“Do I look beautiful mommy?” asked my five year old son in the middle of an aisle at Target. He held up a shirt against him and wanted to know if he looked good.

“You look so beautiful,” I responded, bending down and planting a kiss on the top of his soft head. He smiled back and put the shirt in our cart (I don’t really remember telling him he could get it but whatever). I heard people snicker around us as I told him he was beautiful. Only one other mother in the boys clothing section smiled sweetly at us. I paid no attention to the snickers and kept on shopping. My kids followed suit and the snickers and one rude comment (regarding my response) made no impact on our day.

At five years old, my middle son has the brightest, bluest eyes, a sweet little face (it fools the best of em’), and a cute little body (totally not weird when a mother says this). He really is a beautiful boy, as is my seven year old son who has dark grey eyes and a long, lean body. I didn’t always tell they them were beautiful. I would tell them they were funny, sweet, smart, strong, quick. I didn’t begin telling them they were beautiful until I had my daughter.

She was a petite baby, with the same bright eyes as my middle son. She really was a gorgeous baby girl. I didn’t think twice saying this to her, whispering it in her ear as I rocked her to sleep as an infant. When she began playing dress up with her little friends at one year old, I had no qualms telling her she was beautiful then too. It was during one of those dress up sessions that my middle son put something on and after hearing me tell his sister she was beautiful, innocently asked “am I beautiful too mommy?”

I didn’t hesitate one second as I responded, “Of course you are my little love.” You see, in our house we don’t have gender roles. Nor do I really teach my kids about them. I’m (hopefully) teaching all of my kids to speak for themselves, speak up when something is wrong, not to let anyone take advantage of them, never judge any person or situation, that they are strong, smart, and quick. All three of my kids, even though two are boys and one is a girl, are all being taught this.

Several friends of mine shared a post on Facebook with the line “I’m going to teach my daughter to be strong and not let any man tell her what to do. I’m going to teach her to be courageous and be leader.” I was instantly irritated. Teach your daughter(s) that, great, but what about teaching your son(s) the same thing? At three years old, my daughter is more out spoken and more courageous than either of her brothers. Yes, these are qualities that I will help nurture, but also I will instill them in my boys as well.

Teach boys how to be gentleman? Great, then teach girls to be ladylike. Teach boys how to “treat a girl right” (as many of my friends have claimed)? Then teach girls how to treat a boy. The street goes both ways in gender equality.

When I first met my husband we were 15 years old and working our first jobs together. From the beginning, our relationship was built on equality. We had a friendship and a partnership. We did the same job, learned the same things, and supported each other from the start. This partnership has carried into our marriage and how we parent our children. We both pay the bills, we both take care of the household chores, we both make important decisions together. It’s not one of us wears the pants and the other takes orders. I mow the lawn and my husband cleans the kitchen every night (he also scrubs the toilet better and has more patience painting our daughter’s nails than I do).

People want gender roles to disappear, for gender equality to take hold in all areas of life: jobs, pay, leadership, etc. What about never teaching our children gender roles in the first place? What about teaching our sons that they can play dress up, be beautiful, play football, and are the smartest? What about teaching our daughters that they can do the same things?

The next time you claim to want to teach your daughter something, be sure you teach your sons as well. Imagine a life without gender roles, with gender equality, with no “who’s better than who” mentality. Food for thought.

This article was originally featured on Ashlen’s blog, The Kid Sperts. Featured image via.

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Mom Erica Maison surprised her transgender daughter Corey with her first dose of hormones which she had been waiting over TWO YEARS to receive. She captured the emotional moment on video and we’re still not over it!

In the beginning, Corey seems prepared for a prank or a less-desirable surprise. She asks her mom: “what did you do this time?” (side note – we’re pretty curious to know what her mom has done previously to elicit that reaction). But once Corey realized what was in the box hiding behind the couch cushions, she immediately tackled her mom in a huge hug.

“This was it, this was the most pivotal turning point in her life, and we both knew it,” Erica said of the emotions captured in the video.

See Buzzfeed for the rest of Corey’s story and her reaction after the video.

She really nailed it with the illustrations.

