How can you raise your children to be resilient, confident, and proud when you are raising them in a non-traditional family? And how can everyone raise our children to value inclusivity and acceptance no matter what shape or size our family is?
I am honored that Dr. Erica Miller is back on the podcast to share her personal story of being a gay parent and the lessons she has learned from her own experience and her professional role as a clinical psychologist.
There is no one way to be a family and there is no right way to be a family. This episode will help you be intentional about raising your children to be compassionate and to stand up for what’s right while offering practical strategies for answering tricky questions and navigating complex social situations.
Dr. Erica (00:00):
Some have a mom and a dad, some kids live with their grandparents, some may live with an older sister, some kids have two moms or two dads that there’s just a whole different kind of constellation out there. And I would just try to link it to things that my kid is already a little bit comfortable with first, so I want to take what they know and then kind of add one or two steps.
Dr. Sarah (00:24):
When we are part of a family that doesn’t look like the traditional family unit that our society has labeled as normal, we can find ourselves feeling isolated, othered and marginalized. And for parents who maybe do have a typical looking family, it’s really important to know how to instill values of acceptance, tolerance and love within our children. I am honored that Dr. Erica Miller is here today to share her personal story of being an LGBTQ+ parent, raising two children with her wife, and the lessons that she’s learned from her own experience as a parent, as well as from her professional role as a clinical psychologist. It is so crucial that we as adults have these conversations, so we normalize for ourselves and our children that families come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s also important to set developmentally appropriate expectations of what our children are able to comprehend and make our relationship a safe place for them to work through their feelings and their questions, while also equipping them with the tools to be able to stand up for what’s right.
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Hi Erica. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I’m just so happy for you to come back and join us. Yeah,
Dr. Erica (02:14):
Thanks for having me again.
Dr. Sarah (02:15):
Yeah, and so you were on the podcast before we talked all about school refusal. You and I have our colleagues in this field and we’re just talking about all the connections and random friends we know in this work. But the reason why I actually asked you to come on today was not to talk about your professional work. As much as I really think that your personal story and experience here might be incredibly helpful for parents to hear and you know are a lesbian, you have two children, you’re married to a wonderful wife, and you’re raising your kids in a world where you have a family structure that’s different from what other family structures might look like.
Dr. Erica (02:57):
Dr. Sarah (02:58):
And I know that that’s full of its own challenges and I was just so excited that you agreed to come on and share just your journey on this.
Dr. Erica (03:06):
Yeah, I’m so happy that you had me here. I think it’s such an interesting kind of conversation and I think it probably depends where in the country you are and where you live. I’m here in Brooklyn and there are three or four other lesbian couples or non-traditional families just on my block. And so for my kids it’s probably a little bit of a different situation in terms of what they’re seeing and what they’re noticing. But I’m sure out there there’s other people that they’re the only lesbian or gay family in the class. They’re the only family that maybe has a transgender parent, so they’re the only family that is X, that is a single mom by choice. And so that might can feel really isolating.
Dr. Sarah (03:43):
And I think it’s isolating, and also when it comes to parenting, there’s this whole other dimension because it’s one we have to process all of what this means for us. Do I feel alone in this? Do I feel supported? Do I feel judged? Do I feel isolated? Do I feel like I have a community and I see people like me everywhere, but then there’s this extra layer of how do I raise my own children to have an identity that is both respectful of mine and others, but also their own? And it’s a lot.
Dr. Erica (04:16):
Dr. Sarah (04:16):
It’s very complicated.
Dr. Erica (04:17):
There’s a few conversations there. I think Sarah, I think one is the expectations that we have about motherhood. I could talk about, yeah, so starting off with a lot of us probably have some expectation about what it means to be a mom, how they’re going to be a mom, what their journey of motherhood is going to look like. And for a lot of us, that journey can look really different and for a whole host of reasons. And for me, I did not know that I was going to marry a woman for a really long time. I did not see that as sort of my road. And so when I realized that this was kind of who I was and the life that I wanted to lead and just more of a part of me, it also meant that I fell in love with a woman who wanted to also carry a child.
And that in some ways is the most special thing that we both got to experience this. And I, it’s interesting to hear so many moms be like, oh my God, you’re so lucky. That is one of the things I actually hear all the time is you are so lucky that you didn’t have to do with that more than once. But actually for me, it felt really different than that. It was, I actually really wanted to or envision that I would carry on my children. I know that that is not possible for everybody but that was the fantasy that I had for myself. And so that initially was actually really hard because I had imagined I would grow this baby inside my uterus that I would be the one to breastfeed, that I would be the person to give birth, that I would be that initial kind of person. And I didn’t have that. My wife is five years older than me and so logistically it made sense for her to actually try to get pregnant and give birth first. So that was definitely a really big shift for me processing what it would mean to be a parent in a way that did not feel as traditional or was not in the way that I had sort of envisioned for my life.
