FAQ On Lesbian Parenting
When my wife and I began to walk the road to becoming lesbian parents, we had a lot of questions.
When my wife and I began to walk the road to becoming lesbian parents, we had a lot of questions (and so did everyone else in our lives!). So I’ve put together a list – with our answers – in case it helps you. (And for those of you who are already in the throes of parenthood – please add your suggestions in the Comments below – we can always edit this post to include them).
Being a part of Queer Mamas Facebook group connects you to all kinds of women. It’s a nice reminder that even amongst smaller LGBTIQ communities there really isn’t a standard version of family.
I know, I know, the whole point of the #Love revolution is that we don’t want a definition of family – unless it includes everyone. But it’s an extra level of neat that two women together are creating families in five+ different ways because whatever fears you have about barriers to creating your family, there is probably someone out there who has a solution, a different way to create your family, or who has faced and overcome the same fears you’re carrying around.
Now I’m not saying “sameness” is essential, but sometimes when you are navigating what feels like untraveled waters, and possibly up against infuriating questions, unknowns and even rejections, it can be validating to connect with another family who is treading a similar path. It’s like a night out with your girls – those people with whom you say exactly how you feel (no matter how ugly it might sound); they completely understand without judgment.
The best news (news that soars me beyond the Trump horrors) is that there are tons of LGBTIQ families being created – and you can watch the birth, adoption and blending announcements on a daily basis in your Facebook feed.
Our family is a two-mom family and we have two boys. We used one anonymous donor via a clinic and we each carried one child after one or two rounds of IVF. My FAQ to Lesbian Parenting are suggestions. I see them as a starting point to take and make yours. We might not answer these questions the same way, but if you’re just starting out, or struggling with it still, I hope the model of our family helps you.
Q: So what do your kids call you?
To think that you would both have to be called the name frequently associated with your gender to recognize your equal role in parenting smacks me as a nuclear family constraint. I didn’t love how in Modern Family both dads were “Daddy” – even if they say them with different intonation. I thought it showed a lack of research on the writers’ part since most LGBTIQ celebrate variety.
For example, there is no child who would say that because they call one of their parents “Papa” that they don’t know what it’s like to have a “dad.” Thus, so can parents of the same gender have different names and still be equal in role and worth.
We chose to be “Mummy” and “Mama” because it fit us in more ways than simply trying to avoid the “Mommy and Mummy” homophone. Vicky always called one of her parents “Mum.” (She struggled throughout her Canadian youth to find cards with the British spelling! We all have our hardships, eh?) I loved the idea of being the equally French Maman – but alas I *postponed* my dreams of bilingualism in pursuit of building our dream company and quite happily landed on the anglicised Mama.
Q. How do your kids tell you apart?
You would be astounded how often we get this question. Maybe you’re even asking it yourself if you didn’t read my last answer. But besides the fact that we are not the same person…(Honestly, it’s like a Shakespearian play out there – if you’re wearing pants you can fool the world).
Well before the age of 4 and 2 our children used different names for us - the ones we taught them as they learned to talk (just like any other parenting team, adult friend or family, does). (Not to say they don’t sometimes call me Mummy in their excitement to get an idea out – but that’s exactly like me absentmindedly calling Madame K my French teacher Mom). Did we race to see whose name they would pronounce first? Absolutely. Did they choose to say the ‘genetically-related’ parent’s name first? No.
Mummy, Mama and Me (Lesléa Newman) quickly became one of our favorite books to the point of “roles”. We each do different things in the family because we are different people – we have different strengths.
Q. How do you handle “Whose the Father”?
Our family was started by two women, so our boys have two moms. Some families have a male parent help start their family. Instead, like a blood transfusion, we used a donor’s genetic material to kickstart our eggs to get pregnant. From intention to conception to pregnancy to delivery and all subsequent nurturing there was only the two of us as parents involved. We created our babies.
How do we feel about the donor? Incredibly, incredibly grateful. We’re grateful to all generous people who donate any of their genetic material – from kidneys to bone marrow to eggs it’s an incredibly kind thing to do. In particular, sperm donation is not a source of income in Canada so these people are incredibly noble as well. Most of their motivation comes from a person they love having experienced infertility: they are trying to make the world a better place by donating what they have to give.
