LGBTQ+ Families and How to be Proactive at School
A guest blog by David Strah, Associate MFT, Associate Clinician at GayTherapyLA
When we consider LGBQ+ families, it’s important to consider how parents can be proactive at school. I can happily report that my two kids loved school and overall their academic experiences have been positive. Looking back, there are 8 things we did every year (when our kids were younger) to prime their schools for a gay-dad family and ensure our children’s success:
1. Be Proactive – It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. Talk to your kid’s teacher, guidance counselor and principal about your family before school starts. This is an opportunity to set the tone that you are proud and open, but also have your children’s best interests at heart. Explain how you would like to be referenced. Are you a Daddy David and Daddy Barry family as we are, or a Daddy and Papa family? How do you explain your family’s story? Was your family created through surrogacy, or adoption, birth mother or no mother? It’s important that you let your school know how you want your family’s story to be told before an inaccurate or false narrative is set. A simple explanation is usually the best: We are a two-dad family and our sons were adopted at birth. End of story.
2. Have Representation – For younger children, make sure your family is represented in the classroom. An easy way to do this is to give some of your favorite LGBTQ+-friendly books to your teacher. You might ask the teacher to read one of them to the class.
3. Coping with Difficult Situations – Ask your teacher before school starts how they would handle a difficult situation involving your child, so they think about it in advance. Talk about age appropriate questions you anticipate. We were surprised and thought that once our family was explained in the first or second years of preschool, our children would not get any more questions. But we learned that as children grow older and mature cognitively, they ask more sophisticated questions about family configurations and reproduction.
4. Give Teachers Talking Points – If necessary, give your teacher some talking points such as “some kids have a mom and a dad, some kids have a mom and no dad and some kids have two moms and no dads or two dads and no moms.” You can also give your teacher some resources for further references such as Human Rights Campaign (HRC) or the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN). It’s great to increase awareness about same-sex families, but keep in mind that your child might not feel as comfortable as we do, or want to be the teaching example.
5. Empower Your Children – Empower your child to handle any situation and decide what if any information they wish to share. We used the educational booklet W.I.S.E. – UP! (from the Center for Adoption Support and Education) and read it to our children and encouraged role play. It stands for: Walk Away, Inform, Share, Educate. Most children are naturally curious so you can count on your kids getting questions such as “Why do you have two dads? Which one is your real father? Where is your mother? Why did your mother give you up? Why didn’t your parents want you? Whose tummy did you grow in…” And for kids of different race than their adoptive parents, “Why is your skin color different from your dads’?”
6. Be Present – Be as present and involved as possible at school. Studies show that kids whose parents demonstrate a vested interest in their school do better academically. But it also helps to know the other parents, families, faculty and staff. Join the PTA, auction or diversity committee. Host the class potluck. Organize the bake sale. Arrange play dates. Volunteer. Try to do as many drop-offs and pick-ups as you can.
7. Enlist Allies – Enlist allies at your school. Is anyone else LGBTQ+ or LGBTQ+ friendly? Who could you speak to if there is an issue? Is there a Diversity Group? If there is, you should join it to make sure same-sex families are on the agenda.
8. Contact Others – Speak to other same-sex families already at your school. Ask for names from the directory so you can contact them and hear how their experience has been. We often hosted all the same-sex families at our home for a meal so the kids could get to know each other and be part of a community that reflected their family configuration.
Although the above suggestions require time and effort, hopefully doing them will lead to your child (and you) having an A+ school experience!
David Strah, MA, AMFT, is a registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (IMF101904), with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, and a clinical associate employed and supervised by Ken Howard, LCSW. David is here to help you overcome life’s challenges and live a fuller, happier, and more fulfilling life. His style is to work with you collaboratively to identify your goals and empower you to achieve them.
He has a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in LGBT Affirmative Therapy from Antioch University, Los Angeles. This means he is educated and sensitive to the stressors and issues unique to our community. While training at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, he helped clients decrease and overcome anxiety, depression, substance abuse, ADHD, and codependency. His professional experience also includes helping you with coming out, sexual identity, gender dysphoria and gender transitioning, and the intersectionality of race, religion, and sexual identity, and improving relationships with romantic partners, family members, and co-workers.
He is the co-author of the book, Gay Dads: A Celebration of Fatherhood, and is the father of two children (now teenagers) adopted at birth. His book has helped hundreds of gay men navigate the process of becoming a parent through adoption, foster care, surrogacy, and co-parenting with women.
Together, we can look at your life’s story and rewrite your narrative to increase your sense of self-confidence, happiness, love, and joy in your life. To learn more about David or to schedule an appointment, he can be reached at 917-922-2650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.