How to deal with stigma as a non-traditional family

So, you’ve gone through a long, emotionally-trying, but ultimately rewarding process of having a child in a non-traditional way. Maybe it was adoption or fostering, maybe surrogacy, or maybe sperm or egg donation. Maybe you’ve gone down more than one route to grow your family.


Hopefully, you’ve had a happy and heartwarming few years watching your little ones grow from infants to toddlers to young children. Even more hopefully, you’ve had plenty of support, and haven’t had to deal with too many prying questions about how your little ones were conceived.


But if you’re a same-sex couple, it’s likely you’ve had a few.


A 2019 report from Reuters showed that despite growing acceptance of non-traditional family units, same-sex couples are still facing stigma as parents. As many as 2 in 3 same-sex dads have reported experiences with discrimination, and 1 in 3 said their children had experienced stigmatization from other children too.


Preparing for school as an LGBTQ family


For any parent, the thought of their child facing hostility at school because of the way they came into the world is a hugely distressing one - worse even than facing hostility ourselves.


We wanted to put together a guide to those daunting days when your child is due to start school. An emotional time for any parent, preparing for the school years comes with a few more questions, hurdles, and worries for LGBTQ families.


Building a foundation before school begins


As we move towards a more open and accepting culture for non-traditional families, that openness is having majorly positive effects. For example, emerging studies (like this one and this one) have shown that donor-conceived children are more likely to categorize their experience as positive if they’re informed of their ‘story’ before the age of 3.


Talking openly to your child about where they came from might be in the form of casual comments, a more serious sit-down conversation, or through literature or personalised books to tell your child their story and help them build their identity.


If your child understands their story, they’ll feel much more comfortable talking about it to other children. They’re also less likely to absorb any negative comments, because they’ll know and understand how they came to be, and that there’s nothing shameful or strange about it at all.


Choosing schools as an LGBTQ family


Unfortunately, negative experiences at school are still experienced by some children of solo parents, same-sex parents, and children that were donor or surrogacy conceived. Here are some common scenarios they might have to deal with, and some ways you can preempt them:


     Questioning from younger children who are confused because their family is different.


At pre-school levels, your child’s peers are much more likely to be confused than malicious. If they have a mum and a dad, it might be hard for them to understand why some children don’t. You can prepare your child by giving them an easy, comfortable, and quick way to sum up their situation, for example, a donor-conceived child might say: ‘I have two dads and a tummy mummy who carried me’.


     Teasing or bullying from older children who associate ‘different’ or ‘non-traditional’ with ‘negative’.


This can be malicious, or simply uninformed or insensitive. Ensuring your child feels well-loved and comfortable with who they are goes a long way to countering this issue. This means they have less of a need to react with a defense or protest. But no one is immune to criticism, especially children. You can also equip them with certain phrases like ‘I have two parents who love me, it doesn't matter if they're a man and a woman'.


     Dealing with words they might not have experienced before, like gendered or homophobic slurs, or the word ‘gay’ being used in a derogatory way.


It’s important to know when your child can handle certain situations, and when intervention is needed. Unfortunately, many children won’t tell you when this point is. They might feel ashamed or embarrassed to tell you, be worried about your feelings, or think that ‘telling a teacher’ will somehow make things worse.


But homophobic language is classed as bullying and it shouldn’t be accepted by any school, no matter the age of the children. Be prepared to speak to leadership staff within the school to make sure it’s not allowed to continue.


The Rainbow Kit is an amazing resource for parents dealing with this situation. It gives in-depth advice on dealing with these issues and provides comments and experiences from non-traditional parents which you might find very comforting and useful.  

     Lack of inclusivity in school materials, leading to children feeling invisible.


Sometimes you’ve just got to roll your sleeves up and get involved. Schools that are lagging behind with their diversity may need a nudge in the right direction. Joining PTA meetings and suggesting books and resources is a great way to help schools become more accommodating. The Rainbow Kit is hugely helpful for parents, but it can be useful for schools too.


Countering these negative scenarios


Aside from giving them lots of love, support, and verbal preparation, we can’t protect our children from what they might face at school entirely. But there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of negative experiences as much as possible when you’re shopping for schools.


  1. Ask the schools if they have other same-sex parents. Ask them if they’ve ever had any issues like discrimination or hurtful comments from other children. If so, ask how they handled them, and if not, ask how they wouldhandle them.

  1. When you’re looking at primary and secondary schools, there should be established policies on bullying and discrimination. Ask about these, and ask what kind of safe spaces your child will be able to access if they need them. This could be a room, a school nurse, a dedicated teacher or staff member, or a group your child can go to if they ever feel threatened or uncomfortable.

  1. Be on the lookout for ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitudes. This is where a school culture will simply not talk about LGBTQ subjects, or acknowledge LGBTQ students or families. Some schools might think they are being respectful and ‘treating everyone the same’, but often this can result in feelings of isolation in children, or feeling like they have to keep their situation ‘secret’.


We hope that you’ve found our advice on dealing with stigma helpful. For any parent who’s had to use donors or surrogate to conceive their child, the route to parenthood is a difficult one. Now your precious little one is here, you want to do everything you can to protect them. We hope that in the future, what makes us different isn’t just accepted, but is celebrated. This way, all our children will feel they can be themselves freely without fear of stigma.


Books that allow children to learn about themselves and their family story can be a huge help in instilling confidence and feelings of love and acceptance. The Magic of You lets you create a totally unique story featuring avatars of you and your little one. They can become part of your child’s daily reading that makes them feel loved, included, and understood. Create your story here today.