment has remained burned on my heart.

I may live in a traditional nuclear family. But my entire family, perhaps like yours, includes a beautiful kaleidoscope of smaller family units: families led by single parents, blended families, same-sex couples, and friends who are like family. I believe that the more varied and inclusive the term “family”, the better.

Of course, you don’t need a marriage certificate to be a family. But it helps with practical stuff like filling out your taxes and getting medical insurance. It also clearly identifies to everyone the importance of this one person. This is my spouse. We all know what that means.

As a country, we’ve come a long way toward legalizing same-sex marriage. My uncles are now legally married in their home state, yet the inequality remains.

I hope that by the time my girls are adults, the choice to marry will not be limited by sexual preference. Perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you will teach your children differently than I’ve taught mine. Regardless of your beliefs, the reality is that as a parent today you will, at some point, need to explain same-sex marriage to your kids.

As someone who rarely feels uncomfortable talking about this or any subject, I will share with you how it went down in my family:

How I Explained Marriage Equality to My Daughter in Two Minutes or Less

When my daughter B was four, my husband had the honor to serve as best man in his best friend’s same-sex wedding.

B can be an anxious child and likes to live life three steps ahead. So, the day before, I explained that her grandparents would be coming over to watch her while we went to a wedding.

“Who’s getting married?” she asked.

“Mark and Elliot,” I said.

“Is Elliot going to wear a wedding dress?” she asked. The Disney princesses had laid claim to B by then, and dresses had become something of an obsession.

It took every ounce of parenting grace I had not to laugh. I was dying to know why she thought Elliot should be in the dress and not Mark, but I knew the question was her way of working through the idea of a man marrying another man. “No,” I said. “They are both wearing tuxedos like Daddy.”

I could see every fairytale she’d ever heard rolling through her mind.

“Someone HAS to wear a dress,” she said, getting miffed.

“Not this time,” I said. “You don’t need a dress to get married. Mark and Elliot love each other. That’s all you need to get married.”

“Ok,” she said, content that her fairytale endings hadn’t completely imploded. “Are we getting pizza when Grandma and Grandpa come over?”

And that was it.

There will come a time when I explain how precious the right to marry can be. We will discuss how the struggle to legalize same-sex marriage has impacted so many couples in our definition of family.

For now, I just want her to understand that families take many forms, yet love remains the common factor.

In the meantime, I will continue to do all I can to support marriage equality for my friends, for my family, and for my daughters’ generation. Because the ones who fit neatly inside the box of a traditional family may just be in the best position to break down the walls.

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Kathryn Hively

I started Just BE Parenting as a way to cope with the anxiety of balancing work, motherhood, and the impulse to write. That’s right, I’m not a parenting expert. I, my kids, and my family are perfectly flawed in MANY ways. As a parent, I’m trying to let go of perfection and just BE the best mother I can for my kids. The ‘B’ and ‘E’ in Just BE Parenting also represents the first letters of my children’s names. What works for me and my family may not work for you and yours. That’s ok! Even if we’re not the same, I hope you’ll find something relatable here.

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