Q. What about bullying at school?
Vicky and I are both trained and experienced teachers. Because of this, we know how vitally important it is to be involved in your children’s school – and in their lives (even when they say they don’t want you there, just to be present over in the shadows of a corner matters). We make a point to both speak with the school leadership and teachers to show them we are the kind of parents who are hands-on and involved, so they feel supported by us, so our child feels supported and so we feel good about the school our children attend. We make sure they know our names and how to refer to our family. For instance, adults have a habit of talking to little kids in a certain way, “ You’ll have to ask your mom and dad” they might say. Our kids know the word “parents” so we make sure the teachers know they don't have to simplify the concept – “ask your moms” or “ask your parents” are simple ways they can connect to our children without trying to assign them some sense of “lack”.
And further to the point of bullying: unfortunately, all kids can get bullied – or perhaps worse, become bullies themselves. Being too tall, freckles, red hair, too smart – all of these are ways children try to feel better about themselves by taking someone else down. We figure talking about bullying, modeling other ways to deal with your insecurities or anger, and inserting ourselves in their community is the best way to build resilience and compassion in our children’s’ lives.
Q. Is it awkward sometimes being a two mom family?
People generally take you the way you present yourself. I think if you feel awkward it can become awkward.
On a business call recently, I referred to “my wife” and while I had only mentioned it in passing this guy had to come back to it. “Your wife? That’s interesting. How interesting for you.”
I let him fumble around in his awkwardness so that he could come to grips with his embarrassment before I helped him push the conversation on.
No matter where you go in life, people are going to put their foot in their mouths – over the fact that I’m gay (Yes, he actually said “But you’re so beautiful – we [apparently able to speak for the collective male species] missed out...” and I had to ask myself whether I was going to walk away from the business deal...) and over the fact that I have a wife and we’ve been married 11 years and we have two children and yes I still eat meat...
We did a lot of work by answering all the questions in The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy, and Birth (Stephanie Brill) because we wanted to make sure we didn’t have any conscious or subconscious awkwardness – any internalized homophobia. I’m not saying there aren’t moments that surprise you or catch you off guard. But don’t you think everyone flounders over personal questions sometimes?
Sure, lots of people will assume I have a husband, I just smile and tell them I have a wife. Anything that makes it uncomfortable after that is about them, not about me.
Q. Do you come out all the time?
Once you’re in a community, people get to know you and at least Canadians generally prefer to ask questions in private (or behind your back!) than to ask them to your face. Most Canadians really don't like to “step in it” – and I’m kind of grateful to them for that.
I don't think any Activist would consider Vicky and I a comrade in arms. We’re kind of your normal couple who is living in this rural community. But, any chance to educate someone, give them the right words to use for our family, or to avoid “passing” as if we are ashamed of who we are—you’re damn right we come out.
I speak about my wife. I don’t use the term “partner” because that’s not what Canadians say (unlike in Australia where everyone uses the term “partner”). Canadians talk about “spouses” and “husbands” and “wives” so as part of that community, Vicky and I make sure we do the same too. It’s important to be visible. Being married for 11 years communicates something about me and my values and I’m proud to share that with people who want to get to know me.
I would say, if you at all feel worried about “coming out” – make sure you go through Brill’s book before you start down the journey of conception.
It’s going to be essential that your child never sees you pass – they may take passing as a sign of your shame—and not about who you are as the adult, but about who they are as progeny of your family! It would be deeply tragic and unfair to have your child carry around shame because you didn’t do the work to get comfortable with who you are first.
There’s a lot of you out there who will deeply disagree with me on that point, but if someone else sees your words or your body language as indicative of shame, that shame now exists for them. And if there is a particle of truth to your shame – your children can smell it on you.
I read an article years ago by a writer whose mother lied to the butcher about having a husband—she didn't contradict him. The whole article was about how awful that felt as the child: as if having two moms was something she, too, should feel shame about. I just don’t want my kids to feel that way, so I speak up.
Are there times where you have to hide who you are? Perhaps, in a country where being gay is illegal. But intentionally, we do not travel to those places. (Why on earth would we give them our beautiful pink dollar?)
What other questions are you afraid of, or are you getting now? Do you have a different answer to share?
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Connect with Alysha on Twitter @alyshadominico