Posted: Feb 27, 2013 9:00 AM
Is it wrong to allow your child to participate in an organization with viewpoints that conflict with your own? How will you respond when your son asks, "What about me? Can I be a Boy Scout?"

Contributed by Janelle Hanchett

Parenting from the gut

Often I look around the parenting world: books, magazines, websites, forums, blogs... and it seems like every parent on the planet has some clearly defined approach — some inner compass guiding their parenting decisions, allowing them to stand behind those decisions confidently. So confidently, in fact, that they may even recommend their approach to the world.

I contemplate the pros and cons, balance them as best I can, and try to make a decision that won't be, well, a total disaster.

I rarely have that experience.

Most of the time, I find myself feeling unprepared and unqualified to answer complicated, big parenting decisions (and let's be honest, some of the small ones baffle me too), forced to navigate unchartered territories with only my gut to guide me (and hopefully a bit of reason and logic and heart). I contemplate the pros and cons, balance them as best I can, and try to make a decision that won't be, well, a total disaster.

I realize this is not a particularly enlightening approach, but alas, it's the truth. And after I make the decision, I watch carefully, to see how it's going. And if it's a disaster, I do something else, hoping my mistake doesn't result in catastrophic effects on my kid. So far, it seems to be working okay. But they're still young, so there's still time for catastrophe to hit. Ha!

When can I join Boy Scouts?

And so you can imagine my slight terror when my son asked when he could join Boy Scouts, and my hesitance to write about how we ultimately decided to allow him to participate, despite the fact that (in terms of its ban on homosexuals) the organization represents a mentality my husband and I find repugnant, bigoted, and reflective of everything that needs to change about our world.

We speak to our children often about social justice, about the inequalities inherent in American society. We talk about marriage equality, about racism, about the history of genocide in our country. We do not hide from these topics. Rather, we try to face them directly with our kids — to empower them to become agents of change, looking forward to the day when we will be able to congratulate gay men and women on their marriages at the local courthouse, as we've been (enviously) watching families do in Washington.

So how could I possibly allow my son to be a part of an organization that upholds an outright ban on gay youth and parents?

How could I sleep at night? How could I look myself in the eyes? How could I explain it to my son when he's older? Isn't the only ethical move to withhold participation in Scouts until their policy changes?


Changing from the inside

But there's another way to look at it: What about changing it from the inside? What about letting my son participate while actively advocating for a change in Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) policy? What about recognizing the difference between BSA as a nationwide organization and the den that meets around the corner, in my little town with real little boys and their dads?

Janelle Hanchett son dressed in boyscout uniformWhat about recognizing that I don't support all of BSA, but I do support a good deal of it, and that's okay?

But then again, it seems short-sighted, selfish and wrong to take what Scouts offers, knowing there are same-sex parents who must tell their boys, who are hopeful and interested and curious just like mine, "Sorry son, but we aren't welcome there."

Yes, it probably is. And I know we're walking a slippery slope. As I've mentioned, I'm not particularly sold on my decision. But I can tell you that my experience with Scouts has been an overwhelmingly positive one, and they aren't discussing sexuality as they build pine cars for their derby.

And I can tell you I've been signing petitions and doing what I can to push the Scouts toward changing their policy. (If you're interested, see Scouts for Equality. The BSA Executive Board is voting in May about whether or not they will repeal the ban, so please get involved if you have an opinion on this.

But I'd be lying if I didn't feel ambivalence as my boy proudly wears the classic blue shirt and sash, feeling deep in my heart that maybe we made a mistake, that maybe we should pull our support until BSA decides to actually live what they preach, that maybe I'm living a lie sending my boy to his den meetings every other Tuesday.

But then again, maybe I can do a little more by bringing one more boy into the fold who reflects an upbringing of love and tolerance and acceptance. Maybe that's how change happens, little by little, one family at a time, nudging the trajectory of the whole thing, until we end up in a new place altogether.

And together, finally, with all our differences, as I think we should be.

More on parenting choices

Teach your children to be flexible about gender
Feel confident as a different parent
Pick and choose parenting