Care and Feeding

“I Think I’d Like to Be Gay When I Grow Up”

How do I talk to my 6-year-old about his sexuality?

A mom holds a young boy in her lap.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 6-year-old and I were talking and he said, “I just thought of something crazy. What if two boys married each other?”

I thought this had a testing-the-water tone, so I told him that sometimes two men do marry each other. Or sometimes two women marry each other. That it’s called being gay. He said, “I think I’d like to be gay when I grow up.” I told him what I want is for him to be happy. Then we talked about trains for a while.

When I told my partner about this, he said, “He’ll always be my son and I’ll always love him, but I might have some trouble accepting that. Life is harder for gay people.” But my partner doesn’t think our son is old enough to know he’s gay. I asked him to at least be prepared to be supportive if he comes out (again?). It’s my understanding that at least some queer people do know they’re queer by age 6.

I hope I handled the talk well. I didn’t think this would come up this young! Should I revisit this or let him lead? I don’t want him to feel like being gay is a big deal that we need to have family meetings about. But I don’t want him to think I’m ignoring it hoping it goes away either.

I’m sure his dad will be supportive in time. He’s a good man, but the queer community is so far removed from his reality that I don’t think he ever thinks about LGBTQ issues at all. Should I start going to PFLAG meetings and hang a rainbow flag? I feel like it would be nice to have some gay role models but we don’t have any gay friends in our circle and we’re in a small town in the Midwest. There’s not exactly a vibrant queer community here—not even one gay bar. I just want to do the right thing here.

—Love My Boy

Dear LMB,

You say it’s your desire to do the right thing, and I think you have! You talked to your son frankly, in developmentally appropriate language. And his words moved you to interrogate your own perspective and that of your partner. That’s all great.

I struggle with reconciling your partner’s words: He says he might have trouble with the adult your child grows into while noting that life is harder for gay people. One way to assure life isn’t harder on our queer kids is for their parents to insist it not be.

I don’t think you must attend PFLAG meetings (though you could!) or hang a rainbow flag (though: why not?) or start watching Drag Race or spearheading the drive to get a gay bar in your town. There’s no checklist to being the best ally possible; it’s up to you to bring your thoughts and actions into alignment in a way that make sense for your family. This might be as simple as seeking out different kinds of storybooks (if you’re at a loss, talk to your local librarian).

Your partner isn’t wrong to be skeptical—your kid is so very young. But his parents know him best, and you think it’s possible he was trying to communicate something to you about his future self. Maybe he was. I remember feeling very strongly about Jason Bateman on the TV show Silver Spoons, which the internet tells me aired when I was between 5 and 9 years old. That’s incredibly young! On some level, I was already gay.

Maybe you can use this as an opportunity to be a person who ensures the world isn’t, as your partner says, harder on queer people. Maybe for you that’s the bumper sticker on your car; maybe it’s working with your PTA to ensure your schools are welcoming environments for all; maybe it’s running for office.

In a strange way, none of this has anything to do with whether your kid is gay. He’ll be the first to know that. If you raise him with a sense that his parents are understanding and supportive of all people, you might be the second to know. Your kid might also be straight. Either way you’ll be raising him to be a man who cannot keep issues at arm’s distance, who has learned a sensitivity to the variety of ways there are to be human. Sounds like a no-lose proposition to me.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I want kids soon. Like yesterday soon. We are in the process of moving and getting new jobs, plus buying a house. I’m in school part time for the next year plus and have to travel for it. Are we crazy? We have child care sorted out and have healthy savings. I know that the timing will never be perfect, but are we taking on too much? I need perspective from someone without any investment in our reproduction.

—Do We or Don’t We?

Dear Do We,

This might feel like the highest-stakes time in your life—new jobs, the financial investment of a house, school and travel commitments. But from the distance of a few years this period may seem placid, even boring. Life is funny that way.