Explaining where babies come from is hard for any parent, but even trickier for same-sex parents. In this video, seven-year-old Sophia explains in the most adorable way how her two moms had a baby.

The video, posted by The Next Family, features Sophia breaking down the facts of life as her mother holds back — understandably — lots of laughter.

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka - 7yo explains how lesbians have babies

“If you’re a kid with two moms and you don’t know how to explain it to other kids or people, this is a video of how you can explain it,” Sophia begins with unbridled enthusiasm. (We are assuming that little black monster thing is Sophia’s idea of sperm.)

It’s a complicated subject, but the first grader offered up some helpful illustrations:

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka - 7yo explains how lesbians have babies

“Say you have Mom, and she was in love with this other girl, and then they married, and then they want to have a baby — but they need a boy!” she begins like the expert she is.

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka - 7yo explains how lesbians have babies

Some of the specific details aren’t that important.

But this “Sperm Donor” guy seems to play an important role.

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka - 7yo explains how lesbians have babies

Please admire the large bag of… sperm.

And let’s all agree that “sperm” will never not be a funny word to say.

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka - 7yo explains how lesbians have babies

The idea for the illustrated video arose from a real conversation between Sophia and her mother Brandy Black, founder of The Next Family.

“About 6-8 months ago, I asked [Sophia] if anyone asked questions about her having two moms, and she told me that some people said it was impossible for her not to have a daddy,” Black told BuzzFeed News.

“I asked what her response was, and she said ‘I have two moms and every family is different.’” I said, ‘Do you know why people say that to you, that it’s impossible not to have a daddy?’ and she said ‘No.’ So I explained the light answer of how you need to have a sperm and an egg.”

“Navigating your way through parenthood is hard enough, and as a lesbian mom, figuring out how to keep your child informed is a learning process,” Black said.

“I had no idea what she was going to say [in the video], but you may be able to see by watching that I was really surprised and impressed with her answer.”

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka - 7yo explains how lesbians have babies

Class dismissed. Thanks Sophia!

This post was originally featured on Buzzfeed

The digital clock on the nightstand read 3:43 am, as I awoke from a deep sleep to the sound of what could only be bad news.

Phones ringing in the middle of the night don’t often carry with them the promise of anything good on the other end, especially when your spouse works the night shift. Still, I hesitated to answer it as I looked around the room as though looking through an old window covered in a thick, grimy film. Three rings, then four rings.

On the fifth ring, my arm stretched out in a wooden motion as though someone was holding the marionette strings that were forcing my body to perform the actions my mind was trying so hard to resist. I picked up the receiver, and before I could say a single word was inundated with an avalanche of words tumbling out in a voice I was more familiar with than the very palm that held the phone.

I inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with air, slowly lifting the weight that seconds earlier was crushing my chest. My relief at hearing his voice didn’t allow me to focus on his words. In his endless string of hurried phrases strung together with pauses to catch his own breath, I could only make out a few words. Wedding. Flood. Ring. Elevator. Almost died.

That last one caused me to bolt out of bed, my feet oblivious to the icy tiles they landed upon as they paced the tiny bedroom that was our first as bride and groom. The room that held pillow talks long into the night of memories, dreams, and all the whispers that forever join two people together now closed in on me as I pieced together the story of how my husband almost drowned for fear of losing the very symbol of the love this tiny room had seen in our first years of marriage.

He worked the night shift at the hospital, and had headed down to the basement for a snack to keep him awake, as the sounds of hours of thunderstorms and falling rain had begun to lull him to sleep. As the ding announcing the elevator’s arrival sounded, the doors opened only a couple of inches, but enough for a steady stream of water to gush through and begin to fill the elevator. No matter how often or how forcefully he pounded the elevator buttons, the doors wouldn’t budge and the water kept rising. He worked his hands into the slight opening and with what could only have been the force of an adrenaline rush, pried open the doors enough to slip through into the flooded basement and find the nearest staircase. A few hours later, he realized his wedding ring was no longer on his finger. For most, panic would have set in as the elevator flooded. As he describes it, the moment he realized his ring was missing was when the real panic set in for him. He headed back down to the basement, and waded his way through the water for what seemed like an eternity, searching desperately for a small piece of gold that meant the world to him. As emotions threatened to overcome him, in the small corner of the elevator he saw a glimmer of hope and something else as he reached down and pulled his wedding ring to the surface.