Dr. Sarah (06:13):
Yeah, that’s so interesting because it’s true. I think when we think about same sex couples, I mean there’s obviously sort of biological challenge. You have to figure out where one of the extra chromosomes is coming from, but when you have two parents who really want to hold that role and you have to take turns or perhaps even forgo that role completely, how you’re going to grieve a loss.
Dr. Erica (06:41):
Absolutely. It definitely felt like a loss for me. I mean, I think ultimately there was so much that was gained, and I think it’s actually really special in many ways now that we both got to experience everything and I would never have wanted to take that away from her but it did feel like a loss. And I wasn’t really sure initially what my position was going to be like. And I also think in terms of the medical community when we were in the hospital for a while due to some complications, people didn’t know what to do with me. And that was really challenging. I mean, one person said, are you the grandma? I was like, what? I’m not ready to be a grandma yet. And I certainly wasn’t ready when my daughter was born. So just like, where do I fall on this kind of spectrum? Making sure that everybody understood, no, I was the parent, I was going to be listed on the birth certificate. That was a whole kind of, not really a challenge here in New York, but just felt very important and really wanted everybody, the hospital team, to know that we were equally the parents because the de facto still was, or maybe still is, where’s the dad?
Dr. Sarah (07:52):
And even to just be able to say, I’m the mother when I didn’t give birth to this child. And I think that’s probably true for all kinds of scenarios.
Dr. Erica (08:02):
I think that happens for a very long time. There’s so many forms that I still fill out the same mother and father, oh, there’s two moms, but who’s the mother? Well, we’re both a mother. You really want to know who’s the biological mother and do you really need to know that? And I’m a psychologist, and so sometimes that does actually matter to me in the sense of I might be looking for what is a child’s genetic history? Is there genetic loading somewhere? And so it does actually sometimes make a difference. But I try to be really thoughtful in the ways in which I’m going to ask about that or talk about that, because I know that both parents’ experiences are so valuable for this child, and I certainly don’t want to ever alienate either parent.
Dr. Sarah (08:43):
And I think it’s so interesting having both this dual perspective as the mother going through this, but also as a psychologist who’s navigating similar scenarios with their own patients, not assuming who is in this family and what their titles are and how we can have more inclusive language. I still get, I have a husband and my children are gender conforming and I still cringe when there’s a yes or a no checkbox to oh something or it’s male female on the form. And it’s like, what? This has got to hurt people to have to answer this if they don’t fit on that page. And it’s so easy to put another checkbox that just says self describe.
Dr. Erica (09:26):
Right, or parent one parent two. You kind of alleviate all of that. Yeah, the mother, father binary still feels very much present.
Dr. Sarah (09:36):
Yeah. It really does. Yeah. So I’m curious in your community among your friends, your peers, but also in your work as a clinician, do you find that there are certain themes that parents of same sex marriages who have children they routinely struggle with beyond some of the things we’ve just described coming into parenthood but all the way through it?
Dr. Erica (10:04):
That’s a really interesting question. I mean, I think one of the big ones that people can sometimes struggle with is talking about where is the dad or where is the mom if that’s often something that comes out that kids start to actually pay attention to and think about. And I know in my family, we like to think we’re really good moms and we like to think that our daughter is really lucky to have both of us. It’s funny, one of our friends actually made my daughter a t-shirt when she maybe turned two that said it’s two moms are better than one. And we love that very proudly. That’s so true. But I think at the same time, it sort of speaks to this need that we may have an, again, I’m just one person with my own journey and my own experiences, and I certainly don’t want to represent everybody out there that we have this T-shirt and we both love it, but I think it for both my wife and I might even prey on this fear or worry that we have, that we need to project that we are really okay, that we, our daughters are really okay that they have two moms, right?
And so I often think sometimes answering these questions for our kids brings up so much more anxiety in us. I think the world certainly has shifted, but some of us come from families that might be more religious that might have had different ideas about how a child should come into this world. And so I definitely have friends and acquaintances who their extended families may not have believed that they should be bringing in children into this world or that the world is not ready for this kind of thing yet. So I think when my child asks me, where’s my dad? For me there’s an element of I have guilt there that kind of comes up. And so I think the issue in some ways is actually more for me to work on and manage that and sit with her through that and really try to be present for her. And not to squash her question, I might want to say, now it’s fine, you know, have Uncle Jerry and we can get you a dog, or whatever it is to make up for this fact. I think that’s the piece. There can be an element of trying to compensate or to make up for what you don’t have, right?
