Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Children Need a Mom and a Dad

To be plain about it, our children do not have a mother. For that, many argue our family shouldn’t be.

As our boys well understand, there is, of course, a woman who carried them, and took care of them for the months before their birth. I love her like a sister, the children know her, and know our deep gratitude. We have a special name for her, but a ‘mother,’ to us, is a woman who parents you, who is emotionally tied to you, and, while many will want to say that, of course, our children have a mother, focusing on the biology, we reserve that word for those women who do the work of parenting. The reason should be more than evident to any adopted child, or any child, really, who takes the time to wonder what’s important in their relationship with their parents.

The detractors of our families are not stupid, though. Most people are raised by heterosexual couples and feel strongly for their parents. Our opponents apply a slight trick of vocabulary and emotion and this argument becomes one of the most effective they have. I’d bet even a lot of folks reading this, when they read that first sentence, cringed somewhere inside, and some even became morally incensed, for their reflexive extrapolation of their familial feelings into our home. I’ve got no problem with such reflex, as long as it doesn't end there. Heck, I love my mom too, and am sure my life’s quality would have been greatly diminished without her.

But it’s not just a mom, a woman I love, right? I love my mom. I love my particular parents. When you think on it beyond the superficial, it’s clear what we love about our parents is not their anatomy, or genes, not the ‘M’ or ‘F’ on their birth certificates. We love the people they are, their parenting. We’ve a whole tomb of loving history to back up our strong feelings about ‘mom’ and ‘dad,’ beginning even before our memory, in places where baby books can only testify. We love every patched scrape, every late night they worked for us or paced in an emergency room. We love every encouragement to go beyond ourselves, every hug, smile, and lesson imparted. Though no child cares from what anatomical shape all those experiences come, the words ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ still become infused with wonderful feelings by the association.

Our detractors, as low as it strikes me, try to turn those emotions into a weapon, to imply something that is false about our family. The implication being that only moms mother and only dads father, and so our children are only half parented, missing half all those many experiences. The implication is, for example, that when our boys fall down and scrape a knee that we both, both being their 1950’s stereotype of a father, turn to their teary faces and tell them to stop bawling; be a man.

I think, though, most modern humans would admit they parent for their child’s needs, aiming to make them moral, healthy, and happy individuals. Most fathers mother, at times, and most mothers father, when needed. Being a parent of twins, a necessity to parent in a way unique to each child is even more striking. I know my one son responds best to a gentle touch; the other is more rough and tumble. If treated with the same parenting stereotype of mothering or fathering I’d be doing both a disservice. So when they’re hurt, we comfort them, and when they’re crying in forced drama, we encourage them to get back on the horse. Our parenting, just as it is in any other home, is a balance of the notions behind mothering and fathering, though never perfect (but if you think you do a perfect job as a parent, you're doing it wrong ;-)).

I’m reminded here of my Aunt Beanie, a very old woman who’s lost that part of the mind that would censor her younger self. After about 6 months of our children’s lives, she complained to my mom that, if anything, we “mother them too much.” She felt we kept them too close, and didn’t insist enough they “soothe themselves.” That was how they mothered in her generation. By today’s standards she’d be a very masculine parent. Heck, many of the kids back then, in the golden age of “the family,” were raised by their siblings, particularly here in Utah. I just find it funny that the only criticism of our parenting we’ve received from those who actually know us is that we mother too much :-).

It’s also bit comical that the folks who’ll deride gay men as unfit to be parents for their inability to do the traditional jobs of mothers are the same people who’ll complain about gay men being too feminine. One of the best things about being gay is being let go from those artificial gender rules. You can more easily do what you're innately best at, regardless of what's traditionally in your gender, and this carries over into our homes. Some lesbian moms can teach their kids how to through a curve ball better than any man, and some gay men make better cookies than the most domestic matriarch. We are lucky to have this freedom to more easily do what we're best at for our family, even if at the price of some alienation.

Personally, we have one of the best homemakers I’ve known, my Rob. In all, I have to conclude that it’s not really our actions of parenting, or our children's happiness about which our opponents are concerned; it’s about maintaining their stereotypes and superstitions about what it means to be gay, or a man, or a woman.

