Children’s Books about Family Diversity

After watching my daughter’s daycare provider fumble and brush off a child’s question about my daughter’s “dad” – and coming to terms with my own lack of having just the right thing to say in the moment – I wanted to get more acquainted with children’s books that broach the subject of diverse families. Reading enough books about others’ lived experiences can solve all the world’s problems. I truly believe that.

So I headed to my local library and found some real gems.

This post contains affiliate links. I could really use your help to secure my place in Amazon’s affiliate program. I still need two more books to be purchase by following one of these links in my blog (on this page or this one) in order to be accepted. Driving amazon sales through my blog won’t bring home the bacon for me, but it will help to offset some of the costs of having this blog.

The Family Book

After my previous post about baby books for raising socially conscious kids, my friend Speck of Awesome recommended this one.

This book is written in a celebratory tone: All families are special. It also paints diversity as the norm, rather than telling a tale about one special family that is “different”. Another thing I like about this book is it’s international applicability. I believe the families represented in the book reflect far more than the typical Western, Colonial family structures we are familiar with. This is more than a book about same-sex parents, adoption, and mixed race families (although those discussions alone would be enough to make me happy at this point); it’s more inclusive than that.

One thing to warn about in this book is that it mentions “all families are sad when they lose someone they love.” I believe this is a great piece to include in a book about families, but I’m also not ready to talk about death with my toddler. I don’t really want to provoke those questions about loss and permanence of loss. The book also seems to leave out polyamorous families (leaves it at, “some families have one parent instead of two”). Otherwise, top notch reading material for kids and their caregivers.

Stella Brings the Family

This book is about a child first realizing that her family looks different from other families in her school. She not only learns that all families actually look a little different from each other, but she also learns to celebrate her family and define them for herself. The book addresses how a mother’s day project at school might impact a child with two dads, but it’s relatable for any kind of family. I really have no qualms with this book. It’s a cute story and it has earned a permanent place on our bookshelf!

We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families

This is a really sweet book about families created through adoption, and in typical Todd Parr style, the families represented in its pages are diverse. The “races” of the family members are ambiguous because Parr uses all colours of the rainbow as skin colours – but, he still mixes the colours within the families because, of course, not all members of a family need to share the same skin colour. Some of the family types represented include a single mom, a single dad, elderly (i.e., grey haired) parents, mixed race parents, two moms, and two dads. The message is sweet and genuine: “We belong together because you needed someone to help you grow up healthy and strong, and I had help to give. Now we can grow up together.”

One Family

This is kind of a counting book, but it does more to represent different types of families than to teach counting. Each page showcases a different family structure. Page one is one person reading to her cat. Page two is a parent or caregiver and one child. Page three is – you guessed it – two parents and a child. The families grow in size and also diversity, some with multiple generations, some with three caregiver-type figures, and of course two moms and two dads are included. What I really like about this book is that the family members are a bit ambiguous, to the point where pretty much anybody could see themselves in one of these families, even though there are only 10 families in the book. I went so far as to imagine that one family was two dads, their baby, their surrogate, their surrogate’s partner and two children, and one grandparent. My wife interpreted this family completely differently. That’s how this book can be so all-encompassing of family types in only 10 pages. And while it doesn’t overtly teach about family diversity in terms of the text, the pictures are inclusive, and most importantly, anyone can see their own family reflected in the pages of this book.

What Makes a Baby

This was on my previous book list about socially conscious baby books. It’s so incredibly relevant to today’s topic, though, that it’s worth including again. What Makes a Baby COULD NOT POSSIBLY be more inclusive. It talks about the three components you need to make a baby: an egg, sperm, and a uterus. It talks about the egg and sperm sharing stories with each other about the body they came from, which I think is a pure genius way to describe to young kids the role of DNA. All family structures, from adoptive to two dads to single mom, will all feel included by this book. And, just as important, kids reading this book will be free from imposed assumptions about family structure. This book opens the mind to the possibilities. And it does so without ever mentioning SEX – so parents who are concerned about discussions of family diversity equalling discussions about sexual activity and sexual preference, fear not. This book is colourful and eye catching with fun graphics and a narrative so clean and simple that I’m pretty sure my <2 year old can understand. Could not recommend this book more.

***Bonus Book***

Hush a Bye, Baby (New Books for Newborns)

This book was a random selection at my local library that I didn’t realize was anything special until my second time reading it. It’s a simple, sweet bedtime book with simple verses that you could read to a newborn or a toddler. Although it doesn’t highlight diverse family types, it does represent a very underrepresented type of parent in children’s books – the DAD (or masculine-presenting parent). Literally all of our children’s books have at least one mom (mommy, mama, etc.). That may be partially due to the fact that we are a dad-less family and we are drawn to books without dads, but I’m quite certain that books highlighting a father’s parenting role are few and far between. Hush a Bye, Baby shows dads of different races solo-parenting their babies at bedtime. Refreshing.

