Family / Parenting

Poster Parent Fatigue IMG_8304As queer parents it’s hard not to feel like we are representing our community every moment.  I often feel like I must put my best foot forward because I could be the only queer parent that this cashier/senior citizen/police officer/barista/nurse has encountered.  I could shape their opinion of LGBT parents.  I could affect their vote.  I could affect my own rights – and the rights of all my LGBT brothers and sisters – just because I’m having a crappy day and I wasn’t at my best for a three minute interaction…   Is that putting too much weight on a fleeting moment?  Perhaps.  But how many of us have seen people change their hearts and minds about LGBT people in an instant?  My guess is that for those on the fence it’s a two-way street.

That’s a lot of responsibility to carry around.  Especially when people aren’t as cordial as they could be.  When people are outright rude, that’s difficult under any circumstance – but sometimes there’s that voice in your head that asks “Are they being hostile towards me because I’m gay?”  On the other hand, even when people aren’t being malicious, there still seems to be a segment of the population that can ask intrusive questions or otherwise cross a line despite good intentions.  Ideally we all want to react to these scenarios with love and understanding.  We want to take advantage of these teaching moments and hopefully be the ambassadors our community deserves.  Of course we are also human.

I know I’m guilty of occasionally responding with irritation and snark when I should be gently correcting misperceptions.  Usually, I regret it.  How do we as queer parents fight the teaching moment burnout?  Spaces like this are a great start, certainly.

While it may be true that this sense of responsibility is heightened for queer parents, we aren’t alone.  After all, what is parenting if not always trying to put your best foot forward?  We are always modeling (hopefully good) behavior for our kids and we are choosing to live in the “teaching moment” for years and years on end.  It’s exhausting.  It should be; it’s hard work.  Hopefully it’s work that’s paying off.


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  1. Wow, Sandra, am I glad you posted this! Just, wow.

    I very much feel this, so much so that I’m sure I’m unaware of it. Truthfully (I could so go on about this), I’m pretty sure the fundamental frameworks of my personality are built around my early, early sense that I was different (key here: different even than from my own family), and my early response to that was to find ways to get people to feel comfortable and at ease in my presence, ideally to like me, so that when the ugly truth came out, I’d not have so far to fall, and I’d maybe still be in their good graces.

    That’s the intense, rooted-in-childhood-emotional-survival patterns part of this. So as an adult who came to parenthood after several decades of social justice activism and a good decade-plus of teaching work, I am certain that I experienece every public moment of my parenthood in just the ways you describe above: every one may be a teaching moment, a decisive one, and I am hard-wired down to the cells to be aware and omptimize.

    Dana Rudolph over at Mombian has wisely, from the beginning of her writing (in what? 2005? 2006?) noted and cautioned us against setting ourselves up to be (or feel like we are) examples of perfect parental prototypes. Though all internal impulses can often strain in that direction, given that our inherent UNfitness as parents has been the primary tool used against us, socially.

    It feels like a double-bind, but one that community-driven spaces like this one (and so many others online and off) can help to untie.

    Last note: when it came out a few years ago, I watched an advanced screening of The Kids are Alright and was able to participate in a media roundtable with the director Lisa Cholodenko (oh, and that actor, what was her name? oh. ANNETTE BENNING). I was with a small group of fellow interviewers. One was Jeff DeGroot, of COLAGE, then a college student (or freshly graduated?), a kid of lesbian parents. (He spearheaded their invaluable Donor Insemination Guide for COLAGE kids.)

    It TOTALLY opened my eyes when Jeff asked his question of Cholodenko, and shared his thoughts about the movie. The thing he zeroed in on (after noting how overall the relationships rang so true for him), was that scene toward the end of the movie when the daughter blows up at her parents after coming home late from a party: the built-up response to the immense pressure she clearly felt to be perfect, because she, too was “representing” LGBT families. Essentially in the most decisive way: the resultant kids. Are they all right? For the first time, listening to Jeff, I really began to realize the burden on kids keenly aware of the judgements against their parents (and what kid, by the time they’re a teenager, isn’t?), and still intensely identified with them (the job of the teenager may be to forge out from the family and create herself as an autonomous proto-adult, but it’s a long, long process for most).

    I saw my daughter in the older child (she is en route to that already, overachiever in school and vocal about her identity as a child of lesbian parents), and I took note.

    I was going to close this with a crack about how I only hope she chooses Cal over Stanford (hard to resist, as an Ol’ Blue). But really, I hope I can find a way to do the work I want to as a heart-and-mind-changing parent, and still leave myself room for imperfection, and my kids space to become whoever they want to be.

    Thanks for opening up the space here to share about that.

  2. I just saw the length of that comment after I posted it and said “Oh my god” out loud. #loquaciousnessmaybetreatable

  3. On Polly’s comment–yes, all that. It was something I learned about first when reading Abigail Warner’s book (linked in my most recent post). It’s one reason my kids don’t have any “I love both my moms” teeshirts. They’ve been to a Pride parade, but it was all rainbows and dancing boys in glitter body makeup for them at that age.

    On Sandra’s actual post–gah. Adding adoption, then transracial adoption on top of the queer family thing, I am crippled, some days, by the pressure to represent Just Right.
    It has only recently begun to strike me that worrying about appearances too much could be really bad for my parenting overall. But it’s hard to know where the line is between what I really want for my family and what I want my family to look like to outsiders. (I have pretty high standards, anyway!)

  4. My very first post on Lesbian Family was about role modeling. Not so much the point Sandra is eloquently making here about the difficulty of being the one in front of an individual on the fence and the immense pressure we put on ourselves. Rather, it was about how the visibility of lesbian families, and sites like this and mombian and real life interactions, are so important for young bi and lesbian women who haven’t seen our families in their lives. Working, living, and dating in communities that don’t have out populations, it has been hard for many of my queer friends to fathom family-hood and their sexuality going hand in hand. And, part of what is important is the recognition that its not all rainbows and joy. That people struggle. That it is okay to falter and that it is okay to be true to yourself.

    PS Sandra, I love that picture with your kids! Adorable!

  5. Yes…and as my kids hit the teen years I realized I not only hoped they illustrated good parenting to the world, but also to an insecure part of myself. To Polly’s mention of The Kids are Alright, that’s what was so brilliant about that film, was the relaxation in the place where parents finally get to admit to THEMSELVES that the kids are alright, nothing more to prove.

  6. When I grew up, I felt completely as a member of my state, of my community. At the same time I Also felt different – as a lesbian, but that´s another story.
    I felt deeply as an citizen of my country (Germany), as an inhabitant of my town. Deep roots in sport clubs, activ in school and community. Then I came out. This was a process. But in the years also the old fellows of my parents generation give me the feeling that all is ok.
    Politic changes, we have the Lebenspartnerschaft- Law, a form of marriage, with less rights. We could adopt the children of our partners, we are legal one family. That´s great.
    In the years of open political discussion about the same rights for my family, slowly I lose the feeling of being a deeply connectet part of my country. “They” discuss, in way as I´m an alien, they couldn`t trust me and other LGBT. Our bedroom creates such a different, Although we grew up in the same way … I can not follow, I can not understand this feelings of this politicians, this religious activists. I feel that the cleavage results from their arguments. The cleavage that I’m no longer a normal citizen.

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