On this topic, it’s typically also stated that our children suffer from merely having little influence or example from adult females, and thus they won’t know how to build a family. In a way, with Rob as a stay at home parent and with our great involvement of extended family, it seems to me we’ve a better example of a traditional family than most around here. Furthermore, it's not like our family is a no-estrogen zone. Our kids spend much of their day with their female teachers and friends, almost every day they see their grandparents, and there’s an aunt or niece at our home almost as often . In short I’d say they’ve more access to examples of diversity in human sex, race, and family types than most kids in Utah. We’ve been sure of that

It’s not like they’ll hit puberty and have no idea how to treat or court a woman, or have no close female they could, if they felt it necessary for any reason, turn to for personal advice. Nevertheless, as a guy who’s been chaste and kept a strong union for well over a decade, I don’t feel abnormally unqualified to teach my children about what it means to court, love, cherish, and respect either a man or a woman, towards whichever their orientation may point. I know I learned much from my parents that’s been applied to our home (I also know most of those who use this argument offer their gay children far worse than no example, without a moral flinch).

And hey, as a bonus, the woman who marries one of our boys will get a man who knows work, at home and in the office, can be shared. Unlike some of the men in our family, they’ll know it is actually possible for a man to do his fair part with the cooking and laundry :-).

Finally here, a typical gay marriage opponent will resort to a variant of something like: “So you’re saying that mothers are disposable then?!!” Yes, that’s what I’m saying… Let’s get rid of mothers. My kids don’t have a sister either; so I advocate getting rid of them too, right? Sheesh! Does this mean the Catholics I’ve encountered using this argument by logical extension believe non-catholic parents are disposable as well?

To be clear, no one is saying that mothers or fathers are disposable; quite the contrary. I’ve never met a gay man or woman who’s had anything bad to say about mothers or fathers in general, or the institute of traditional marriage. It is simply politically effective for our opponents to use such hysterics, again playing on the emotions behind ‘mom’ and ‘dad.’ Ironic, though, that it is these same people who are arguing that either Rob or I should have been replaced to make their idea of ideal. It’s as though, to protect “the children,” they’re willing to ignore the reality of their attachments and needs of our children. No, the same strong emotions that make this argument effective for some are present in our home too, and deserve respect as well. Parents are vital, indispensable, and it’s tragic when they’re lost. But every child needs their particular family, the people bound to them emotionally and obligated to them as parents. No one else will do for my children; no one else will do for your children.


Java said...

Wonderful essay, excellent arguments! I think a Mom needs a parenting partner who is also a romantic partner. Likewise a Dad needs someone to have his back both as a parent and as a lover. If one's sexual orientation indicates that partner is of the same sex, fine! As you have demonstrated, there isn't a significant difference.
I am the Mom in a heterosexual relationship. However, my husband does more of the typical "parenting" than I do. I'm back in the bedroom hiding from reality while he is out in the living room interacting with the kids. He'll be getting the younger ones ready for bed in a few minutes.
We make heavy use of tag team parenting practices. We are a united front against the onslaughts of childish misbehavior. We also work diligently on maintaining and enhancing our marriage/partnership. This makes us stronger together, helping us handle the parenting tasks. I see no reason homosexual couples couldn't do the same. I see homosexual couples who DO the same! I hope this becomes more socially accepted, the sooner the quicker.

Paul said...

To me, the bigger tragedy is the reality that many kids grow up in single parent households. I do think it's preferable that kids have two loving adults as role models -- in the home -- in order to learn to share, to resolve conflicts, to sacrifice and to work together.

I thus have no problem with two same-sex parents raising a family.

However I do question the ability for you and Rob to teach the boys how to court, love, honor and respect potential female partners. You yourself implied that many heterosexual couples may not have the best skills in raising gay children. It's reasonable to me that the reverse may be true, too. Plus, I've personally seen way too many girls raised by single mothers that do not have a healthy attitude of men.

I'm just saying ...

Hopefully, you'll prove me wrong.

(BTW, I know how to cook and do laundry. It wasn't my mother that taught me those skills. I learned that in college.)

playasinmar said...

It will be interesting to see, in ten years or so, what your boys have to say about it.