The choice to have a child is really just the first step in a long and forever unfolding choose-your-own-adventure book. We call it a big decision but that doesn’t do justice to it: It’s a change of context that will in turn affect every other big decision you make in your lives. Anyone who claims to be able to make this choice with clarity and confidence about all of its ramifications is lying. That’s not how life works. Maybe with some choices, it’s OK to be guided by a desire you can’t exactly articulate. You said it yourself: The timing will never be perfect! You want to have kids, as soon as yesterday. People might tell you there are reasons to wait, but they can’t tell you those reasons are good. So get started. And good luck!

• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Am I being unfair in asking my partner not to smoke weed when it’s his night to watch the baby? He says it helps him to sleep and deal with his anxiety, but I’m concerned he won’t wake up when the baby needs him. This is particularly stressful because our son has recently learned to roll from back to belly but hasn’t been rolling back. I’ve read that at this point it is relatively safe for them to sleep on their stomachs, but that doesn’t help when I see his little nose smashed down into the mattress. I have been waking up many times a night panicked that he isn’t breathing.

On my nights, my partner will sleep through feedings and diaper changes, even if the baby is making noise. On his nights, he has to put on several lights or he’ll fall asleep holding the baby. I’m not sure if he has been high on these occasions or it’s just his natural sleepy state, since I didn’t know he was smoking at night until recently. Before I knew that my partner was getting high before bed, I was able to sleep a little better when it was his night, but now I’m stressed every time I have the night off.

His weed smoking has been a touchy subject for several years, because I have felt that he prioritized buying pot over paying off debt. I know at least part of my frustration is tied to our history.

—Can’t See Through This Fog

Dear Can’t See,

You’re not being unfair. Your partner is being selfish. Also stupid, and irresponsible, and kind of an asshole, but I gather you’re unsurprised by this, simply at a loss as to how to address it.

The whole purpose of trading off nights is to give each other the chance to rest; he’s depriving you of that by turning on all the lights, dozing when he’s on duty (I’ve been there! But come on), and doing it while stoned, so that you’re anxious. Leaving aside the question of whether or not he’s impaired and therefore doing something risky, the simple fact that this concerns you should be reason enough for him to stop.

You are right to be frustrated. You don’t need to talk to me, but to him. His desire to get high led to a reckless financial choice. Now it’s leading to an unfair distribution of parental labor. And it might indeed be putting his kid at risk. So the question he needs to answer is whether he’s willing to decide that getting high is still worth this. It’s my opinion that it’s not unreasonable for you to expect putting your kid’s wellbeing and your rest before his own pleasure. If he disagrees, you have to decide where to go from there. It might be helpful to bring a therapist into the situation to help mediate this. You’re in a tough spot, and I’m sorry.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My Republican in-laws took a photo of my 4-year-old son in a MAGA hat and framed it in their living room. Being a snowflake liberal, I wasn’t too thrilled about it, but have kept quiet.

Do I have any options to get them to change the picture? I know that as he gets older, the photos will get updated, but at the same time, they have ancient photos hanging up of their other grandchildren (who are conveniently not wearing MAGA hats, of course).

I don’t want to insult them by printing off a new photo specifically to replace this one, but every time I see the photo I shudder. We never discuss politics but surely they know my beliefs through my sporadic social media postings. How can I subtly get them to change it without offending them? If it helps, they live close to us and are often the ones to watch our kids in a pinch.

—Get Your &*&! Hat Off My Son

Dear Hat Off,

Four-year-olds don’t have politics beyond those handed down by the adults around them. What’s ironic, I guess, is that Republican politics, at this point, are unsophisticated enough that most toddlers could understand them.

It’s neither here nor there; what that hat has come to represent are attitudes you’re probably raising your son to disdain. It’s a symbol, a potent one, sure, but easily counteracted. You’re raising your son; they just used him as a prop for their own nihilist beliefs.

If Grandma and Grandpa are teaching your kid to parrot toxic views or otherwise circumventing the values his parents are trying to instill, that is worth hashing out. This feels to me more like a rejoinder to you for the beliefs they know you hold. It’s a dumb provocation. It’s kind of pathetic.

Making a new photo will cause a whole kerfuffle that hardly seems worth it. Don’t take the bait by engaging them. In the interest of family harmony and your own sanity, I think you should roll your eyes and ignore this.

Rumaan Alam

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