Last summer Craig and I took the girls to Provincetown, on the very tip of Cape Cod, for a weeklong family vacation.
The ferry ride from Boston was filled with parents just like us. Like us, these parents clearly did not have enough arms for all the gear they needed to bring. Parents who, like us, had spent the last how-many-hours making sure their toddlers weren’t eating Skittles off the floor. Parents who, despite the stresses of travel streaked across their faces like war paint, still tenderly squeezed their kids’ shoulders as the beach-rimmed shores of Cape Cod came into view – the first glimpse of those shores bringing with it the promise of giggles, and smiling faces stained by popsicles, and sandy naked baby bottoms, and every other wonderful thing that comes with a summer vacation with kids.
The only difference between us and the other parents on the ferry, Craig and I began to recognize, was that we were one of the few heterosexual couples.
Provincetown is widely known as a gay-friendly vacation destination, and our last summer’s trip happened to coincide with Provincetown’s annual Family Week, the largest gathering of LGBT parents and their children in the country.
That week, Elle made friends over breakfast with a little girl who had two dads. Emme frolicked in the waves with another toddler as his two mothers watched from beneath a nearby umbrella. I chatted with two lesbian mothers about our young daughters’ burgeoning fondness for spray-on tattoos (“Is this going to come back to haunt us?” we wondered aloud, standing in line as our girls waited eagerly for flying fairies to be painted on their ankles) and I discussed the good travel qualities of our foldable double stroller with two gay dads as our families shared a shady spot, eating ice cream cones.
Throughout our vacation, I mentally prepared my explanations for Elle. I came up with different kid-friendly speeches that would enlighten her, about why most of the families we saw in Provincetown had two moms or two dads – not the one mom, one dad format she would expect. I prepared myself to provide guidance about these big-ticket concepts I so desperately want my children to internalize: That people deserve respect, no matter what they look like, how they live, or whom they love.
But Elle’s questions never came. Not once during the week did Elle wonder aloud why her playmates’ families didn’t “look” like ours. She might know something our country is still trying to figure out: That there’s really only one thing that makes a family a family. And as long as a family has that one thing, it doesn’t matter what that family looks like.
Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a powerful report that acknowledges what my 5-year-old daughter, in her blissful innocence, already seems to inherently understand: That children of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents are pretty much the same as children of heterosexual parents.
The report cited research from 60 different studies, the findings of which pointed to the assertion that a child’s well-being is much more affected by the strength of relationships among family members and a family’s social and economic resources than by the parents’ sexual orientation.
One of those studies compared 39 families headed by lesbian mothers to 74 heterosexual parents and 60 families headed by single heterosexual women. No difference was found between the groups in the children’s emotional involvement, or incidence of abnormal behaviors or psychiatric disorders. More behavioral problems were reported among children in single-parent families than two-parent ones, whatever their sexual orientation.
The findings of the study come at a critical time, as the Supreme Court hears arguments in the cases of United States v. Windsor, challenging Section 3 of the “Defense of Marriage Act” and Hollingsworth v. Perry, challenging California’s Proposition 8 – two laws that effectively ban certain people’s right to marry, and in so doing, could negatively impact those people’s children.
“Marriage strengthens families and benefits child development, and it also increases a parent’s sense of competence and security when they are able to raise children without stigma,” said Dr. Nanette Gartrell, the lead author of the study and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.
The AAP’s ten-page study puts into words what my young daughter already knows. Love doesn’t look a certain way. Love doesn’t abide by any law save those that speak to the highest moral laws of respect, kindness, and emotional courage. When love is there, you know it. And that’s what a family looks like.