The author with her family.

Different is the New Normal

From the day my daughters learned to speak, they started to ask questions. First, it was deliciously adorable. “If I squeeze you as much as I love you will you explode?” Then it got slightly more complicated: “How do babies get borned?” Before I knew it they were soaking up the world around them like a sponge, and asking questions so much more complicated than I was prepared for.

Most recently, they’ve been asking questions about sexuality. They’re not thinking in sexual terms; just innocent questions about who they can marry, because this is clearly their most pressing concern coming out of toddlerhood! So ready or not, my journey begins.

I needed to figure out how to answer complex questions appropriately, accurately, and in a way that reflects our family’s morals and values. How hard could this be? I mean, it’s easy on TV. The child asks one of life’s hard questions and the parent gives a deeply philosophical, yet appropriate and poignant answer, on the spot. Everyone’s satisfied. Except in real life, I become a blubbering idiot and I’m fairly certain that everyone walks away more confused than when we started!

So when one of my daughters asks me if she can marry a girl when she grows up, my instinctual (and proud) answer is “Yes…if you want to.” But I’m not satisfied with that answer because I feel it implies that being LGBT is a choice, and I don’t believe it is. So the babbling ensues. “You may or may not want to…Yes you can, but only if you want… I mean, not want want, but if you feel…” You get the point. How do I not make it sound like a choice on one hand, or a disease on the other?

Enter Caitlyn Jenner. Leave it to one of the Kardashian clan to introduce a whole new subject to my kids that I wasn’t prepared to explain! It seemed like the start of a “new normal” is permeating the airwaves. While watching an ABC Family original, a commercial came on for a show called “Becoming Us,” an unscripted drama about a teenage boy learning to live with his dad becoming a woman — changing from Charlie to Carly. This immediately spurred a litany of comments and questions from the girls. “That’s so weird! Charlie can’t become Carly!”, “How can a dad become a mom?!?”, “How does that even happen??”

I had no good explanation.

So I turned to my Facebook group, “MN Mammalehs,” for some help and advice. It wasn’t a “Jewish question” and I wasn’t looking for a “Jewish answer” but I knew this group of ladies would be helpful with their answers without judging my questions. They came up with great ideas and smart ways to frame the issues, and I’d like to share them with you:

  • Start with other people/families they know who are “different” than their own (in any way— race, adoption, single parent, gay parents, etc.) and make it clear that different is not bad. Everyone is a little different.
  • “You will marry whomever you fall in love with (and it’ll be exciting to see who that is!)”
  • “John always felt like a boy inside and decided it was time for other people to know the person he really is. It’s important that we treat him the way he wants. Now, he doesn’t have to feel sad anymore.”
  • “Some people feel their outside doesn’t match who they feel like inside.”
  • Throw the question back at them: “What do you think that means? What have you heard? What do you know?” Their answers will give you a frame of reference — what are they really asking?   You’re likely giving them WAY more information than then need or want!

And my personal favorite…

  • As my grandmother used to say, “You can marry anyone you love whether they are black, white, striped, or polka dot… as long as they are Jewish.” Oy, vey!

Let’s face it— being different is hard. Not one of us has escaped a childhood free from the insecurities of being different. But in this crazy, fast-paced iWorld in which we’re raising our children, one thing gives me solace. They’re growing up in a world where it will be much easier to be themselves, no matter what that looks like. “Normal” has been redefined. Now, different is the new normal.

Cara Strauss is a full-time realtor, wife and mom to three beautiful girls, ages 2 to 6. She’s a transplant to Minneapolis hailing from Philadelphia and Phoenix. The culture, way of life and great people are just some of the reasons she’s still here 14 years later, planting her roots.

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