Dr. Sarah (12:22):
Which really is in reality, our projection, our we’re projecting some value on the absence of the father in this case. And maybe our child is just asking, where is my dad? Because I don’t understand because other kids do have dads and I don’t seem to have one. And where is my dad? And do I have a dad? Which doesn’t necessarily mean, why did you do this to me?
Dr. Erica (12:50):
Right? Correct. But it preys on that I think a lot where it hits this nerve and I think that could be a fear of mine that I actually do have somewhere, right? And so I don’t think it’s conscious and it wasn’t, but I think it’s common for a lot of people and also explaining where they come from is how do we make a baby? How does this work out? And I know there’s a lot of families that use IVF or IUI or other non-traditional means to kind of make a baby, but I don’t know that that is always as explicit at such a young age, often when there is a more traditional mom and dad figure, right? Because the child may not know that necessarily or just assume, oh, it doesn’t really matter. I see there’s mom and dad together, so it’s not as big of a question mark.
Dr. Sarah (13:38):
Yeah. They might not be as prompted to ask the questions, although I actually do encourage families who have medically assisted reproductive processes or to be able to find a way to have a narrative and a story about their families, how the birth happened, how it became obviously developmentally appropriate. You don’t need to get into all the technicalities of everything, but to be able to start the narrative from the very beginning that different families create their kids and build their families with lots of different routes.
Dr. Erica (14:19):
I think that is also key.
Dr. Sarah (14:20):
And they come in all shapes and sizes.
Dr. Erica (14:22):
I think that’s so important. Mean, that was actually something for me that I felt like I needed to work on before we had our first. And so while my wife was pregnant, I was reading up and in part it was for my child, but it was really for me, what’s the best way for me to learn and understand how I tell her how she was made, how she was born. And I remember for so many nights for her first year when I put her to bed and she’d have her bottle, I would sort of tell her this story. And I don’t know how much of it was for her versus how much of it was for me in terms of practicing and becoming really comfortable with that. And I think that that is actually a really important piece for families out there to really become comfortable practice sharing the story. You know, don’t want, the first time is when you’re halfway out the door and your kid asks you a question and you’re kind of distracted and you’ve never really thought about it before. You really want to have a sense of what is it that I’m actually going to say? What is it that I actually want to say and feel comfortable in that?
Dr. Sarah (15:22):
And I imagine we all have scenarios no matter what the, fill in the blank, some challenging question our kids are going to ask about our family, why do we believe in this religion? Or why does grandma not live with grandpa? Or whatever.
Dr. Erica (15:41):
Yes! I’ve just been answering those too.
Dr. Sarah (15:43):
Yeah. But I think there’s a look, a real universality to this idea of every family is very different.
Dr. Erica (15:51):
And every kid wants to understand where do I come from? And I think also is what happened in your situation possibly going to happen to me? They’re all, I think trying to make sense of the world in their own way.
Dr. Sarah (16:04):
Through a very egocentric lens too.
Dr. Erica (16:06):
Completely. I mean, for the most part, I think that’s really age appropriate. Most children are egocentric is what happened. My child has just noticed that my parents are divorced. And so she was confused about how I have two moms and two dads which I don’t feel like I do, but in her mind I sort of did. And that was really interesting. And also thinking through, wait, if that happened to you, if your parents don’t live together anymore, does that mean that you and mom are not going to live together anymore? So really trying to think. They’re really trying to make sense of themselves, who am I? And where am I in this world?
Dr. Sarah (16:44):
And so I think if we use that as a framework, if that’s the lens through which I look at any challenging thing my child is trying to make sense of, and that I might also be trying to make sense of my own self is like, how do I answer questions? My child might ask me in a way that helps them feel seen, safe, reassured that they can ask these questions and we’re going to have a very calm and enveloping response. We’re not going to get totally frazzled. It’s totally okay to say, oh, that’s a really good question. I don’t have an answer for that right now. Let me think about it and I’ll come back to that. You can buy time.
Dr. Erica (17:27):
Or, I’m so happy that we’re talking about this. I think it’s so important. It also buys you some time, right? Yeah. So whenever that kid asks me a question that I’m not totally sure, I’d love to say to her, I’m so happy that we’re talking about this. Tell me more. Yeah, what made you think about this? And it really just gives me sometimes an extra second to think about what I might want to say and not feel so put on the spot. And I think sometimes it helps her kind of think things through a little bit more. Sometimes not, she doesn’t always have an answer. She’s still young, but it just kind of decreases this pressure that I sometimes put on myself that I have to answer everything right now. So I love that I don’t have an answer. Let me think and get back to you on it.