Willfully Ignorant said...

Hi Cog,

This is an excellent post, and while playasinmar suggests that the story will change as your boys age, 25 years of research and comparisons between hetereosexual and normal(gay led) families indicates that your children are as likely to be warped or healthy as the children of the breeders across the street.

Did you know that Equality Utah drafted a bill to remove the cohabiting restriction from Utah's law on who can adopt? Your post could be shortened a bit and then serve as an exquisite op-ed piece in support of all families as well as this legislation. Please consider it.

Scot said...

Thank you for that, Java.

I think such flexible parenting amongst all couples is becoming more and more prevalent. It makes sense. The work should be divided by who is best at what (and equally :-)). And I do think things are changing, just never fast enough.

Scot said...

WI: 25 years of research and comparisons between hetereosexual and normal(gay led) families indicates that your children are as likely to be warped or healthy as the children of the breeders across the street.

I’ve collected much research and it does set my mind at ease; it felt like it had to be part of becoming a parent for us. I’ve also met many kids in their late teens who were raised by gays and lesbians; they too have put us at ease.

Normal… Breeders… I know we aren’t normal, if normal means near the average, and I don’t think anyone would want to be called a breeder; besides, nowadays the term would include many gays and lesbians :-).

(Paul, my comment got too big, as you might expect from me; give me a sec)

Scot said...

Paul: “However I do question the ability for you and Rob to teach the boys how to court, love, honor and respect potential female partners. You yourself implied that many heterosexual couples may not have the best skills in raising gay children. It's reasonable to me that the reverse may be true, too.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with straight couples raising gay children. For my young self, I, of course, think my folks were the best parents in the world :-).

What I was implying is that the people who use this argument often pose to their children a deliberately corrupted example of what it means to be gay or in a gay relationship. They tell them they’ll never be happy, it’s only about sex, they’ll never be a husband or father, and so on. I’ve known many damaged kids who were even disowned and kicked to the street in their mid teens by such parents. While that is very bad parenting for any child, it’s not caused by the parents being heterosexuals; it’s caused by them being cruel bigots. Even a gay man married to a woman could treat his gay child this way, which is why I phased it as “those who use this argument”.

Also, it seems the reverse isn’t really the same. My parents couldn’t teach me what it means to be part of an out of favor minority group. They had no firsthand experience with bigotry, or understanding of gay rights issues. I learned those lessons on my own. Nevertheless, they were there, they were supportive, and they were loving, and that example is what made all the difference.

I suppose, the same is really the case for many people. All children will face trials not seen by their parents and they should. The parents of deaf children learn the issues of the deaf community, and parents of savants learn how to deal with children whose brilliance they’ll never really comprehend. As long as they love, care for, and are willing to learn, I think they’ll end up being great parents for any child.

Don’t forget too, many gay men have courted women, though with ulterior motives. Though doing what it takes for a girl to fall in love with me is one of my greatest regrets in life, for the heartache I caused, I seemed to know how to court too well. In all though, dating girls wasn’t all that different from dating a man. It primarily meant I was dating someone I was attracted to, and that I didn’t have to pay as much for dinner ;-). Heck, we’ve a friend whose wife took a decidedly masculine role in their relationship, even proposing, but I’ve no doubt their kids will court and love just fine.

"Plus, I've personally seen way too many girls raised by single mothers that do not have a healthy attitude of men."

There is a problem with such a comparison though. Most children are raised by single mothers because of a divorce or a deadbeat dad. Measuring the effect of abandonment or divorce, particularly if contentious, does not measure the effect of not having a male in the home. For example, if it were just the presence of an adult male that helps girls you’d think that a child of divorce would do better than a child whose father died; they, after all, still have a father around. Yes, both children show harm emotionally and scholastically, but the orphan ends up doing better than the child who still has a father (Stevenson and Black, “Paternal Absence”).

This is not to say it’s better for a parent to die than leave the home :-) (though that could be a conclusion of the twisted logic some of our opponents use); it’s simply an indication of what’s important to a child. It’s the narrative, the way the family form is framed. Do my parents love each other? Was I abandoned by someone who I loved and promised to stay, or was he taken from me? Does my mom need me to fight against my dad and does she talk bad about men in general?