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Weaning for good…?

Weaning is on my mind again. Since 18 months we’ve only nursed to sleep at nap and bedtime (with the exception of a couple of bad sicknesses that required extra comfort and hydration). Now Avery’s coming up on 22 months and I’m trying to find the motivation to wean her completely. It’s not that I mind nursing her to sleep still, but the occasional night where someone else puts her to bed is filled with tears and I feel terrible for stepping away for an evening. I figure if she’s fully weaned it’ll be hard for a short time and then infinitely better at bedtime.

But what if it’s not. What if it’s harder for the next however many months because she really, really loves nursing and she’s not ready to have it taken away? Ever since we cut out the 5am nursing when she’d cuddle back to sleep until 7, she has woken for the day at 5am. Unhappy.

And although she often sleeps completely through the night now (from bedtime till 5am), once or twice a week she’ll wake in the middle of the night and be unable to fall back to sleep, constantly asking for milk in a tired haze, whimpering when I say “no milk, let’s cuddle back to sleep.” She usually drinks her water when she’s turned down for milk, so I know she at least has that, but she would still benefit so much from being able to nurse back to sleep when that happens.

So why did we stop offering it through the night? Because night weaning really did change our nights for the better. When she knows milk is an option, she won’t settle for anything else. So I’m wondering, hoping, that completely weaning her will open doors for her in self-soothing (a term I use lightly, recognizing it’s not an ability that all young people should be expected to have). But it’s a hard transition to make, and this may seem silly, but I feel like I don’t know how to wean her. I don’t know how to stop doing something we’ve done for her entire life, and our entire lives together. I feel like it deserves more thought than just deciding to say “no more milk” one night and just expect her to get it and get over it.

Any advice from those who have fully weaned is welcome.

A few of my favourite Avery-isms right now

The way she exclaims, “woooow!” at things that impress her. Example, our new neighbours put up a fence dividing our back yards over a weekend we were away, and when Avery walked into the back yard to see it for the first time, she said, “wooow!” with such a sense of awe and wonder. Seeing me cleaned up and dressed up also gets a “wooow”, which says something about how I usually look…

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How she kisses my “ouchies” so lovingly. Since we started “kissing it better,” she finds any little red mark on our skin, says “ouchie,” and kisses it better. This started in earnest with hand-foot-and-mouth disease when we all had a lot of ouchies 😣

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Just started saying “love you” in response to us saying “I love you.” But she’s also in a repeat-after-me phase where she repeats pretty much everything we say, so she might not know the meaning of it yet.

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Although she knows the word “outside,” she still usually asks to go outside by saying “boot, mit, hat?” Even though we’re in sandal (and definitely not mitten) season right now… She does the gestures of putting on boots and mits and a hat, too. It’s cute.

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She tickles us. She wiggles her fingers all over our bellies and laughs and laughs at the hilarity. I hate being tickled – I freak out and instinctively will punch or kick someone who is tickling me. But when Avery does it, somehow it’s cute.

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Naming her toys. I’ve been waiting for the day when Avery would be into playing with animal figurines. That was always my fave as a kid. Not only is she super into her animal figurines now, but she named one of them, ALL BY HERSELF! She has been really into horses lately (her grandma has horses), so I surprised her at daycare pickup one day with a plastic horse figurine (Tractor Supply Store has great ones), and as she accepted it she said “wow, horsie! Umm, Apple!” Apple is the name of one of the horse’s at her grandma’s place. The toy didn’t really look like the real Apple, but she decided that her toy horse needed the name. When you ask what her horse’s name is, she says Apple.

A totally life changing thing happened

Life has been pretty stagnant lately, which I’m totally ok with; but, it does mean I’ve had a lack of blogging material. Today I’m going to update you on a couple of less-than-exciting things in my life, and if you can get through that, I’ll tell you something that happened recently to totally change my life.

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We have a basement apartment in our house (separate entrance, pretty high-end space), and our quiet, never-there tenant just moved out. My wife and I spent a couple of evenings after Avery went to bed scrubbing the place down from ceiling to floor, and I filled up an entire week of almost back-to-back showings. The second showing, 9:30am Monday morning, submitted a great application for tenancy and gave us a cheque for first and last month’s rent just an hour after seeing it. She SEEMS perfect. How could it be this easy?? Hopefully not too good to be true. She moves in next week. I’m thankful it went so smoothly, but still, it’s a change. It’s a big deal to have a stranger moving into your basement, even if you don’t really ever have to see them.