Dr. Sarah (18:07):
Yeah. And I also, when your follow up of like, oh, I’m so glad you are asking me this. What made you think of that question? They may actually answer that with information that will guide the level of information they’re actually looking for you. We don’t need to get into the nuts and bolts of everything. Maybe they just want to know that, I don’t know, whatever it is, there’s some level of age appropriate inquiry that you can answer without getting too in the weeds because maybe they’re not actually asking what we fear they’re asking. Or to your point earlier, maybe they’re just asking for information instead of needing reassurance that everything is okay, that there’s a problem to solve.
Dr. Erica (18:50):
Right, exactly. I think we often go to, they’re unhappy about this or this is a problem for them versus they’re actually just curious and trying to situate themselves. Right.
Dr. Sarah (19:02):
And that makes me think of this other piece that I was curious and wanted to talk to about in this episode, which is, so obviously I know there are parents who listen to this podcast who are same sex couples figuring out, navigating how to raise kids in a world where they may be the only kid in their class who’s got two moms. But then there’s also a ton of parents who listen to this podcast who are maybe in more traditional looking families, but they want to support their child when their child comes home and is like, why does Johnny have two mommies? Or why does Amy have a dad who wears a dress? I, and then parents are like, I want to answer this thoughtfully, but I don’t know always the best thing to say. Or if these questions are being asked in public, how do I respond? And so I think there’s a lot of ways to feel equipped to answer these tough questions our kids throw at us.
Dr. Erica (20:00):
I think it happens so often and we feel like they’re coming out of the blue. I think in terms of answering that question, and I don’t think there’s one universal answer, but I tend to go back to the idea that there’s many different ways to be a family. And oftentimes I then would share, your family looks like this. Your family maybe has a mom and a dad, and if maybe the parent’s family is divorced, I might say that. And I might also call upon if I know that my child knows of any other families that look a little bit different, hey, that John’s parents are divorced, that Sarah lives with her grandma. So the goal, what I’m trying to do is say is pull on things that my kid already knows about that already feels kind of familiar to the idea that there’s all kinds of families in this world.
Some have a mom and a dad, some of the kids live with their grandparents, some may live with an older sister or an aunt and uncle. Some kids have two moms or two dads that there’s just a whole different kind of constellation out there. And I would just try to link it to things that my kid is already a little bit comfortable first, so I want to take what they know and then add one or two steps from there. I think that’s often an easier kind of way to start in terms of expanding their viewpoint. And then I might say, there’s no right way to be a family. There’s no one way and there’s no right way. These are all families.
Dr. Sarah (21:21):
Yeah, I love that. And I think I like this idea of anchoring them in stuff they already know to help them make links. This is just another example of what you’ve already gotten used to seeing.
Dr. Erica (21:36):
Exactly. I think it makes it a little bit easier for them also to make sense of things. And I think another way to do that is to talk about TV shows that your kids watch, right? Movies that they’ve seen. So I think it’s so much more helpful. It really makes it come alive to our kids as well. Oh yeah. It’s like that. My daughter really likes Princess Sophia, and she knows that they’re actually, I don’t know even if it’s widowed or divorced, but they’re two families that are merged. And so that’s something that we talk about a lot. And she actually doesn’t see that in her regular life right now. I’m sure she’ll at some point, but she hasn’t yet.
Dr. Sarah (22:12):
And I think too, another thing, and this has come up in some of the work that I’ve done with families, but this idea of when you’ve got a child who does have two of the same sex parents or perhaps an this example could fit in any other family system that’s not as typical where the child might be out in the world hanging out with friends and somebody says something really homophobic and that child doesn’t know what to do in that moment. And maybe it’s not directed at them, maybe it’s just being said right. And how that child might then feel either a sense of, I need to speak up and say something, or maybe I’m really afraid to speak up and say something because I don’t want a spotlight on me. Or maybe I even laughed at the joke and now I feel like tremendous guilt and shame. And as a mom whose child may experience this one day, are there ways that you and your wife are thinking about how to prepare your kids for scenarios like this and how might you?
Dr. Erica (23:19):
Yeah, I think there’s two, to me, there’s two separate pieces here I guess, and probably more than two. But one is how do, I mean, I want to raise my child to really be an upstander, to value everybody to be kind. And I’m also aware that kids say and do things that aren’t, and I also don’t want to be putting pressure or making it be my child’s job to protect me. And so I think these are somewhat competing, but two things that I really want to be able to teach both of them. So I think in other situations really working on what does kindness mean? How do I raise an anti-racist child? How do I raise a child that believes in LGBTQIA rights? How do I teach my child about anti-Semitism? Like how do I teach my child to be this kind opened value center person?
