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David Valdes Greenwood Headshot

How To Guarantee Your Children Won't Be Teased! (Hint: Don't Have Any.)

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Of all the reasons I've heard from people who oppose same-sex parenting, perhaps the most oft-repeated concern is that having gay or lesbian caregivers sets up a lifetime of trauma for the child who will endure teasing about the comparative oddity of her family. As one person recently asked, "Did you ever think about the needs of the child?"

This is an interesting logic and, I suppose, at least premised on a fair understanding of the nature of children: kids can indeed be cruel little beasts and any perceived difference or weakness is ripe for mockery. Where the claim falls short is the implied message that the only people who deserve to parent are those who can guarantee that their children will not be mocked.

I hate to break it to you, but those people don't exist.

You can come from an intact, two-parent, all-heterosexual family and still have the living daylights teased out of you. Just ask the only Mormon kid in a liberal school in the Northeast whether she's had to deal with smart remarks from people who don't understand her. And it's not just hot button topics that land a kid under the microscope of mockery. From the girl I knew who started wearing chunky eyeglasses with ultra-thick lenses in second grade to the boy whose family dressed in matching velour track suits all the time, the world has always been ripe with targets for taunting.

I was teased as a child by different groups for different things. A good-looking, athletic boy in my school routinely called me "Porker" because I was fat. (In truth, fat ran in my family like talent in the Pinkett-Smiths.) I also got teased by some for being a "Spic," because I am half Cuban -- though I got off easier than my brother Ignacio, whose name was deemed so ethnic that locals didn't even try to pronounce it. A third group liked to rib me for being a Seventh-day Adventist, a denomination just too far out there for some of the local Congregationalists.

Some of the teasing just rolled off. After all, it was hardly my fault that people in rural Maine found Spanish exotic; and I never found my church weird, since it was all I knew. The jokes about my weight stung most and lasted longest, but the teasing itself had no meaningful impact on my life. Why? Because, no matter what some people said, I was loved by many and treated well by most. The kindness of the average person, coupled with the safety net of support at home, was the backdrop against which teasing was made small.

The real issue is not what lifestyles or personal details might cause one to be teased, but what messages about teasing we are sending to kids. If you raise your children to feel like it's just fine to mock those who are different, that's a failure on your part, not on mine. If a school's culture has devolved to a point where such hurtful behaviors are not only ignored but even tolerated, that's a systemic issue, and has nothing to do with my household. When bullying -- the natural growth of untended teasing -- is allowed, it's because enough people have failed at the ethical responsibilities given to them by their faith traditions, our society, and their humanity.

This lesson starts at home. My daughter is quite capable of busting out a sing-song taunt if she wants to, but she also knows that she'll be in trouble if either dad finds out. The principle is simple: If you truly are concerned about the harmful effects of teasing, then raise your own kids not to do it.