Sigmund Freud has often been quoted as saying the definition of mental health is having the ability to work and the ability to love. If that’s the case, then parents must be the most psychologically healthy people on earth; being a parent requires lots of both.
Children’s author and mother Dana Cerrito has shown that she has what it takes to be a parent. She gave up her full-time career shortly after her daughter was born to devote more time to Maia, the baby girl she adopted on the day Maia was born. Cerrito’s book, “On the Day Love Was Born” attempts to explain to her daughter where love comes from and how her mother came to possess so much love for her.
“She loves the book,” said Cerrito. “She calls it her book and one of her favorites. When she reads it now and if she reads it when she is in college, she will know that she was always loved.”
Cerrito, 44, is a graduate of Cranston High School West and the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to becoming a mother she worked in publishing and recently founded Little Hill Publishers (www.littlehillpublishers.com) as a conduit for little-known writers such as herself. “On the Day Love Was Born” is her first children’s book.
It is a very short book, with very few words, but Cerrito said she consciously imbued the book with symbols that may not mean much on the surface or to the casual reader, but a closer reading reveals graphic clues that will mean something to Maia as she makes her way through life. As far as Cerrito is concerned, there is no such thing as being too affirmative with a child, especially an adopted child in a special circumstance.
“It is a story that expresses the sentiment that we were meant to be together,” she said, “and we use these adorable creatures created by Lauren Gallegos to help tell the story…The parent and child turtle are different colors but only a multicultural family might even notice that.”
In Cerrito’s case, the cultural element to her and Maia’s story is that Maia has two mothers, a domestic set-up that is becoming more commonplace as the acceptance of same-sex marriage becomes more widespread. Cerrito, who lives with her wife in Ashland, Massachusetts, seemed somewhat surprised when it was suggested that she was a housewife but she did give up a regular job to stay home with her baby and the label seemed to settle on her as she thought about it. She is of the first generation of same-sex couples in Massachusetts and, in spite of the newness of that social category, is very happy to report that her circumstances haven’t made much difference to her friends and neighbors. She says that, for the most part, she’s just another mother in those circles and, so far, her family’s makeup has not affected the way Maia gets along with other children. Cerrito said there are plenty of support resources for same-sex parents in Massachusetts but so far, she hasn’t needed to use them.
“We hang out with our heterosexual friends and their children,” she said. “We talk about parenting and kids. I am very grateful to the support I get from just my family and friends and neighbors.”
Cerrito said one of the main points of doing the book was to create a poem of sorts to explain the bond between a parent and child, and how it can transcend other aspects of the world.
“You wouldn’t know from reading the book what gender the turtles are,” she said. “I wanted it to be for all children and all parents.”
But Cerrito does live in the real world and she knows that she would not get the same reception in other parts of the country and even the world.
“I am married here in Massachusetts but if we went to Mississippi we would not legally be a family,” she said. “And I’m not talking about Iran or Pakistan, I’m talking about Florida! There has been some progress in individual states but the federal government does not recognize us. I’m not eligible for my wife’s Social Security benefits. If something happened to her, we would be on our own. That’s crazy.”
It is possible that Cerrito’s book may help change people’s minds but it is likely that same-sex parents will be around a long time before it is generally accepted, even with many children in need of homes and so many same-sex couples willing to provide for them. The Child Welfare League of America (www.cwla.org), a coalition of public and private welfare agencies since 1920, has offered its expertise and support in favor of same-sex parents.
“A growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that children who grow up with one or two parents who are gay or lesbian fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Evidence shows that children's optimal development is influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by its particular structural form (Perrin, 2002).”
“No studies have found risks to or disadvantages for children growing up in families with one or more gay parents, compared to children growing up with heterosexual parents (Perrin, 2002)…Existing research comparing lesbian and gay parents to heterosexual parents, and children of lesbian and gay parents to children of heterosexual parents, shows that common negative stereotypes are not supported (Patterson, 1995). Likewise, beliefs that lesbian and gay adults are unfit parents have no empirical foundation (American Psychological Association, 1995).”
In the meantime, anyone can see that love and good parenting can rise above any number of circumstances and Cerrito intends to promote both with her publishing venture.
“Embedded in our tagline is our mission statement,” she says (her last name means ‘little hill’ in Spanish), “‘A small elevation can still improve your view.’”