On the one hand and I know that we all as people have soft spots and we also all as people have situations that we’re in that feel really uncomfortable to us. And sometimes in situations that we’re really uncomfortable, it’s sometimes hard to ask in our best self. And so what I want my child to know is equally is that no matter what you kind of say or do, we love you, you’re not going to be in trouble. And what we want to be able to do is talk about these moments after the fact without this fear of judgment or that we’re really ashamed or disappointed in you, that we are actually the place that we can talk and roleplay and think through these situations because there’s no way that even adults handle these things a hundred percent perfectly a hundred percent of the time. These are tough situations.
Dr. Sarah (25:00):
Yes. And I think it’s so critical. It’s like it’s another scenario, and I think this has come up a lot in this episode where it’s like you could literally lift this scenario and put it on so many different versions of the same thing. We have certain family values, and when you are out in public and you are among people who are actively engaging in behaviors that are in conflict with those family values, how can you act? But also if you move against our family values, how do you feel safe to come back and say, Hey, this happened that I didn’t know what to do and this is what I did, and I need help navigating this versus internalizing that conflict and having to figure it out on my own as a small young kid who doesn’t have…
Dr. Erica (25:52):
Dr. Sarah (25:53):
Sophistication. Or yeah, the skills. And then what does that do?
Dr. Erica (25:58):
That’s actually the real piece that I want to teach my kid is that no matter what, you can come back, we’re safe and we can talk about it. And you’re not responsible for protecting our feelings or defending our family all the time either. I don’t want them to have to also feel like they have to be the face of this 24/7 that can also feel like it’s a lot of pressure all the time. So to know when things do come up, a joke could be said, and there can be, I think sometimes some fine lines in various situations. So more I want to teach my child is, Hey, come back and talk to us.
Dr. Sarah (26:35):
And I think you teach that both by explicitly saying it and saying, Hey, if this ever happens, you know can always come talk to me and you’re never going to be in trouble. We’re going to help you figure this out. But two, by actually walking the walk so that when your kid does anything, and I’m not just talking about in this particular scenario, but when they mess up or when they do something that is deeply misaligned with your values, that you can respond to them in a way that is communicating what the expectations are, but also understanding out loud, Hey, we all make mistakes. We could talk about this. Right? Aren’t a bad kid for making a mistake. I’m not mad at you. I don’t the I’m so disappointed in you.
Dr. Erica (27:21):
No, I just want to understand. I mean, I have two kids and they’re siblings and they act, my older one acts sometimes like an older sibling and because my younger one acts like a two-year-old, right? And so they’ve taken each other’s stuff or they’ve pushed each other or things like that. And I think the more that we can just talk about, Hey, what’s happening? You’re not in trouble here. I just want to understand and let’s figure out what we can do differently next time. Lends to itself to a much stronger bedrock than punishment or kind of yelling or getting mad or feeling disappointed in, right?
Dr. Sarah (27:55):
Yeah. And that doesn’t mean we don’t get to teach our kids our values. We could still go back and say, Hey, when you hate your siblings, I’m going to give you a strategy and help you understand we got to do something else next time.
Dr. Erica (28:09):
Exactly. But I’d rather her share what happened as opposed to deny that nothing did happen. Right. And I know my daughter, I see her, I kind of worried on the inside. I see that she runs to her room when we ask her these questions sometimes. And I know that there’s feelings there of shame that she doesn’t know how to process. And so the more that I can say, Hey, I’m going to sit with you through this feeling literally I’m on your bed. I’m next to you these feelings don’t scare me. The more I think it lends itself to when you’re older and more, even more challenging situations happen that we will still be sitting on your bed talking you through this. We’re not going anywhere.
Dr. Sarah (28:46):
And I liked your point too, when you, going back to this, the more specific thing around having, being in a situation where other kids are saying things that are homophobic and having your child understand I have a toolbox for responding to this, but I also, it’s not my responsibility to protect my parents. I can do that if I have the bandwidth and have the safety to do it in the moment. Wonderful. And we certainly want to give our kids tools to be able to do that in a moment where they feel like they can, but I think there’s a really complicated nuance of also helping our children, even just the language, this is something you can do versus this is something you should do.
Dr. Erica (29:32):
Right? Absolutely. It’s so nuanced, but I think really key for them to feel like they can participate if they felt like they wanted to laugh, they can laugh, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t love us or they’re not part of this family anymore.
Dr. Sarah (29:50):
Yeah. That’s like, that’s very freeing for kids who come from families where they are likely to, they’re more likely to experience some type of prejudice based solely on the kind of family they come from. And as we’re talking about it, I think it’s sort of important to add that obviously making jokes at the expense of other people and making jokes that are disparaging of a group of people in any capacity is not okay.
Dr. Erica (30:22):
Dr. Sarah (30:22):
But, I also think it’s important that we recognize we’re having this conversation around the context of children, and we also really need to have developmentally appropriate expectations of children. And they say stupid stuff that they didn’t think through and they say not okay stuff sometimes. And it’s like, we could sit here and tell kid, never ever tell jokes like this. It’s never, okay. It doesn’t.