A wedding ring is only a material item, a piece of metal with more sentimental value than monetary value. However, for the two people who place that ring on each other’s finger in front of all their loved ones, it is so much more. It is a shout from the rooftops declaring their love for another. It is a vault of memories and special moments shared by just the two of them, that each carry close to their heart, reliving those moments with a quick glance at their hand. It is a constant reminder of the love shared by two human beings. It represents a lifetime commitment to share in the good with each other, to support each other in the toughest of times, and to add more love to this sometimes dismal world of ours. How could that ever be a bad thing? Why should that ever be denied to anyone just because they are gay? What right does our government have to deny this and so much more to a couple simply because they happen to be of the same sex? Why should they jump through rings to be allowed the same rights heterosexual couples are automatically given?

The ring isn’t necessary for two people to show their love for one another. It isn’t necessary to join two people in marriage. The ring itself doesn’t guarantee anything really except the promise of love. How can anyone believe they have the right to forbid a union based on love, when the very essence of love is something that can’t be controlled?

This post was originally featured on Leah’s blog, Little Miss Wordy.

From 2005 to 2006, the first year of my daughter’s life, I was warned repeatedly that being a formula-fed child would diminish my gal’s entire future, making her fat, slothlike, dim, equipped with an immune system that practically summoned infection, and unattached emotionally to her parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization were both on a crusade to boost breastfeeding rates, and it was impossible to ignore the implied threat: formula babies are screwed.

The headlines of that era — “Breast-feed or Else!” “Formula Doubles Infant Deaths!” — felt a little like Donald Rumsfeld’s post-9/11 color codes, a kind of terrorism in themselves, with dire outcomes predicated on sources I couldn’t examine firsthand.

Though our pediatrician wasn’t worried a bit about my daughter, it seemed like everyone else was: parent magazines crowed about the need to breastfeed (despite running ads for formula); online parent forums held open season on the selfishness of people who wouldn’t breastfeed; and I knew formula moms who had been blatantly harassed by some of La Leche League’s less well-trained members.

I tried to shake off the formula-shaming, even as it added layers of worry to my already tired parent-of-newborn mind. It’s not like there was anything else I could do about it: I had no breasts, and neither did my husband.

Gay dads like me, straight dads parenting alone, women with a physical inability to nurse, grandparents acting as caregivers, foster parents, parents of infants who cannot suckle, and more — there are thousands of people every year tasked with the care of newborns for whom formula is a must. Whatever the cause, it’s no picnic to defy the accepted wisdom of your time, especially when you are surrounded by a population being trained to rattle off all the “facts” about how much your child will suffer as a result.

The only consolation I could take at the time was that as my daughter outgrew formula, there was no hint yet of the most commonly-cited expected outcomes; in fact, she was fit and active, the first to walk of all the kids in the moms’ group I’d joined, and she pretty much managed to skip all the ear infections and stomach bugs felling her playmates. The only kid in the group who could keep up with her at the time was a boy named Kaelen — and he was a formula baby, too.

Flash forward to the present and the breastfeeding-versus-formula smackdowns are more tempered. Today, the parlance is less harsh and tends to allow that formula doesn’t have to be a terrible thing, though it is still less desirable. As one pediatrician puts it, “There is a world of difference between ‘best’ and ‘the only choice of right-thinking people.'” But the same old claims still get trotted out, despite the increasing number of studies that suggest that the “facts” don’t show a marked difference in most areas, and the differences that do appear may be based on other factors entirely. Give it a few years and yet newer studies may rewrite the wisdom again.

Since questionable science seems to be the lingua franca of those debating this topic, I will give you the results of my own very small study, with a sample of two. I’ll start with breast milk-deprived Kaelen, now 9. His mom reports her healthy son is social and creative, adept at soccer and swimming, fluent in two languages, and academically on target for his grade. As for my daughter, she plays soccer, does martial arts, and can bicycle for miles; she reads 500-page books and makes journal entries about marine biology, her favorite subject; and, frankly, I envy her immune system.

