Family / Parenting

Defending my right to be a mediocre (queer) parent


You know, I’ve never particularly felt the need to defend my parenting skills as a queer mom.

Maybe it’s because I have a supportive extended family: my own parents, my mother-in-law, my brother, all my cousins — even our sperm donor’s family — were (and still are) thrilled and excited to support me and my partner when we decided to have kids.

Maybe it’s because I already come at parenting from a place of privilege. I’m a white, able-bodied, upper-middle-class woman, as is my partner. Between the two of us and our donor, we hold eight advanced degrees. We have decent jobs, live in a safe community with good schools. For better and for worse, I’m used to navigating the world from the perspective that of course I will have equal rights, of course I will command and make use of all the resources available to me when it comes to raising my kids.

Maybe (and related to the above) it’s because I’m Canadian. I could — and did — get gay-married in 2004. It was, admittedly, a shotgun wedding (our first son was born, full-term, six months after we got hitched), but the fact remains that my relationship has been legally recognized for as long as I’ve been a mom. I’ve never (okay, aside from some birth-certificate administrative BS for our first kid, about which I appealed directly to our Member of Provincial Parliament, who took care of things) had to explain to the haters and the doubters precisely why my family, my kids, deserve the same rights as their hetero counterparts. I watch the debates still (still! Really, USA?) raging in the United States over same-sex marriage and I can’t really fathom the amount of strength it must take to watch your family be at best overlooked and at worst savaged, daily. I can’t imagine having to face what is already the hardest job I have ever done with the added stress of knowing that my parenting missteps could be blamed on the fact that my kids have two moms.

Because here’s the thing: I make plenty of parenting missteps. I have brought into the world two glorious, spirited, fiercely intelligent children, kids who — yes, like their mama, this mama — seem to have a very healthy sense of their rights and are quite vocal about exercising them, not to mention protesting the perceived violation of said rights. These two boys of mine can, and do, test my every parenting skill almost daily. Parenting can run the gamut from the sacred to profane over the course of every day (sometimes every hour) at our house, leaving me joyful one minute and bleak the next, wondering if I really have the chops to make this work.

If anything, I sometimes feel as though I need to defend my right to be a mediocre parent, especially in the wake of all the studies that keep cropping up about how, in fact, kids from two-mom families tend to do better than those raised by one mom and one dad. My queerspawn, apparently, are supposed to be more confident, open-minded, and affectionate, and less aggressive and susceptible to anxiety and depression.

Which means that if they don’t excel, I will have failed doubly.

Okay, of course I know in my head that isn’t exactly true. But in some ways it’s an added pressure: if my kids are supposed to be doing so well by virtue of their two-mom family, and if I already come to parenting with every possible advantage, why does this gig feel so tough some days?

Yes, I know that parenting — queer, straight, somewhere in between — isn’t a contest, nor is it a zero-sum game. Yes, I’m happy to know that, statistically, my kids are primed for success. But, some days, I don’t want to have to live up to the impossibly high standards I have already set for myself, not to mention the added pressure that comes from living up to the two-mom-household standard. Some days, it seems to me that if in fact same-sex parents were truly equal, we wouldn’t have to say we’re better in any way. We could be free to be just as average as everyone else.



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  1. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a good fit for same-sex parenting because I already have such ridiculously high standards for myself. So I fit right in when the whole world is watching. They’re not, but they are. And in a lot of ways, I want them to be (ahem, mommy blogging) so they can see that we’re doing just fine, and in other ways, I’d love to not only have the right to be average, but have the right to let myself be average. Because sometimes, I’m just tired and don’t want to do it all just right.

    Like today when we sent Roozle off to school with pizza sauce on her face. I wonder, “will they think we let that happen because us gays don’t know how to parent or because we are very lenient about pizza sauce?” For the record, she ate pizza for breakfast, it wasn’t left over from last night.

    • Little Elephant bathes in the morning. This means that she routinely goes to bed with whatever we had for dinner (and lets be honest lunch too) in her hair. Ugh! Such Mommy guilt!

    • I think that pizza is a highly legitimate choice for breakfast. I’m guessing that it was organic, whole wheat, vegetarian pizza, no less.

  2. Best. Baby. Picture. Ever.

  3. I have no particular comment other than the look of pure outrage on the face of that infant is absolutely magical and I keep scrolling back up just to look at it again.

    • And this is the moment where I admit that those are not my children but rather generic Internet children. Because my children always look angelic.

  4. Important and complicated topic, and if parents feel the pressure (or fear, as I did a few times, see also: why again do I live in Florida?) how do we make sure kids don’t internalize that?

  5. Right! I remember the scene toward the end of The Kids are All Right when Mia Wasikowska, the older child character, basically explodes after coming home late from a party. Her soliloquy was all about the pressure she felt to be perfect, knowing how many people were judging their family. My eyes were opened wide from that.

    I had a chance to hear COLAGE staffer Jeff DeGroot’s take on this scene when I participated in a media roundtable with director Lisa Cholodenko & Bay Area queer family journos. He’s a grown kid with two moms, and at the time very active in their support via COLAGE. He said in general that the movie was spot-on in its emotional portraits of the kids and the family, and that scene in particular felt hugely vindicating for him.

    I never realized until that moment how the pressure to stand up to all this scrutiny and criticism is internalized (or can be) by our kids.

    To your question, Deb, how do we make sure they don’t internalize that? I remain stumped.

  6. My partner and I did a lot of very stressful public parenting while our daughter was in the NICU (her parenting was generally exemplary, mine was bordering on unhinged). We were treated very well, but honestly that was because gay parents could be good parents as long as they had more “good” qualities (older, educated, married, middle class, english speaking) than “bad” qualities (young, single, poor), and being white only helped us. I do have the occasional twinge that someone is going to look at my girl in her scuffed “boys” shoes, runny nose, and crazy hair and think-“oh that poor gayby,” but i really have no interest in participating in the politics of respectability that seeks to divide us into good and bad parents.

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  8. I think about this a lot. All the time maybe. Probably why I’m so tired all the time.

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  10. The debate about marriage here in the U.S., and specifically in Maryland where we live, was very confusing for our daughter when she was hearing about whether gay marriage should be legal. She was in first grade last fall when it was being decided and she though it might mean we couldn’t live together as a family if the vote went the wrong way. Of course we told her that wouldn’t happen, but it wasn’t easy to set her mind at ease. Fortunately, it went the right way and we were married in January.

    • To me, that’s the hardest thing about a marriage equality fight in any given state: the collateral damage to our children. The debate opens the floodgates: hatey ads fill up the airwaves, misinformation abounds, and young people, particularly in our families, who have a GINORMOUS stake in the issue (more than most young people probably have in a grown-up election) can’t process the legal minutia.

      I tried to protect my kids from that stuff when Prop8 battle was ravaging our state. My oldest was young enough only to notice Obama was elected, and I was glad.

      Studies have been done on the impact of these fights on our kids, and regardless of the outcome (though of course it’s hardest when their family’s legal status gets voted into oblivion), they are very hard experiences for many kids. Especially if they’re at an age where they’re caught in between, perhaps like your daughter: old enough to know that something is going on around her, but not old enough to know the precise consequences.

      Glad you all are safe now in Maryland. And congratulations on your January marriage!

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