Dr. Erica (30:46):
And I’m not, doesn’t going to happen even if we say it. So I think on both ends, we need to give, my children need to know how to address and manage and cope with these kinds of situations. And sometimes out of that, we’ll come how do we go back to the school and share with them or other parents or other kids?
Dr. Sarah (31:05):
And also, how do we not vilify kids for making mistakes? Because I do think, obviously we’re not talking about adults here. We’re not talking about people at work saying inappropriate things. We’re talking about 8, 9, 10 year old kids at a lunch table with peer pressure and no adults perhaps watching and somebody says something and it just gets bigger than it gets. They get ahead of their skis and everybody starts piling on, and now we’re in territory. That’s really problematic. But these kids may not have the tools to navigate that. So we really want to teach kids, obviously, yes, we want to teach them what’s okay and what’s not okay, but we also want to give them tools to navigate situations once they’re in too deep.
Dr. Erica (31:50):
Because that’s going to happen
Dr. Sarah (31:53):
Dr. Erica (31:54):
Unfortunately. But it will. Well, I also think this comes up a lot in terms of when they’re around. I mean, my children, a lot of other kids who have same-sex parents. And so I’m curious what that’s going to look like as they get older and they start talking about these things and I don’t know where that conversation is going to go and will that conversation or the openness or the allowance for these kind of things be different when they’re with other kids who have same-sex parents versus when they’re with kids who don’t have same-sex parents? I think the intent of the peer group and the intent of the comment actually matters a lot as well. Not always, but can matter and can make a difference.
Dr. Sarah (32:32):
And I think it’s a really big difference too, between a child who’s growing up in Brooklyn around same-sex families and heterosexual couple families and all the range of everything. And to be sitting at lunch table and some kid just says a homophobic joke and everyone laughs. Versus a child who may be the only kid in town with two parents that are the same sex and there’s really no way that they feel even safe talking about it at the lunch table period. Because there’s a different environment and a different situation altogether. And I think I recognize that you and me, two parents parenting in New York, it’s the very different picture than families in other parts of the country. And I couldn’t speak to that community and that culture, but I know it’s not the same thing.
Dr. Erica (33:32):
And I also want to say, I want to really take a account of how did my kid feel during that experience? I think that’s also a really important piece. So maybe a joke was said and they laughed and they didn’t feel at that moment they could say something different or they could go against the grain of their friends. But I also am really curious, did that feel good to them or did it not feel good to ’em? Not their laughing, but the joke in and of itself, I think that’s a really important piece too, to separate. They don’t have to defend me. It’s not really about me. That’s the piece. It’s about how do they feel actually in that experience of him that I really care about. So my child might have been like, I didn’t know what else to do. Everybody else was laughing, but I felt really uncomfortable.
To me, that’s really different than it didn’t bug me. I thought it was kind of funny. That’s like a very different experience. But I do wonder if a lot of our kids or my kids will sometimes feel uncomfortable and then feel pressure to say something to defend me, to defend their family. Because I think for the most part, it doesn’t feel so good when your family is injured or Right. Absolutely. So I also want to be really careful about that, that my child does not have to feel like it is their role to protect our family, and they always have to stand up. But I do want to know how they feel in those situations, if it feels okay, or if it felt uncomfortable, if it felt disarming, what were they thinking and feeling kind of in that moment? And that affected the way in which they were able to respond to their parents.
Dr. Sarah (34:56):
Because I think that that alone is going to help a child process and make conscious some of the feelings that perhaps came up in that moment that they might not have either the mindful awareness of noting it in the moment, or perhaps they noticed it but they didn’t have language for it, that it’s sitting with them. Right. And I mean the fact that in this scenario, this hypothetical scenario about it, so they obviously came to you in some way to talk about it but I think there’s certainly times where we can cope ahead and say, Hey, should this scenario ever happen? I just want you to know…
Dr. Erica (35:36):
I think we can almost guarantee that these situations are going to happen. I think we really try to live in a community and in a world where we’re trying to say, Hey, we’re not, these kinds of jokes are actually not okay under any circumstance. I think that’s the message that we really need. For the most part. Our kids are being taught, and yet these things do come up. And so I think prepping our kids as much as possible for how they may feel when the situation happens, what some response options could be when this happens, and that no matter how they respond, knowing that we support all of those responses, even if it’s they did absolutely nothing, even if it is, they laughed and went along with it. For them to really understand that we support them, we are with them, we want to help them through this process. Because I think for some of the kids, it may feel really uncomfortable and scary and what does this mean for them as their place in this world?
