Coming Out to my Partner's Kids
I am a 46-year-old lesbian. About a year and a half ago I fell deeply in love with what feels like my soulmate. She feels the same way, and has never been in a same-sex relationship before this. She left her husband to pursue a relationship with me. She has two beautiful children, ages 3 and 9, and we all have a great time together. She shares custody with her husband. He knows our situation and is living with a new girlfriend who has two children of her own. The problem is that my partner feels she cannot tell the kids the truth about us because they might get teased and/or they won’t want to live with us. We do not live together yet, but would like to in a few months. We would have a 4-bedroom house and act like roommates when the kids are with us. I think that being dishonest is going to hurt them more in the long run. Any suggestions?
Over the past 6 months I have received many letters similar to yours, expressing a common concern for many lesbian and gay parents, especially those of us who are just coming out. The desire to protect our children from homophobia can be visceral and intense; it can also be paralyzing.
Many issues are raised in the letter above, but I want to start with congratulations. Finding one’s soul mate (referred to in my Jewish tradition as “B’shart,” meaning “destiny” ) is one of the true great joys in life, a coming together of souls. I cannot help but wonder, though, how you would be able to contain such joy without two children being aware of your love and depth of emotion for one another?
Children are very smart; they are aware of many things that they don’t talk about. They are especially aware of things that adults around them do not want them to talk about. Not talking with them about your relationship and your love will leave them with a sense of discomfort. You are correct to wonder if your partner’s silence regarding this issue is sending them the exact message that she is afraid they will receive—that there is something wrong with lesbianism, something that needs to be hidden.
A three-year-old does not necessarily know about the terms “gay” or “straight.” What a child that age does need to know is that you love one another, that you are a couple, and that all of you together are a family. At three, she will simply see you as her family, different and similar to dad’s family. A nine-year-old will have far more information about “gayness” in the world, and will probably have some sense that this is a controversial subject. He is also probably much more savvy about the nature of your relationship than you realize, since he is able to understand more subtlety in your daily interactions. He will have many more social, and perhaps sexual, questions—most of them related to how it will affect him. He may wonder if this makes him gay, or why people think homosexuality is wrong.
I remember once driving in a car with a 6-year-old boy and his mom, when I noticed a police car behind us. I mentioned this to his mom and warned her to slow down. Her son said, “If the police stop us, will we go to jail for being lesbian?” Children need help sorting out issues of social disapproval and the effects it might have on them. If you do not assist them in this process, who will?
So, you’ve discussed the idea of living together and acting like roommates. What if your daughter sees you holding hands or overhears you talking when you thought she was sleeping, or if your son reads the cover of a magazine you thought you’d hidden? Or what if one of your children’s friends notices something and teases your children about it, if they haven’t been prepared for this kind of thing?
Your family has many strengths and positive aspects. In addition to your love for one another, it sounds as if you have the support of the children’s father. This is truly a blessing. You may have more experience than your partner in being out, while she might need to slowly come to terms with all these new issues in her life. Growing up in a lesbian home, there are most likely some challenges that your children will have to face. Who can better assist them in developing the necessary skills in facing homophobia than their two loving lesbian moms?
Obviously, only the two of you can decide what is best for your family, but I suspect you are right in fearing that dishonesty will hurt them in the long run. I commend you on challenging your partner to look at how being closeted will affect the children.
B’shart—legal recognition of our relationships is our true destiny, but it starts first at home, with us. WE need to honor and recognize our love for each other.
Who are better witnesses to this great love than our children?
Do you have a question for Ari? If so, click here to ask that question with subject "Dear Ari"!
Arlene (Ari) Lev, LCSW, CASAC, a therapist in the Albany area for over 25 years, serving the LGBT community at Choices Counseling and Consulting, as well as pieces written by the committed staff therapists of Choices Counciling in Albany.
For further information concerning this topic please contact:
Choices Counseling & Consulting