Avery doesn’t have a dad

We love our day-care provider. And when we interviewed her we asked how she would handle it if other kids asked about Avery having two moms, and she gave a satisfactory answer. But today, when she was talking about how tall Avery is, she blurted out, “how tall is her dad?”

I was surprised because I haven’t heard anyone use that language around us in a long time. We tried to clarify our preferred language (“donor”) to everyone in our lives before Avery was even born.

Our daycare provider quickly changed her wording and said, “I mean, her donor.” All was fine. But it wasn’t fine, because her 6 year old daughter overheard and then said “I didn’t know Avery had a dad…”. Their whole family has met both my wife and I. They all know Avery has two moms. It’s no wonder she was confused.

Unfortunately, I’m not happy with how our provider handled the situation. She told her daughter, “yes, but it’s complicated,” and kind of brushed it off like it was going to be too much of a hassle to explain it.

I’m not going to tell a parent how or when to explain how babies are made, but I feel like she could have made more of an effort. I don’t want Avery to be witness to that kind of conversation (although I’m not naive enough to think I can shelter her from it forever). How would it make Avery feel to hear for the first time that she has a “dad” and that “it’s complicated”? I mean, that’s how she did hear it for the first time. I’m only assuming she isn’t quite old enough to grasp the nuances of what was said in front of her.

How and when can my wife and I start talking to her about her donor, about the fact that some people will assume she has a dad, and about how some people will get uncomfortable with discussing it and freeze up, or worse – say something hurtful?

Currently we try to read her books that have different family structures (dads are not excluded from our repertoire, although they play a smaller role than families that resemble ours in Avery’s library). We also have Cory Silverburg’s book, What Makes a Baby, which is an awesome book about sperm, eggs, and uteruses that is completely non-graphic, non-gross, and kid-friendly by anyone’s standards.

I’m totally open to tips and ideas, here. It’s something I thought we were prepared for, but now that it’s happening and Avery’s listening I’m feeling significantly underprepared. I also need to grow a backbone, because the thought of bringing this up with our provider at a later date is making me nauseous.

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18 thoughts on “Avery doesn’t have a dad

  1. Oh man, I’m sorry that happened! Maybe she wanted time to think of exactly how she would explain it to her daughter, and didn’t want to do it in front of the other kids? Just trying to think positively here. I’m so non-confrontational, I’d probably write her an email about it lol. That’s a hard situation. Obviously you’re probably going to run into this…but yeah, she could have said things a little differently with her daughter. :-/

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    • Yeah, I hope that’s it. I think I’ll casually bring it up tomorrow and ask if she wants to borrow our What Makes a Baby book or something if she wants ideas of how to explain a sperm donor to kids….

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  2. I agree that her statement to her own kid was probably based more on what she’s already said/what her kid knows and how she’s going to fit that in to how she explains your family than anything else. And, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give her feedback about the impact! I do try and give people some grace, realizing that many people don’t have the same experience and practice saying these things and figuring them out. I have different expectations for different people, as well – my mom (who still ocassionally refers to our donor as ‘dad’) should get it by now; the preschool parents? I give them a little more room. And, it’s exhausting to have to choose to either educate people or let it slide and feel shitty.

    We have started saying things to Ansel, utilizing What Makes a Baby, like “Your Uncle Joe is the person who gave the sperm to make you. We call him a ‘donor.'” I don’t think he really ‘gets it’ but it’s laying the groundwork. We’ve also talked to him about how he has two moms and no dad, but most other families do have a dad (I think it’s important to acknowledge that the majority of people he’s going to come into contact with have a ‘dad’ – whether that person is a parent in their lives or not – simply because it is the state of the world) and that all families configurations are good.

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  3. Carry in the ‘non-gross how babies are made’ book with you, say: ‘I notice you felt awkward the other day when your daughter asked about dads & Avery and thought you might find this book helpful to borrow for 3 days’ or whatever time so clear you want book back.
    Grown up people will screw up about baby formation; kids will ask Avery and you about her family formation. GIve her the gift of being bland about it.
    The more bland you are emotionally and verbally the better; just like you would if the topic was ice cream flavor favorites…… old news, nothing to see, no prickly feelings, matter of fact, yes, people and families are different of course!!! Some people put on their left shoe first, some their right shoe, and some do not have a pattern; shoes on feet all ok. Even more important than what Avery heard the day care person say was how she saw you react emotionally and she saw YOU! Babies see and recognize micro expressions on their primary attachment people because their very being is dependent on this information. She needs to see that “Avery has two moms”; my grand has “2 dads at home, gee, would you like to have two x also” happens in same tone as ‘would you like strawberry or mint ice cream cone’.
    Your child care person is probably more upset about her error than you were and I am not minimizing your reaction. I DO UNDERSTAND and know first hand. I notice even 20 year olds have trouble learning to use gender neutral language, are ignorant about white privilege, do not see racial inequality, do not know how pervasive gender discrimination is, BUT, being kind and patient wins in the long run. Your child care person is trying, if you think how learning mandarin would be for you it may help. I wish it were different already. It isn’t.

