How To Talk About Your Unique Family, with Peter Rider
Stay-at-home dad Peter Rider shares his experience–the good, the bad, and the funny–with being detailed and clear when talking to his kids about all sorts of things. From having two gay dads to contracting head lice and more, he believes being explicit is the way to go. “One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past year, especially as my kids get a little older, is the balance between modeling behaviors vs. being really explicit and explaining things. I think I started out thinking that when it comes to values, kids really learn by seeing. But I think increasingly I’ve thought…about how you actually have to be really explicit about some things.”
[01:07] Hi there, this is Peter Rider, and this is Good Kids. The first thing I want to do is stipulate that I’m very good at giving advice and very that’s a moderate implementation. So I self-identified as a hypocrite and that’s OK. But I guess when I thought about sort of parenting, and like what I struggle with, but also what I feel like I’m OK at, I was thinking about sort of creative tensions. So I think a lot about — the one that I struggle with the most honestly, is the difference between and the balance between picking your battles, and then my deep fear that if you give them an inch they’ll take a yard. So that’s like my biggest creative tension, I’d say. But one that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past year, especially as my kids get a little older, the balance between modeling behaviors versus being really explicit and explaining things.
[02:06] I think I started out thinking that when it comes to values, kids really learn by seeing. But I think increasingly I’ve thought about — my kids now are six and seven, the two older ones. And then I have a two year old. Thinking about how you actually have to be really explicit about some things. So for us, we’re a two-dad households, we’re a gay family or a queer family. So one of our values is just around what it is to be different, how you treat other families that are different, but also the sort of pride that we hope comes from being a family that, you know, might not be like every other family in a particular classroom or in our neighborhood. And so when I started out parenting, I thought, you know, it’s going to be really important for me to surround myself and my kids with other families like ours.
[02:52] And actually, the irony of having kids is I think I have more gay friends now than I did before having kids. I actually spend much more time with other gay families than I did as a single gay person. So when I thought about, like, OK, how do I make sure my kids are around other families like ours? So that was, you know, thinking both about what are the formal groups, like the LGBT Center in New York has a great program for families with young kids. And then also just the fact that, you know, in Brooklyn where I live, it’s common enough where you’ll see a two-dad situation on the playground. And there’s like the whole thing where you’re trying to figure out, like, OK, are those just two really close straight friends having a play date? And I’m always watching to see, like, OK, if they have multiple kids, are they both interacting with both kids equally? Or does, like one, seem affiliated with one kid. So it’s common enough where you actually see people, but it’s also rare enough where if I see what appears to be a two-dad household on the playground, I’ll actually go up and introduce myself. So even though it’s kind of informal, I sort of force myself to step up a little bit in terms of getting to know these other gay families. And that’s been great. And I have like a nice little posse of gay dads. But it’s been interesting thinking about how that doesn’t necessarily translate into your kids knowing explicitly what to be a queer family is, frankly, even like what being gay is.
[04:25] When the kids were maybe three or four, we’re at the playground, and my daughter and son were playing with this other kid. And the other kid was saying they were like wanting to be jaguars or something. And the other kids said to my daughter, oh, you can’t be a jaguar because we already have two jaguars and there are only two jaguars. And she said very self righteously, “we have a rainbow flag at home and that means I can be anything I want to be.” I was like great, like great overall picture. But there’s also a specificity here, because every year in my — I have a couple text groups of gay friends — and every year around Pride, there’s some like horror story about some kid in our group will inevitably be like, “Dad, what is gay?” And we’re like, are we doing our job here, people?
[05:13] Like, you should know this. So I’ve had to start thinking about how to be like more explicit about what it is to be gay and that like, yes, you have two dads. That’s one thing to master. But those dads are actually gay. And that’s awkward. Like, that’s fundamentally awkward. And I think explaining the two-dad thing is one thing. But actually, in my group of gay dad friends, there are a lot of gay dads who are single. So then it’s like explaining, OK, Jose is also a gay dad. But these kids don’t have two dads. So it’s like, how do you actually, you know, get down to the nitty gritty about explaining that? So I’ve been sort of struggling with, like, how to be really explicit with my kids. I’ve definitely had some failures in that regard because I also tend to be a little bit uptight about, like, not using euphemisms. And that’s definitely bit me on ass a couple of times.
[06:08] One, when my mother-in-law passed away a couple years ago, somewhat unexpectedly, it was on me and my husband to tell our kids that grandma had died. And they were three or four at the time. And they were a little visibly upset, but it just didn’t really seem like it was registering. And, you know, they didn’t see their grandmother a ton, but she was certainly a part of their lives. And so I in my mind was like, I don’t know if they’re actually processing this, I don’t know if they get this. So I had this whole thing about not using euphemisms like, you know, she’s passed away or she’s gone to a better place or she’s an angel now. Like, I was big on like grandma is dead. And so, you know, when it didn’t seem like they were really taking this up, I would kind of periodically remind them, like, as you know, grandma is dead. And one day I was coming home from the zoo and my son, who was three at the time, was also going through this period of, like, singing super loudly and making up these songs. And so he had this one song that he would sing. Which I don’t even know if it was based on a song. Because I feel like in parenting you always think that like, oh my God, my kid came up with, like, the funniest song. And then you realize it’s like a YouTube video and it’s like not your IP. But he had the song that was like, everybody knows I love to play ball or everybody knows we’re having pizza for dinner or everybody knows whatever. So we’re like coming home from the zoo and we’re strolling down a pretty busy sidewalk. And Calvin starts like belting out at the top of his lungs. Everybody knows grandma is dead. Everybody knows Grandma is dead.
