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“When two people get married, does it only have to be a man and a woman?  Or can it be two men?  Or two women?”

That was the question my son asked me while we drove to dinner to celebrate him turning seven-and-a-half.

I tried to stall.  “Wow, Ryan.  That’s such a good question.”

He waited for a response, and I tried to figure out the best way to answer. 

I was choosing my words carefully.  Because when you answer a child’s question, especially a potentially polarizing question such as this one, I’m actually influencing his belief system.  I’m giving him information that will affect how he looks at and treats the people in the world.  I’m essentially telling him what’s good and bad. 

I also recognize that I’ve got a relatively small window of opportunity to take advantage of my son’s full attention.  For now, he’s attentively listening to all I say and he’s actively watching all I do.  He’s taking his cues from me, and I’ve got an enormous amount of control over what he grows up believing to be right or wrong.

I didn’t want to give my son too much information.  I wanted to give him a simple, honest answer because he had asked me what he considered to be a simple, honest question.  But when it comes to parenting, there’s already a fair amount of information-withholding and lying involved.  For instance, just last week the “Tooth Fairy” came and exchanged his front tooth for a shiny gold coin.  Each December 24th, we set out a plate of Oreo cookies, a cup of milk, and a few carrots for the reindeer.  And each December 25th, my son wakes up to find Santa has eaten his snack and, in exchange, left behind some presents.

So I thought about what my son was asking me, what I believed to be true, and what I wished for my son to grow up knowing was true.

“The rule for getting married is that it has to be two people who love each other.  Two people who promise to love each other and want to be a family together.”  My husband squeezed my knee in agreement.  My son was content with my answer.  And I felt like I had given the most truthful answer I could.

My son dropped the subject, and for the rest of the night, our conversation turned to a dozen other subjects, as it’s apt to do when a curious seven-and-a-half year old is involved. 

But I couldn’t let it go that easily.  My son’s seemingly innocent question lingered in my mind.  How much does my son need to know?  Does he need to know that the courts have been trying to answer the same question he so casually asked on our way to dinner?  Does he need to know that some people think it’s absolutely wrong for two men or two women to love each other?

I don’t think so.  As it is, he knows that not too long ago, people thought it was wrong for his parents to love each other.  Ryan knows that “in the old days” (his words not mine), Daddy and Mommy would have sat in separate sections of the bus, gone to different schools, and certainly not been allowed to marry.  He knows that the United States is not always a fair place, that people can be mean, but, also, that laws can and have changed.

A few days later, the conversation again turned to marriage and wedding.  We talked about my good friend’s upcoming ceremony. 

I asked my son, “Who are you going to marry someday?”

And without hesitation, he answered, “I don’t know yet.”

It was the perfect simple, honest answer. 

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Wendy Kennar (349 Posts)

Wendy is a freelance writer who finds inspiration in her nine-year-old son and from her experiences from her twelve-year teaching career. Her writing has appeared in several publications and anthologies, both in print and online. She prefers sunflowers to roses and thinks chocolate is okay at any meal. You can find her at wendykennar.com.


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