Can parents separate and still leave their children feeling secure? I don’t know how it works, and I bet it takes some effort, but I think they can. I know many children of divorced parents who were hurt by it, but some who’ll tell you it was one of the best things their parents did for their family. Heck, my aunt used to tell her children the most horrible things about men and sex and they’re messed up in that arena too, though they were raised in a 40-something year heterosexual marriage.

For our situation, we’ve put a lot of time and thought into building a healthy narrative in our children’s minds. We’ve been as accurate for their age as possible, so there are no dramatic surprises. We’ve also been sure to make it clear they were immensely wanted. We’ve outlined the parts all those many great people played to bring us all together. How it will work out, well, as any parent knows, is up in the air. As playa says, it will be interesting to hear them talk in 10 years about our home. I know what I hope they’ll feel about their family, but know many kids will go through a parent-hating stage, and our difference could be used as a good excuse for that, real or not.

I do worry, and really don’t care to stop.

But I know I love them more than my life; I know we’ve brought into their lives many, in fact, who love them from all sorts of human categories. I know they are doing great, now: empathetic, though sometimes pushy with their brother; smart, though with a propensity to write their 3’s backwards; and healthy, though sometimes unwilling to let broccoli touch their lips. Time will tell where we go from here though.

I know how to cook and do laundry. It wasn't my mother that taught me those skills. I learned that in college.

Yeah, but I’ve know some men to “forget” after college, as though laundry was a class they never liked. I already suspected you weren’t that type of husband :-).

Chris said...

while playasinmar suggests that the story will change as your boys age...

Actually, I don't think that's what he was suggesting. I think he is just looking forward to hearing the perspective of the boys.

playa is generally supportive of gay fsmilies, at least as I read him.

playasinmar said...

It is confirmed that playasinmar is 100% supportive of gay families.

Scot said...

W.I. I meant to add but missed it in a cut and paste: “ Did you know that Equality Utah drafted a bill to remove the cohabiting restriction from Utah's law on who can adopt?

Yes, hope it passes, but have come to keep my hopes for our legislature low. I’ve had editorials in the Trib, and will look at trimming this down to a suitable size (When I get going, I go).

We probable have met if you’re involved with Equality Utah, and you might recognize our posted photos. Please don’t reveal my identity here or there, though, if you find it. Online, I prefer to be like Batman, though without the cave, tights, crime fighting, or abs.

(Also, now that I see Chris, I hope he knows his family is one that I think handled a separation well, and I’m sure his children don’t feel unloved or such, and by no means do I want him dead :-). I always feel skittish pointing to that bit of research as I know how it’d be wrongly used.)

MoHoHawaii said...

Great essay.

I know a number of gay couples who are raising kids. Except for some issues of discrimination (no different from those faced by other minority parents), all of these families seem pretty normal to me.

People who say that same-sex parents can't teach opposite-sex dating forget that adolescents get an extraordinary amount of information from their peers and the culture at large. Unless you raise your kids in a Skinner box (and just try that with teenagers!), they will absorb ideas from the larger society.

I can recommend an interesting book that gives an inside look into a gay marriage that includes child rearing. It's Dan Savage's, The Commitment. The book is quite funny, too.

Scot said...

Thank you MoHoH.

I posted this on your site but I love the piece so much I’ll put a link here too. Savage reads about his’s son not wanting his dads to get married in This American life, A Little Bit of Knowledge, Episode 293, Act 2 (18 minutes into it; you’ll have to wait through it, but it’s worth it and Act 1 ain't bad either).

Paul said...

Scot, I appreciate your well-thought-out continued dialogue. It's evident that you realize there will be chalenges and you're prepared to deal with them.

Of course I agree with MoHoH that the majority of kids' learning about sex and relationships happens from their peers and culture at large. Hey, that's what happens daily on school playgrounds. And on TV. And in the movies. (For me it was at Boy Scout camp and Church camp -- but those might be other whole issues.)

One last point, I do find that PMS is a concept that most men have a hard time grasping. Much less dealing with. Particularly if there are no sisters nor mothers living in the household.

Good luck.