Last Wednesday, marriage equality came to our state, and for the first time same sex couples in Indiana could have their relationships recognized as marriages and protected under the law. As a pastor in the United Church of Christ, it was my honor to officiate at weddings for several couples eager to celebrate this new legal status (and to have their ceremony quickly, in case it is taken away again).
I was happy to rearrange plans and schedules to accommodate these ceremonies quickly, but I had to talk to my son about why I would be unavailable as we had planned. This conversation, I quickly realized, was just one part of a much longer dialogue that had been going on since he was very small.
My husband and I have been intentional as parents in introducing my son to all kinds of families. Whether in person or through our Facebook network, we talk about friends and acquaintances whose families come in all shapes and sizes. We acknowledge families with a mom and a dad, like ours, or families with two moms and two dads. We also point out that some families have stepparents and stepchildren, or one mom and no dad, or one dad and no mom, or a grandma and an aunt, or a new sibling adopted from afar, or parents and siblings with different colors of skin, families with lots of children or no children at all. We talk about how all of these count as families, no matter what configuration they take. (Although we probably don’t use the word “configuration” with our first grader.)
Whether or not you think marriage equality is a good thing or not, whether or not your faith tradition celebrates or cringes as it spreads across the land, whether you think families should look like Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch or Modern Family, the reality is that our children will never know a world without all these kinds of families. How are we, as parents, preparing our children to navigate family relationships in this world? As a parent, I want to raise a child who recognizes a family when he sees one, even if it looks different from ours.
I want to share our own “family values” with my son, and one of them is that we value all families, regardless of the shape they take. Another family value is acknowledging that people within families love each other, argue with each other, forgive each other, and sometimes hurt each other–no matter what their family looks like. Other family values include trust and honesty, spending time together, honoring commitments, helping others, and having fun. For our family, one of the most important values is also our desire that all families would be able to get the same rights of marriage, adoption and parental custody that we enjoy, and our commitment to helping build that kind of world, in church and under the law.
Because we had been talking about these family values for a long time, my conversation with my son went something like this:
“I’m sorry I can’t be home for dinner tonight like I promised, but I have something very important to do. Remember how we’ve told you that some families, like families with two moms or two dads, weren’t allowed to get married? Well, today, all of the sudden, the law changed and they can get married.”
My son’s face broke into a huge grin. “Really? Wow! That’s so cool!”
“So tonight, I’m going out to help two couples get married–because we don’t think they should have to wait one night longer.”
“Yeah!” he responded, with enthusiasm, “You’ve got to marry them, now!”
Because that’s what we value–helping others and valuing all families.
What are the family values you are trying to cultivate in your children? Is one of them an understanding and value for all kinds of families? How do you both teach them and show them how to follow your family values in the world we inhabit together?