Sunday, April 29, 2007

I thought I had a few more years

As I was putting my 6 year old son to bed recently, he suddenly and apropos of nothing whatsoever asked me whether marriages had to be between a man and a woman.

Now there's a question.

I believe strongly in teaching my children the values of tolerance and diversity, so I told him the truth. Usually marriages are between a man and a woman, but sometimes two women or two men want to get married. Unfortunately, our government doesn't allow them to.

"Why mommy?" (Here is where I begin to fumble a bit.)

"Because the religious (establishment) don't believe in it, and they want to keep the government from making laws they don't agree with." (You can see where this is going, right? Here is also where I add that Israel doesn't have the same separation of church and state that the US does, and religious coercion in your daily life is a much more immediate issue, and obviously a personal hot button for me.)

"Why do they think it's not okay mommy?"

"Do you remember Itai when we talked about the fact that religious people have a lot of rules that they follow and our family doesn't? Like they're not allowed to ride bikes or go to the beach or even *gasp* watch videos on Saturdays? (My subversiveness is astounding in its subtlety.) Well, this is another one of those things where different people have to decide for themselves what they believe. In our family we believe that people can decide for themselves which rules to follow and who to love. But yes, when most people get married it is a man and a woman."

This parenting thing is not for the faint of heart. On the one hand, I do strongly support the right of a consenting adult to love (or even just have sex with) any other consenting adult he or she so chooses, and I do want to raise my children to be accepting of others regardless of their sexual orientation (or race, creed or anything else for that matter). On the other hand, he is the product of a loving heterosexual household and is surrounded in his daily life by other loving heterosexual households, and there is no reason for him not to see this as the "norm". Another minor but not completely insignificant issue is sadly the problems it could create for him if he suddenly went into school spouting off about same-sex marriages in my somewhat provincial and not all that liberal town. Nor do I want to him to think badly of the religious for their rejection of this. (Bringing religion into this of my own volition was probably not my best tactic I admit, but I was caught off guard.) Rather, I want to raise my children to think, to question, to choose. Not to blindly follow, and even less to blindly hate or reject. I will love my child the same no matter what path he follows in life. I want him to know that and never doubt it, and I want him to learn to extend that same tolerance toward those he meets along the way.

I think this conversation might have been easier a few years from now. At six everything is still very black and white. Which is right? Which is wrong? There are not yet shades of gray.

I really wish I remembered where I put that damn parenting manual...


Fairly Odd Mother said...

I've had a similar conversation with my 6 year old! She asked me if girls could marry girls and I told her, "well, yes they can, in Massachusetts" (where we live). I don't think she really understands what that means but I suppose it'll be discussed more b/c there are groups that are trying to outlaw gay marriage in our state (I support marriage between any two consenting adults).

Jen said...

I like you. I like your answer. My 6 year old hasn't dropped that question on me yet (and I truly mean yet, 'cause it's coming!), but I hope my answer is as coherent as yours. He keeps dancing around the "how are babies made" question and I'm not going to be able to tango around it much longer before he gets the real answer. He's too bright to give him a story.

Robin said...

Now see that one has me quaking in my boots Jen (or it would if I wore anything besides crocs these days). In theory I'm all for giving kids the truth, but I really don't know that they're ready for that particular anatomical truth at age 6. (Thankfully Itai hasn't asked yet.) When I get questions like those I'm a big fan of the "what do you think?" approach. It helps me to formulate an answer that's on the level they're actually looking for, not the one I'm guessing they are.

alisonwonderland said...

robin, you did good! i appreciate both your thoughts and the way you expressed them to your son. well done!

btw if you find that parenting manual, make a copy and send it to me! :o)

Space Mom said...

You did well. I am also in Mass and when S says "I want to marry R (her best girlfriend)" I say "okay!"

We are slowly getting the baby questions, but I am just straightforward about that!

Jen Magnuson said...

Oh, I dread stuff like this. I, too, am always caught off guard. I've probably bungled so many, on the other hand, did a fantastic job.

Janet said...

I think you answered him amazingly well!

Christine said...

Robin, very well said.I like your answer. Not an easy question (and one I haven't been asked YET) hoping I can do as well of a job as you.
If we have freedom of religion, then why shouldn't consenting adults have freedom to marry whomever they want.