So for caregivers like me, who cannot breastfeed (or who choose not to), I am happy to report that my girl is bright, active, and bonded with her parents, not because formula was magic but because it kept her well-nourished through that year when there was no one to breastfeed her. Whether our path was “best” or “second best” is a moot point; the one truly provable long-lasting outcome of formula for my daughter is this: her life.

This post was originally featured on the Huffington Post. Photo via

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Disclaimer: I have no idea if there’s actually a town called Gayville in the United States, if so, my title is not representative of the actual town (it’s a euphemism) and all similarities are merely coincidental.

When I was a kid, there was no one else like me or my older brother. We didn’t live with our mom, or our dad(s), and we moved often. We were perpetual new kids, and we had a giant secret we almost never shared.

Our parents were gay.

Today, that statement isn’t so revelatory. In fact, it’s almost normal to say out loud. But back then, that wasn’t the case. There hadn’t been an Ellen scene where she confessed love for another woman accidentally over a microphone, Doogie Howser was still just a really smart kid who worked as a doctor, and the only Will & Grace we knew were the old married couple down the road.

Occasionally, people did find out our secret, and if so, it wasn’t a good thing. Children whose parents knew about our living arrangement weren’t allowed to play with us, and sleepovers were pretty much unheard of in our house, until we were much older. It’s not that we didn’t ask; it’s that no one accepted our invitation. Sometimes it was worse. I remember a neighbor saying our parents, who were actually my maternal uncle (who I call Dad) and his partner, were perverts and sinners. Those words stung as a child and still conjure bad feelings to this day.

Growing up in our own personal Gayville wasn’t always easy, but if afforded us a unique perspective during a time when gay was unfairly equated to the AIDS virus, psychiatric disorders and a lack of moral character. I understood, regardless of what picketers or the media told me, that it was okay to be different. I didn’t have to be like everyone else to be deserving of kindness or equal respect. I saw that love was not a concrete formula of male + female, but an emotional truth, whether it was between a girl and a boy, a boy and a boy, or a girl and a girl. As I grew older, and learned about sexuality and gender identity, it wasn’t hard for me to incorporate ideas like transgendered, transsexual, pansexual or intersex, because it all made perfect sense to me.

Now as a heterosexual married mother of two teenage boys, I still have that same acceptance and understanding of individuality that many of my peers didn’t develop until later in life. Although at the time, I was embarrassed by my family secret, I realize now what a gift it was for me, and for my children. My sons know they have gay grandparents, as well as straight grandparents, and it doesn’t faze them one bit. They don’t consider sexual orientation as a marker for judging a person, and instead rely on factors such as personality, compassion, kindness and trustworthiness – things that actually matter.

Last year, when the Boy Scouts of America stepped up to the plate and decided it was unfair to ban scouts who were openly gay, my family celebrated. Both of my sons are Boy Scouts, and both of them knew that it was hurtful and discriminatory to deny the accomplishments a young man had earned, or had the right to earn, just because he identified as gay. Not long before the Boy Scouts made their decision, the United States Armed Forces, of which my husband proudly serves as a Marine, overturned Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; then afforded full benefits and rights to spouses of gay service members. It was a long awaited victory that couldn’t have sent a stronger message to those determined to suppress gay rights:

They’re here, they’re queer, and they have the support of the majority. Get used to it.

It’s a different world than when I grew up. Now it’s okay to say “I have gay parents,” and it’s not a big deal when someone you know says, “I’m gay.” I’m proud to be a witness, and a part of this movement towards acceptance, and ultimately, respect.  My dad always says, “I don’t want tolerance. People tolerate what they don’t like. I want to be accepted,” and he’s right. He deserves acceptance, the same as anyone, regardless of who he loves.

I’m curious to hear other stories, like mine, of adults who grew up in gay homes, before it was acknowledged or understood. I’ve still never met another child of Gayville, although, I have to believe, they’re out there too. Maybe they were also forced to keep their lives a secret, and maybe, just maybe, by reading this story, they’ll find the courage to say “I’m from Gayville, too, and proud of it.”