Dr. Sarah (36:28):
Yeah. And I think that every parent who’s listening to this, whether you’re a same-sex parent or a heterosexual couple, if you were raising kids in this world and you want them to feel safe and seen and have a place where they can go to talk through challenging things like this is a framework for that.
Dr. Erica (36:52):
Dr. Sarah (36:55):
Yeah. Well, I’m so grateful that you came on and shared this. I know so hard because the idea that I can have a lesbian mom who’s a parent, come onto my show and explain what it’s like your experience and have it be universal is not possible. Your experience is your experience.
Dr. Erica (37:15):
Not. Yeah. I mean, think if my wife was on, she’d have a really different experience than me on so many levels. She came out much earlier, knew much earlier didn’t have any, had very different experience about me getting pregnant. And so there’s so much about our own histories and what we bring to the table and our fantasies and expectations that I think can guide the first part of our conversation. I think the second piece, I know that we both have similar kind of ideas in terms of how we want our children to feel in terms of supported by us and understanding about the many different kinds of families that do exist in this world.
Dr. Sarah (37:51):
Yeah, it’s just so interesting. I feel like everything we said today could be applied to literally any family. And isn’t that just the point, right?
Dr. Erica (38:01):
That that’s the point. We are just a family amongst so many. And so I think all families have different stuff.
Dr. Sarah (38:08):
And different stories.
Dr. Erica (38:09):
Dr. Sarah (38:09):
And we all just want our kids to be able to come and talk to us when things are tricky.
Dr. Erica (38:16):
About anything. Yeah. And talking to kids about stories I think is also such a wonderful universal thing. I mean, I have a mom and dad, but my have grandparents who are immigrants, and I loved knowing about their stories as well. So I think when you put that in context, kids, no matter what, love knowing about their stories, because I think there is this universal need of, like I’ve said before, who am I? Where do I come from? And for some of us, it’s working through our own feelings about that. Where do they come from? That is almost the harder part than sharing it with our child. It’s less about our child’s reactions and more about our own reactions.
Dr. Sarah (38:55):
Which is something I think is also another really important part is to know your story. Do your own work to be truly comfortable with your story and not necessarily have that be something you’re working through with your child as their trying to understand their story so that we can just be very objective and emotionally attuned to them and their needs in the moment without projecting ours onto them. Because we’re doing that work separately. We’re creating our own sense of our own narrative so that when our children are using our relationship to process their story, their narrative, we can just be a support for them and have it kind of not intertwined with our own.
Dr. Erica (39:41):
Exactly. And I also want to say that what the story’s going to shift over time, it’s going to become more expanded, it’s going to become more detailed, and it is totally okay to have different feelings and reactions, I think, along the way for the parent and for the child that might not always be the same. And so it is okay to go talk to somebody, talk to a therapist, do your own work on this kind of piece, how you feel at the beginning one day may not be the same as how you feel in 10 years. That’s something I think thinking about a lot that how I feel about the things I was thinking about before my child was born have kind of shifted now. And I’m sure they’re going to be shifting some more.
Dr. Sarah (40:16):
Yeah, so true, so true. Thank you so much for coming on, and thanks for having me, giving us this window into your life and your world. I really appreciate
Dr. Erica (40:25):
It. This was so great. Yeah, I’m happy to answer any more questions, but thank you, Sarah. It’s always such a pleasure to be here.
Dr. Sarah (40:30):
If people want to learn more about the work that you do from a clinical perspective, they can always go back and listen to the episode on school refusal, because that was a great one. And I know you have a lot of resources on school refusal but how can people get in touch with you?
Dr. Erica (40:45):
So my website is connectedmindsnyc.com and I do a lot of neuropsych evals as well. So feel free to reach out to me there and that would be great.
Dr. Sarah (40:59):
And it’s like, you know, have these clinical services and you work with everyone. But I also think some families really want to work with a clinician who l lives the life that matches their own experience.
Dr. Erica (41:14):
It’s actually really interesting. I have not put myself, I have slowly been putting myself more out there in this way, but I really haven’t. And I really actually stayed away from it in terms of a professional identity. It’s interesting cause I live in Brooklyn, but I also know that some families probably don’t want or didn’t think about it, or maybe it was my own internal thoughts and feelings about this. And so when you asked me, I was like, huh, interesting. This could be good for me to come out there and do this and have this kind of conversation because it’s not something that I actually publicize. Some of my families that I’ve seen that are also two moms or within the LGBTQIA community, I don’t even share that with because it’s not always relevant. And yet for a lot of families, I feel like it is actually relevant. Do you understand my story? Do you understand my struggle? And again, though, different lesbians, different stories, different experiences, different people. So I always really want to make sure that I’m coming at it with who are you, what is your experience, what is your story? Because certainly mine is not the same as so many other people’s.
