June is Pride Month. Last year was the first time that we went to Pride Fest as a family. Like many families, we fly a Pride flag. We want people to know our family is safe. While trying to let others know we are safe, we were threatened. I knew that flying a rainbow flag on our garage might rub some folks the wrong way. I knew that it might be stolen. The problem I didn’t foresee is a child threatening to burn our house down because we are heathens. An eighth-grader made the threat. What does a mom do? I bought two rainbow windsocks and added them to our collection.
Last year, because of the pandemic, Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca chose to postpone their B’nai Mitzvah ceremony until the end of June, which is Pride Weekend. I love our synagogue because people aren’t turned away because they identify with any part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. I love that my kids honored themselves, family and friends by wearing rainbows. I love that my kids are allies. I love that they are growing up in a time when there are openly LGBTQ+ celebrities, musicians, people in power and people that they spend time with, and they know it’s OK to be themselves.
I am so pleased that Harlan and I are on the same page about LGBTQ+ and that we are both allies. We want our friends to know that their kids are safe here. I grew up in a family like this. All were welcome, and I know my mom fed lots of kids and gave them a place to crash if they needed one. Her rule was that they had to call home and let an adult know where they were and that they were OK. To me, that’s just the way growing up is – be there for your kids and any kid who might just need to give their parents a break. Not every kid has a safe place to sleep. Not every kid has a family where they feel safe and loved. We try so hard to make sure Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca know they are loved and cherished.
I’ve lost track of the number
of conversations we have had as a family about their bodies, sex, safe relationships, responsibilities and how each choice can affect their futures. Rebecca, Olivia and Benjamin have talked about birth control, safe sex and a person’s rights. We really try have open discussions about whatever they want to know about. The talk around our table isn’t just for one or two of the kids. My son needs to know as much about birth control, pregnancy, consent, how to protect themselves and their partner from sexually transmitted diseases. My daughters talk about the inappropriate conversations that go on around them at school, what choices are available for birth control and that, no matter what, Harlan and I will be available if they have questions or concerns. There are so many families that don’t educate their kids about any of this, and that scares me.
If you could listen in to some of our conversations and how amazing my kids are when they play devil’s advocate or how a person could come to a dissenting opinion even when presented with the same information, you might be amazed. I hope they will consider debate as a worthy club in high school. Discussing Supreme Court decisions and how rights are fought for, won and lost can cause explosive discussions. Social media gets them information fast, so they have time to talk about what is happening and what each of them can do to make a difference.
Here are some organizations that can kids who aren’t able to have these kinds of discussions at home:
Planned Parenthood: 518-434-5678; www.plannedparenthood.org
Trevor Project (for LGBT+ youth): 212-695-8650; www.thetrevorproject.org
Mobile Crisis Services for Albany County: 518-549-6500
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
I have all these contacts in my phone plus other numbers that one of my kids might need. I also do this because if the number is handy, they might be able to help a friend. Teenagers are a tricky bunch, and I just want all the kids out in the world to be safe and know that there is a safety net possible. My job as a mom is to make sure my kids know they are loved and their home is a safe haven.
Jennifer Steuer is an Albany mom whose busy household includes her husband, Harlan, and 14-year-old triplets Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca. Follow her on Instagram: jennifersteuer.