With same-sex marriage and adoption being legal in South Africa, it is to be expected that more and more same-sex couples are settling down and raising children. While there are no statistics on gay parenting in South Africa, a recent study in the US revealed that 20% of lesbians have children under the age of 18 living at home, while the figure for gay men is 5%.

A child that has two parents of the same gender, whether born to the couple or adopted, needs a solid foundation of love and acceptance – not only within his or her family, but also in society. This is imperative for any child, irrelevant of his or her family structure.

All children need to know that whether their parents are gay or straight they are wanted dearly and loved unconditionally by their parents. A fear that many gays and lesbians who embark on parenthood may have is that their child could be ostracised by others – perhaps by schoolmates or friends – because of their “unusual” family structure.

Now a new range of local books aims to help with these issues. Bedtime Stories: My Family series is the first South African children’s story book series that has been written for children of same-sex couples. The books explain to children that their family is just as normal as the next, and that they can be proud of where they come from.

According to the publishers, Glamorous Publications, the series of books aims to provide same-gender parents with stories that they can read aloud to their children. The books are written in such a way that they are easy for a child to understand, but at the same time instil excellent values in the mindset of the child about their gay or lesbian parents.

The creator of the books, Lisa Sonnekus, says that the Bedtime Stories: My Family range is not only for children with gay or lesbian parents, explaining that even children with heterosexual parents can benefit from the books.

“Children with heterosexual parents need to be exposed to the fact that we live in a very diverse world, and by doing this children learn not only respect, but also love for others, regardless of the sexual orientation of their or other children’s parents,’ she says.

Sonnekus is well-known in the gay and lesbian community for assisting same-sex couples with parenting through the non-profit organisation, Baby-Ventures. The organisation aims to support same-sex couples through the trials and tribulations of having children in the modern-day world.

Sonnekus explains that her new venture was sparked off when she and her partner tried to find books for their son: “Most – if not all, have parental characters as mommy and daddy. They are set with typical gender roles as instilled by society and media… Not that there is anything wrong with this. We just feel, as parents, that there are more dynamic family structures and would like to read a book to our son that also reflects same-sex couple situations.”

As a result, Sonnekus decided to create a series of story books, focusing on one main character (the child) in a same-sex parent home. While, as in any home, it is up to the parents to guide, nurture and educate their children the series aims to assist them in doing this in a fun-filled way. The focus is to offer the child everyday, normal scenarios in the storyline, but with characters that are same-sex parents.

Martin’s Coming Home is the first title in the Bedtime Stories series, and is a story about a new-born baby (Martin) who is brought into the world by his two lesbian mothers. The book focuses on the welcoming of Martin to his new home by his family. The theme of Martin’s Coming Home is the love that his parents have for him, and his acceptance into the world.

As the story unfolds, it describes the wishes of goodwill that the family has for the little boy. Eventually his parents tuck him into bed for the first time, and Martin is as content as can be – just as any new-born baby should be!

With charming illustrations and spell-binding words, Martin’s Coming Home is aimed at children between ages 4 to 8 years. Children like to touch books, says Sonnekus, and that is why the paper quality is very durable. The book also provides the child with a space to either draw or stick in a picture of his or her own family.

Says Lisa: “Children in today’s world will come into contact more and more with children from gay or other house-holds. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach their child about different family structures and the diversity of the world. This book provides them with the opportunity to do that in a fun-way and opens the door for questions from their child that can be explained on their level.”

Writing a series of children’s books for same-gender parent families has come as natural as parenthood admits Lisa. Ultimately, she hopes that the Bedtime Stories series will become an invaluable aid for all families to enlighten their children about diversity

Martin’s Coming Home is available as a soft-cover, 24 page book, and is sold on for R 85.00, including postage. Martin’s Coming Home will also be available in selected retail bookstores soon. The book is also available as an “e-book”, in both an Afrikaans and an international version.

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