[07:51] And I’m getting like all these looks from people on the sidewalk or people are looking and they’re like, sort of mouthing like, I’m sorry. It’s like it’s OK. It’s OK. And then another time, I also I’m like, very, very uptight for some reason, probably because I’m like I know it all, but about kids not misidentifying animals. So, for example, I have like a real issue when anyone, an adult or child, like, points at a chimpanzee and says monkey. It’s not a monkey. Right now I’m struggling because on the top of our changing table for our two year old, we have these like plates that have pictures of whales on them. So my daughter’s like fish. And it’s like all I can do. And I don’t always succeed at not correcting her. Like, that’s not actually a fish. That’s a mammal. It’s a whale.
[08:42] But when we were in preschool, my two older kids were in preschool, we went through experience that every family goes through when you hit school age of like your first school lice infestation. So the kids came home talking about it and we got an email about it. And in all of the communications from the school, they would never use the word lice. Like when interacting with the kids, they always kept talking about bugs, which I just thought was weird. Additionally, I had in my mind that lice is not actually an insect. Spoiler alert: it actually is an insect. I was wrong. which makes this all the more ridiculous. But I was convinced that it was sort of like a tick or it was an arthropod, but not an insect arthropod. So it’s trying to explain this to the kids. And I was like, I don’t like this. Them calling it bugs. That feels like a euphemism. It also is inaccurate. It’s actually accurate. So I kept talking to kids about trying it and trying to explain. Well, it’s like a bug. It’s an arthropod, but it’s actually more like a crustacean, you know, like shrimp. And then my daughter was like, so Quinn has crabs? I was like, it’s a bug. It’s it’s a bug. Quinn has bugs.
[12:19] So I’ve sort of realized, like, it’s very hard to be explicit about these things, but it’s also for whatever reason, I think it’s important. It’s also particularly important for me. And so I lean pretty heavily on books because I literally grew up in a bookstore, my parents had a bookstore in Florida. So whatever it is, I’ll, like just go out and buy a book about it. And Lord knows there’s a book for every like 50 blank who blanked. 50 rebel girls, 50 rebel boys. So there’s a couple great books about queer heroes. We’ve been leaning really heavily on those. And I think we have gotten to a point where it’s like the kids could actually explain to you what it is to be gay, what it is to be lesbian, what it is to be trans. But it’s you know, it’s a struggle and it’s a real learning process. And I think trying to strike that balance has been something that will continue to be kind of a learning curve for me. And then I think at the end of the day, ultimately, as with all things parenting, it’s like a huge lesson in humility. And you realize that you think you have a certain amount of control over the inputs and you think that I will massively impact the outputs. And in reality, you have control over a very small amount of them. And that has a very small influence on the outputs.
[13:42] A couple years ago, I think my son was in pre-K and my daughter was in kindergarten. And in both of their classes, it was in January, it was like the week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And in both of their classes, the teachers had done a really amazing, thoughtful job of talking about Dr. King and his legacy. And so they had come home from school talking about the holiday coming up and what it meant and his life. And so we’re sitting around the dinner table and we’re having this great conversation. And they were telling me, like, you know, do you know that someone killed him because of his ideas and isn’t that horrible? And I was yes. Yes, it’s horrible. And we’re really, really like getting into it. And frankly, I was like patting myself on the back for, like woke parent of the year, even though this is all a product of their going to a great school and having great teachers who talk about this stuff. But we were getting like more and more charged up. And I was always like, you know, things used to be really unfair, but things still are unfair, because I wanted to make sure they were also not feeling like these were problems that had been solved. So they started talking about different things.
[14:43] And I said, you know, there was a time not that long ago where people with different colored skin couldn’t get married. And we’re like, that’s wrong, that’s ridiculous. And then I said, you know, there was a time really not very long ago where your pop and daddy, like, we couldn’t have gotten married. And they were like, that’s wrong, that’s ridiculous. And then all of a sudden, my daughter, like, slammed her fist on the table and raised her fists up and said, “Pop, when I grow up, I want my job to be fighting for the right for brother and sister to marry!” I was like, wow. Love the passion. Love the passion. Love the desire to change. Like, you can pick your issue later. And I feel like that was the moment where I sort of realized, like, you know, you can only do so much. But it’s like ultimately the spirit of it that counts. I’m Peter Rider, and thanks for listening to Good Kids.
[15:49] Good Kids is a Lemonada Media original. Andrew Steven is our producer, and the show is executive produced by Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Music is by Dan Molad. Westwood One is our ad sales and distribution partner. Like us, give us a five-star rating, and recommend us to a friend. If you want to submit a show idea, email us at email@example.com.