Brett Berk: Activities and decisions that may seem simple and straightforward for straight parents are often fraught with additional pressures and concerns for gay parents. Case in point: this letter I recently received.
Dear Gay Uncle,
I have a major problem. My partner and I have two sons, 10 and 7 years old. They know we're gay and kind of understand what that means. But our 10-year-old wants to have a sleepover for his 11th birthday in June. When we last discussed sleepovers, my partner and I decided that they were a bad idea, mostly for just one reason: We're concerned that something might occur that one of the boys will perceive as inappropriate, he'll tell his parents and then we'll have to spend our kids' college funds on legal bills.
How real a problem is this, seeing how we have met all these parents before and our son has known their children for years? The straight world has been taught that "we're all child molesters" for years. Surely this scenario is a possibility. Should we let our son have the sleepover?
Sleepover-less in Seattle
I wrote the dad back right away, explaining how sorry I was that he even has to worry about things like this, and of course advised him to go ahead and have the party. My thinking is that, when confronted with situations like this, it's best to take the problem off your own conscience and put it onto that of the (bigoted) parents who may take issue. The friends' families all know the deal, so if they're weirded out by the idea of two dads hosting a sleepover, let them keep their kid home. Every family with gay parents is not an automatic role model personally burdened with the responsibility for working to change the world's perceptions, and they certainly shouldn't feel obliged to campaign tirelessly for their "normalcy" amongst their child's peers. At the same time, the best way for these situations to become "normal" is by acting like they are normal. No one likes surprises, obviously, so some explanation is relevant. But so long as the folks on the receiving end of the invite know that Hectór Has Two Daddies, I see no issue with just sending it out and letting the chips fall.
Of course, as someone who has been working with kids and families for over 20 years, I recognize the value of choice and alternatives. So I also suggested another option: Give the party an "armor" theme. Kids that age love the medieval stuff, so on the invitation, they could simply state that each family is required to dress their son in correct period costume -- e.g. a lockable suit of plate mail, to which they (and only they) have the key. Then, everyone will be sure that nothing at all untoward could possibly occur. Of course, this will also preclude any of the kids actually using the bathroom, so each family will need to have their son wear an adult diaper beneath his get-up. I believe those can hold at least an overnight's worth. (Kidding, of course!)
I also provided my general advice for anyone hosting a tweener sleepover: Limit the number of kids. Any more than four or five, and you'll need to hire a zookeeper (which might not be a bad idea, regardless).
What about you? What advice would you give these dads?