First Person: How My Child's Toys Taught Me About Family

My five-year-old daughter's favorite toys are a family of plush cats: Star-Cat (who is pink and sparkly), Pusheen (a toy from a popular Tumblr meme), and their three kittens. In my daughter's own imaginary world, these five felines form a perfect family. Pusheen and Star-Cat had been an item for several months when I noticed something unusual about my daughter's make-believe games. Sometimes Pusheen was male and Star-Cat was female. Sometimes Star-Cat was female and Pusheen was male. Sometimes they were both female. Sometimes they were both male. The only thing that stayed consistent between games of make-believe was that the cats loved each other and that they were a family.

One day, when I saw Star-Cat and Pusheen both separately arranged as if they were nursing their plush kittens, I asked my daughter, "Are both of the cats mommies now?"

"Maybe," she said, shrugging, "Or maybe they're both daddies but they use magic to nurse their babies. Or maybe Star-Cat is a daddy and he's just snuggling two of the kittens so Pusheen can have bonding time with the littlest one. I don't know. It doesn't matter, does it?"

There was something about how casual, or even flippant, she was about her plush feline family that really caught my attention. No, it really doesn't matter, I thought. My child has the fortune of seeing family diversity from every angle. While most of her friends and relatives have one mom and one dad, her best friend has two moms… And our own little family is fairly unconventional: her parents include me (her biological mother), and her adoptive parent, who is a transgender woman currently undergoing the process of transitioning, making her, for now, "kind of like a mommy and a daddy at the same time." She's learned fast that two parents of two different genders aren't what defines a family.

I think the kind of family model that my daughter's toy cats have set up is the way of the future. To my daughter, there is no major functional difference between a mommy and a daddy. Both can cook, do dishes, and wipe fevered brows. Both can fix cars, build camp fires, and play catch. To my daughter, there is no difference between a mother's love and a father's love, or between motherhood and fatherhood -- only labels, and, as she so perfectly explained, those labels don't matter.

Once, after reading an article about "gay genes" and wondering if my daughter inherited my orientation, I asked my daughter if she thought she would want to get married when she grew up, and what sort of person she would want to get married to. She twisted her face strangely and replied, "I have no idea. I won't know if I want to get married, or who I would want to marry, until I'm a grown-up. Why does it matter?"

Indeed, why does it matter? Why do parents, even progressive, queer-positive parents like me, still worry ourselves with labels, explanations, and drawn-out discussions about orientation, about marriage, and about what makes a family? At the end of the day, these labels do nothing more than limit and confine us. As we move forward toward a post-patriarchal, post-homophobic world where gay, single, adoptive, and blended families are accepted alongside average Jane-and-John-Does, we need to listen to our kids and to how they react to the ever-evolving world around them. The truest words often do arise from the mouths of children. As my daughter's ever-changing family of toy cats can attest, a parent is a parent, a family is a family, and love is love, no matter what form they may take.