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The day after I recovered from hand-foot-and-mouth disease, I came down with a cold. It’s just a cold, but the frustration level is sky high. I haven’t slept for more than an hour or two at a time for weeks, most recently due to not being able to breathe through my nose. Today I soaked in the bath while Avery was at daycare and just cried. I’m tired, and so frustrated with being sick. Yes, I’m a whiney sick person. But also, I think I’ve earned a good frustrated cry. And a soak in the bath.

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Ok, ready for the life changing news?

When my grandmother passed away, she left me and my one cousin on that side of the family an inheritance. I had no idea how much it was. The cheque finally arrived last week, and it was life-changing. It entirely and absolutely covers my student loan amount, with an extra grand to put back into the savings I depleted trying to make loan payments. I can’t even describe the sense of relief (and awareness of priviliege) that washed over me when I opened that cheque. We can now move forward in life debt-free (until we get a mortgage, which we can now do sooner thanks to not having to pay off my student loan). Thank you grandma, you changed my life even after your death.

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And here are two pics of the child who makes my eyes well up daily from the sense of overwhelming love I feel for her.

Mom chat on the beach

I met up with some summer cottage friends this weekend who both became moms recently – one has a 6 month old, the other a 2 month old. We chatted about birth stories, life, and our babies while Avery played in the sand and the other babies slept or cuddled on their moms. It was nice to be surrounded by other fresh moms. I felt like I was among kindred spirits, in a tight group who shared a common understanding of just how hard motherhood can be.

But then our differences in experience started to make itself known. One of the new moms (with the 6 month old) talked about how there’s so much free time with a baby – she had just been reading a good book while her baby laid next to her on the beach. She had been able to take up baking and had been making all kinds of bread. She takes care of herself, and has leisurely showers in the afternoon. The other mom, with the 2 month old, said her baby sleeps a lot, in his own room since birth, sometimes all night without even a single feeding.

I started to feel alienated. I tried to nod and pretend like I knew what they were talking about, but I’m not good at keeping feelings bottled up. I declared that I was so happy for them, but that wasn’t my experience at all. I told them I felt like the first 6 months almost killed me, that I sometimes went 5 days without showering. They were great about it and said that every baby is different, but I still felt like shit.

Was it me? Was it my baby? What was wrong with us to make our experience so hard (on both of us)?

The next day I saw the newest mother on the beach while Avery and I built sandcastles and dipped our toes in the water, thoroughly enjoying everything toddlerhood has to offer. She tried to tell me about her night and she broke down crying. Before I could offer her support, she left in a hurry, apologizing that she was just really emotional right now.

I felt for her – SO HARD. And I also felt better. Even if your baby sleeps well or will happily bounce in a bouncer for hours on end, motherhood is still hard. The emotions are always going to be intense. The responsibility crushing.

I suppose I feel fortunate that (I believe) the hardest is behind me. Sure, the tantrums in public places sometimes give me a run for my money now, but since those first 6 (maybe 12) months were so hard for me, it just keeps getting better and better and better. And I’m also fortunate that I have that group of moms who really get my experiences here in the blog world. With that, I can’t feel alone. 😉

We got the disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease is THE WORST virus we have encountered so far. Avery came down with it a week ago and her nearly full body blisters are finally scabbing over and healing. She still has a cough to the point where she just threw up all over her bed when she was desperate for a nap, and she still has snot for days to the point where she had a bloody nose yesterday from the irritation.

I came down with it Sunday. I had intense pain all over my body, a migraine, and a high fever. My throat was so sore I couldn’t eat, and had to force myself to sip water. Yesterday I got the sores. Let me just say, this should technically be called hand, foot, mouth and genital disease. Guess where all I have these nasty, painful blisters. I’ve been on a liquid diet for 3 days now because of the sores in my mouth and throat and I have no energy.

But I can’t let that stop me, because my wife came down with it last night. She’s in bed right now sleeping off the fever. I can’t afford to be this sick or this exhausted with a sick kid, but that’s parenting for you.

It’s HORRIBLE to get something like this after your kid has had it and to know what it felt like for them. My heart breaks for Avery. But thankfully she’s eating better again now, and there’s only a couple of sores left that are still open. The rest are scabs that we just have to keep her from picking.

I am in full regret mode that we ever sent Avery to daycare. It has taken so much away from what could have been an amazing second year of Avery’s life. So many awesome developments have happened with her, but any joy we’ve found has been squeezed into the few days we’ve been healthy in between illnesses. Not to mention the fact that I spent a large percentage of the work days that daycare has afforded me out of commission from some virus.

I’m just angry at life right now, but I know it could be worse. Viruses are temporary. Eventually – although I find this hard to believe even as I write it – we will all be healthy again. Maybe we’ll have a healthy summer and we’ll be able to go to parks, interact with other people and kids, and be free from the sometimes crippling effects of viruses. Maybe.

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.