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    • Thanks, I do think our provider was probably kicking herself for how she handled it. I know I am kicking myself for how I handled it! My wife and I talked about it tonight and I know I shouldn’t have just let it go. I shouldn’t have let Avery see me let it go. It’s funny, if I saw that happen to anyone else besides me, I’d have said something loud and clear and bold. But I’m less brave when it’s happening to me. But then again, it was happening to Avery just as much as to me, so that should have been my cue to jump in and defend.

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  4. I can see why you were upset and try as you might to shield or protect her, Avery is going to encounter all kinds of people and most people say dumb things a lot of the time. I would just start talking to her about it so she develops her own narrative. Honesty and unconditional love, that’s my advice mom to moms. πŸ˜‰

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    • Yup, sounds like a good plan to me! I wasn’t even personally offended by what our provider said – she was clearly just caught unprepared by her daughter. But I was feeling protective of Avery. And you’re right, if we’re open and honest with her she’ll be able to handle it when people in her life don’t have the right words.

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  5. I totally get why you were upset. We seem to have the “Donor, not Dad” talk a LOT. Even with very well-meaning friends and family. It’s been a surprise to me how much the parenting conversation parallels coming out…it’s like re-living my past, haha! Once we get better at using the right phrases and being less surprised as it happens more often, I bet it will become more natural at correcting and educating.

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    • Yeah having a baby makes the coming out conversation even more frequent than it already pre-kid!!
      I think you’re right that the more we get used to responding the more natural it will be 😊

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  6. I am sorry you had to experience that. I am impressed with how calmly you handled that though. I can bet the provider is kicking herself for saying that. She may not have been ready to explain it to her 6 year old, or maybe just felt that in that moment when others were around, wasn’t the best time to do it. In time, as more people make assumptions though, I think, you’ll be less shocked and it will give you more time to educate others! ❀

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    • Thanks! I know it will get easier for me to say something simple and confident to make everyone feel good about how the interaction went. Just need practice….

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  7. Hi there just started following you and loving your posts! This one really struck me because my wife and I were just having this conversation!! Our son is 10, my wife had him when she was with her first wife. They are now divorced and both remarried and we share custody 50/50. They just started sex ed at school and (crazily enough) I just found out last month that I was actually conceived using a donor. So my wife and I were talking a lot about when we should tell Landon about his donor and how to go about it.
    Well, wouldn’t you know, we were all watching TV (Grey’s Anatomy) on the couch and Landon asked out of the blue, “am I donor baby?” He said that “mommy” (my wife’s ex wife) calls him that. So we asked him what he meant, because in the show they were calling a baby a donor baby because it was giving a piece of its liver to the sibling. He said he wasn’t sure, so we explained that he doesn’t have any donated parts and he hasn’t donated any parts, but donor baby can also mean that someone donated sperm or an egg for you to be born. We explained that sometimes strangers donate sperm so women can have babies, and he responded with “yes, I know, lesbians need sperm to make babies so they get it donated.” We were both wide eyed and shocked!
    I then told him, “hey, you know I’m a donor baby too” and he looked at me incredulous and said “but your parents aren’t lesbians?!” hahahahaha it was priceless. So I explained to him that my dad had a vasectomy (we had fun explaining what that was) and wasn’t able to make sperm anymore so they used donor sperm. He thought that was cool and just said “cool, so anyone can use donor sperm or eggs and have babies.” And that was that! He had no more questions, was totally cool, and wanted to get back to TV.

    We were always so worried because in the past he has talked about wanting to have a dad. His donor isn’t a close personal friend, but is a willing to be known donor. We also know that he has siblings out there. It’s tough to know how kids are going to react, but Landon seemed totally chill. We are sure that he doesn’t fully understand it yet but at least the foundation has been laid and he knows he can ask us questions, and he knows that I can relate.

    It’s interesting to tell you how it feels to find out after 27 years (me) that you had a donor. The main reason I wish I had known sooner is the fact that my wife is now pregnant with my egg, and I don’t know the genetic history of the genes of half that egg. Part of me resents my mother for not telling me, because I also found out she used to threaten my dad that she would tell me I’m not his (they divorced when I was 2) to get things out of him. But I am also appreciative of the fact that I found out after my frontal lobe had fully developed and I could really comprehend and understand that whole situation without being overly emotional (not to say it’s not emotional at all).

    Anyway, sorry for all the info in my ramble. My advice to you is: you will know when the time is right to start talking about it. You don’t have to tell Avery all at once, it can be a series of small conversations over a long period of time that lay the foundation and build up to the full explanation of how it all works. Handle things as they come up with whatever feels appropriate as a response with her age and the situation. Don’t feel like you are lying to her or holding back, everything is a process! You’re doing awesome!!!

    PS we call Landon’s (and now our new baby’s) donor the “biological contributor”

    x0x0
    -Two Wives

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    • Thanks so much for sharing your story! It was great to hear your perspective from both your son’s and your experience. And I love the term biological contributor 😊
      Thanks for reading!

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  8. Pingback: Children’s Books about Family Diversity | Adventures of a Mom with a Wife

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