“Won’t someone think of the children?” cried the far right during the recent plebiscite, where the nation was invited to vote on the validity of our families.
One of the biggest cannons aimed against marriage equality was the idea that our relationships — and conception! — couldn’t be discussed with children.
I can’t speak for the rest of my allies in the LGBTIQ community, but I have been thinking of the children for a long time. Not only have I spent my career in the classroom, educating children, I have longed for a family of my own since I can remember.
Now that my wife and I have reached the stage where we feel able to provide for a young life, we have started to think about all of the ways we can put our best foot forward.
When two women decide to have children together, there are a range of options available, including insemination and IVF. Donor sperm can come from a catalogue, or from someone known to the couple.
As my wife and I flicked through the reading material in the IVF clinic waiting room, we thought about all of the questions we had for our doctor. We also found a child’s picture book about IVF, and started thinking of the questions our future child would probably ask. Like: “Mum, where did I come from?” Good question, future kid.
As a teacher, I am strongly aware of the insatiable curiosity of children. Fortunately, there are many books available that can break just about any concept down to its teachable parts.
When it comes to the art and science of making babies, children naturally question this as soon as they are able. Whispers about this exciting topic begin as young as kindergarten, with children trying to figure out how babies can grow inside a mummy’s belly, and realising they came out from one of two places.
If it isn’t talked about, some children craft stories about being grown from a magical seed, but others know that nudity is involved somehow. Once children are exposed to conversations at primary school, they start to understand the role of relationships and intimacy, piecing together small bits of information into a colourful mosaic of love, private parts, and giggling at all of the euphemisms for what is between our legs.
This is okay, but they do deserve to know their truth when the time is right.
This is why I wrote One in Many Millions. I wanted to fill the void in bookshelves to answer the inevitable questions in a way that shows children in rainbow families that they aren’t so different, and that the way they were brought into the world involved care and love.
In my experience, very young children are willing to accept diversity at face value, and it is not a bad thing. The times I have heard children talking about their same-sex parents, the response has generally been “Wow, you have two mums/two dads!” followed by benign curiosity in the form of questions like, “When you call our ‘mum’, do they both come?”
In the middle of the plebiscite, I noticed a change as children shared their parent’s opinions, which were not always inclusive. Although children have the capacity to be accepting, this needs to be encouraged and modelled to them by the people they look up to.
Representing open attitudes in children’s books shows that diversity is nothing to fear or make fun of—just another kind of family. If we aren’t allowed to talk about family diversity, that can isolate children and put them on the periphery amongst their peers.
The most fundamental lesson I have learn from teaching is that children thrive when we can talk to them about their lives. Research on donor conception also supports the view that honesty is the best policy.
In other words, spinning stories about magical eggs and storks is never going to be in our child’s best interest. Now, with marriage equality achieved, the time for acceptance and openness has come, and we need to tackle the interesting conversations about life head on.
Rebecca Miles is the author of One in Many Millions, illustrated by Anil Tortop. To order a copy, visit Rebecca Miles’ website here.
(Artwork by Anil Tortop)