Just as most of the books in our library are white washed (although I’m working to fix that!), they are also heterocentric. The child characters are mainly interacting with mothers and the children are being raised by a mommy and a daddy. The same came be said for 99% of media programs my son watches.
One day, my son and I were playing with his matchbox cars. He was assigning names to the cars and was letting me know which character I was to play. “You be the daddy car, mommy. I’ll be the mommy and this is the baby.” My son, who is three, does not follow gender when assigning our family to various pretend roles. As in, my husband is often asked to play a female character and my son himself often chooses to be a female character. He does, however, usually want to play out a mommy/daddy/baby scenario. And why wouldn’t he? That is the dynamic of his particular family and the vast majority of the families we know mirror this structure.
But in this interaction, it dawned on me how powerful the heterocentric messages were in my son’s life to be translated into our play with cars, which are inanimate objects. I have been practicing naming race with my children, but I also need to name the diversity possible within a family structure. Here’s what I said:
Me: “You know, not every family has a mommy and a daddy. Some families just have one parent, just one mommy or one daddy. And some families have two mommies or two daddies!”
Son: “WHAT?” displaying genuine surprise.
Me: “Yes, sweetie. There are lots of ways to make a family and that can look very different from our own family. Like Susie (name has been changed) in your class! She has two daddies. And Charlie (name has been changed) has two mommies!”
Son: “I didn’t know that. Ok, you be the daddy car, Mommy.”
Overall, that conversation was pretty painless, but I need to keep reinforcing the concept for my son to really absorb the message. It’s easy for me to overlook the mommy/daddy categorization in books or on television programs because it reflects our reality, but challenging this as the default or the norm is important. Thankfully, several of my son’s classmates have same-sex parents, so he will have exposure to different family structures naturally. But I also need to invest in some books that show diversity in families so we can proactively and regularly foster my children’s understanding that families don’t always have a mommy and a daddy.
To that end, what are your favorite books that show alternatives to heterosexual, co-parents? What television programs appropriate for toddlers show alternatives to heterosexual, co-parents? I’d love your recommendations.