Dr. Sarah (42:20):
Right. And I as a psychologist…
Dr. Erica (42:23):
Dr. Sarah (42:25):
I relate to this. We went through all of this training and there’s a huge emphasis in our training to be a bit of a blank slate, to be a bit of a white sheet on which to allow your patient to project all their things onto. And self-disclosure is something that you do very thoughtfully and judiciously. But I also think we live in a world today where the field of psychology has come a long way. And I do think certain types of self-disclosure only when it’s comfortable to you and it feels relevant to the patient or the client, but it can make a big difference to people.
Dr. Erica (43:09):
I think it can, I mean, it’s interesting as you’re saying this, it makes me think about whenever I meet another lesbian couple or whenever I see that child in my daughter’s class has lesbian or gay parents that I almost feel a little bit excited and I always have questions. And somehow whenever we hang out, we still always talk about what was your coming out story. And we also seem to always talk about how did you choose to make your family in the way that you did? Because I think there is some connection, our stories are different, but I think there’s some familiarity there of that there is a story and we know that it’s different or we know if you’re two moms, you had to figure out a way to make your child in a non-traditional way. What was your thinking process here was mine. I’m so curious about to hear other people’s thinking processes. So I think you’re right. There is something about that that feels like, oh, this person can likely understand some of my thinking or has had some kinds of similar thoughts or experiences there and their children might be going through something similar as my own children. Right?
Dr. Sarah (44:06):
Yeah. It’s interesting how much I find that I will self-disclose aspects of my parenting with parenting people I’m doing parenting support with. Whereas if I’m treating someone for depression, I’m not necessarily going to talk to them about the fight that I have with my kid getting out of the house in the morning. That’s not relevant. But I do find that when I’m doing parenting support sessions, my own struggles as a parent feels very important to self-disclose. Because I think especially with parenting where there’s so much pressure we put on ourselves as parents, as a whole group to do it and not mess up. And there’s a way in which if you’re going to someone for parenting support, they must always get it right and they must be. Yes. They know all the answers. And I’m like, I think me normalizing that, even someone who studies this and does this professionally and knows all this stuff about child development and the “rules,” I totally mess up sometimes and my kids don’t behave all the time. And having that be a realistic normalization of how messy parenthood is, I think it’s important to self disclose that for me. And that’s not a very clinician does that.
Dr. Erica (45:26):
I share that too. I also think it’s helpful because your examples actually really a come to life and so many ways. And I think it does, it helps to normalize, help people feel much less alone. And I think when it comes to any kind of more marginalized community, people are looking to feel connected and not as alone in that. Does somebody else understand my experience? Are you going to judge me also as a big thing that kind of comes up? Do you have any understanding of what X, Y, and Z might be like? So I think it’s so helpful sometimes that disclosure piece of things. Right. And I also, what you said about even though all the things of what to do, it’s hard sometimes to do in the moment. Right? And I think it’s the same thing is true about when our kids come to ask and ask us questions or say things we really want to, especially when it comes to who am I? Where am I? Have some of those answers of as much as you can, right? Yeah. So it’s not when you’re rushing out the door, because sometime I feel like that’s when it always is when my phone’s ringing, I’m making dinner, the baby’s crying, and my daughter has some really big question and I’m like, oh my God, I can’t think right now.
Dr. Sarah (46:32):
And yet this has now become an important pivotal parenting moment. And I feel the pressure.
Dr. Erica (46:38):
Right. To get it right. Absolutely. Right. And sometimes I’ll say, I love this question. Can we talk about it when we’re like at bedtime? That can also buy you sometimes. I feel like bedtime is a great time sometimes, depending on your schedule, but to just have these nice one-on-one larger conversations.
Dr. Sarah (46:54):
Yes, I am a big fan of the bedtime debrief as long as it wasn’t a really messy bedtime.
Dr. Erica (47:02):
Yeah. Oh gosh. Yeah.
Dr. Sarah (47:05):
Well this was an interesting little bonus conversation at the end.
Dr. Erica (47:09):
Yeah, no, I wasn’t expecting that. It’s great.
Dr. Sarah (47:09):
I hope people stuck around to get all the juicy details, but I, I’m really grateful for you coming on and just being so real and vulnerable and honest because I think as we’ve been saying, that’s just what people really, at the end of the day, they want to know that someone else out there is doing something hard and they’re not alone in that, even if it’s not exactly the same match.
Dr. Erica (47:35):
Well, and thank you for bringing up this topic. I think it’s a really important one. So I’m really happy that you kind of thought to bring it up and that your viewers would be interested in it.
Dr. Sarah (47:42):
Yeah. Yes. Alright, well we’ll talk to you soon.
Dr. Erica (47:46):
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