From a young age I have been a lover of books. I remember my mum reading me a bedtime story every night, and later I started reading to myself before falling asleep. This love of reading has followed me into adulthood, and when I was pregnant I was looking forward to reading to my baby. I was excited to revisit picture books from my own childhood and choose new books that we could share together. In my hormonal bubble I enjoyed shopping for picture books; resting the book on my bump and trying not to cry as I read the heartfelt themes around a mother’s love for her child.
Aged three and a half, my eldest daughter is now into wordier books that have proper characters and a slightly more complex message. She loves her bedtime story and any impromptu opportunity to read books with me during the day. I love the quiet time we share together engrossed in a story.
It is therefore a great shame that our family is rarely represented in the books we read, and I wonder what sort of impact this might have on her. My daughter has two mums, but there are few books that portray a gay family. A quick search on Amazon confirms that we have read most of the two-mum, or two-dad, children’s books suitable for her age.
I know that we are not the only family under-represented in children’s literature. Almost all of the children’s books on my girls’ bookshelves that involve people portray parents who are a straight, white couple. It is unusual to find books that show grandparents raising a child, non-white families, single mums or dads, or families with someone who has a disability.
Children’s TV appears to be much the same. Families are often made up of mummy, daddy and the children. For a long time my daughter role-played families that included this exact combination. If she was playing with her farm set for example, there was always a mummy cow, a daddy cow, and a baby cow. She never created a family that looked like her own, despite meeting up with other gay families on a regular basis. It was hard not to feel critical about the lack of representative books, TV programmes and toys available to us.
I started realising that if we, as a gay family, were not reading many books that included gay families, it was unlikely that other children would be finding out about families like ours in this way. I wonder if it will be difficult for my daughter when she starts school; whether she will face lots of questions or if other children will be confused by the idea of her having two mums. I’ve heard that children can be more accepting of differences than some adults, and I hope that she will feel accepted by children who have previously known little, if anything, of gay families.
I accept that not every book or TV show can portray every kind of family in existence, and reading books specifically about gay families can feel a bit forced at times. I don’t particularly want to read another book about ‘so and so has two mummies’, but the odd nod to a two mum family within a storyline would be appreciated. I’m sure I can’t be the only person who feels like this, and there must be so many different families out there who feel under-represented in books and on TV.
It is difficult being in a minority group, but I hope that when the time comes my daughter will feel confident and proud of her family.
Hannah is a freelance writer living in Bristol with her wife and two daughters aged three and one. When she’s not obsessing about getting the laundry done, she can be found eating potatoes. You can find her on Twitter, read her blog and follow her on Facebook