What to Expect When You’re Expecting… and Gay

deliveryroom-1So you’re going to be a gay parent? Congratulations! No doubt you’ve been through a lot to get to this point, whether you’ve traveled the path of adoption, IVF, artificial insemination, surrogacy, fostering or whatever. Now, you have a lot to do to get ready.

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be one of those typical posts that tells you to stock up on diapers and learn CPR. Most gay parents are overachievers on that front, I’d guess, since we’ve been planning our families for so long. I know I couldn’t wait to sign up for baby classes.

I wanted to write this post specifically for you, though, the expectant gay parent, because there’s a whole lot of important parenting stuff they’re not going to cover in those baby classes that applies directly to you. There are some special things you’re going to experience because you have a non-traditional family, and I’ve encountered them, so I wanted to give you my tips on how to deal with them.

1. Your kids will need perspective.

familybookNo matter where you live, it’s very likely that your kids will grow up feeling at least slightly out of the mainstream. They’ll see that most families have a mom and dad, and that their family is different.

In my opinion, the best way to handle this is to embrace it. Celebrate who you are from day one. Always talk about what makes your family special, and make sure you do it in positive terms. There are some great kids’ books about LGBT-parented families. (I call the books about gay dads “Papa-ganda”.) We love to read “The Family Book” by Todd Parr, and when we get to the page that says “Some families have two moms or two dads,” I ask the kids. “Who has two dads?”, and they cheer, “Me!!!”

When they meet other kids, they probably feel that their friends are the ones who are missing out on something special by not having a family like ours. Yes, my kids are still young (3 1/2 as of right now), so they haven’t asked a ton of uncomfortable questions, and the Mommy issue hasn’t come up too much. But when that time comes (and I know it will), I’ll be able to talk about our family structure as something wonderful that makes us who we are, because that’s what I’ve been saying all along.

Moms are great, too, but if we had one of those, we wouldn’t have two dads, and we wouldn’t be us.

2. You’ll constantly be outing yourself.

Unless you’re always walking around in your rainbow-striped Pride t-shirt (and good for you if you are), you’re probably passing for straight most of the time, whether you mean to or not. As a childless person, this is not a big deal. You’re going to the supermarket to pick up a loaf of bread, not to discuss your private life with strangers, right?

Well, once you have kids, people will be even more likely to assume you’re straight. A baby practically announces to the world, “I had intercourse with someone of the opposite sex!”

I can’t tell you how many times a stranger (usually a woman, presumably a mom herself) has seen me pushing my kids in the double stroller through the aisles of Target or changing a diaper in a family restroom and exclaimed, “Your wife sure is lucky!” (Side note: many straight women apparently have terrible husbands.)

Even when my whole family is out together — me, the kids and my very obviously male partner — people find ways to force us into their preconceived notions of family structure. Then, the typical comment we get is, “I guess it’s Mom’s day off!” The assumption here is that my boyfriend and I are platonic buddies whose wives are off on a spa date or something. Hey, I take the spa dates in my family, thank you very much.

Your natural inclination in these situations might be to play along, not out of any kind of self-loathing but just for social expediency. From most people, these comments are the equivalent of, “Hey, nice weather we’re having!” All they’re looking for is for me to respond, “Yup!” Or “Hey, it’s only fair. Mom works hard, right?”

But whenever I’m tempted to do that, I’ll remember two very good reasons I can’t… my kids. They love their dads very much, and I’ve been telling them constantly what an amazing and incredibly special family we have. What message would I be sending to them if I suddenly pretended our family was just like everyone else’s? That we need to lie about who we are? That they should lie? That I’m ashamed of being gay? That the opinion of some stranger in a supermarket is more important than the respect of my own children?

So I say it. Regardless of what the situation seems to call for, I out us. “There is no mom. There are two dads in our family.” Or “I don’t have a wife. I have a partner. A man.”

Then I brace myself, because my real fear is that this person will turn out to be a member of the Westboro Baptist Church or the Boy Scouts senior leadership, and they’ll go all psycho fire and brimstone on me in front of the kids. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. Sure, some people are taken aback, because like I said, all they wanted was polite chit-chat and now they feel forced to say… well, something. Usually, what they say is “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed,” because they’re embarrassed. In that case, I just smile, because that person is probably very nice and will never make that mistake again.

Remember, your kids come before strangers. Don’t worry about what some lady at the supermarket thinks. And if you’re in a hurry to get someone to the potty or to pick Other Daddy up at the train station, just correct the lady at the Stop-n-Shop and keep on moving. She’ll figure it out eventually.

Oh, and be prepared to do this with little kids, too. We sometimes get the question, “Where’s their Mommy?” and have to reply, “They don’t have one. They have two dads.” It usually ends there… for us, at least. If the questions get any trickier, we can always fall back on, “Go ask your parents.” Not my kids, not my problem.

3. You will now be an activist for non-traditional families.

As a childless LGBT person, it’s entirely possible to live your life in a supportive bubble. Move to San Francisco or LA. Work for GLAAD. Join a gay softball league. Surround yourself with people who know you and accept you. I’d guess many of us spent the years after coming out doing just that. Well, if you’re going to have kids, you’re going to have to venture outside your gay-friendly bubble. Constantly.

Your kids will be going to school and playing Little League primarily with kids from mom-and-dad-headed families, and you’ll be interacting with people who won’t always be 100% on board with the whole gay thing. Even going to IHOP on Family Night can feel like you’re Making a Statement, because some people will figure out immediately exactly what your family is all about.

Hi, welcome to the cause. What’s that? You’re not a political person? Well, good, because this isn’t about politics. It’s about your family, and being a good parent means doing what’s best for your kids. You want them to grow up in a better world than you did? Great, then get ready to fight for them.

horsefamilypic-1

“Thanks for the carriage ride. Would you mind taking a picture of our family?”

The good news is that most of the time, you can do this by pushing back gently. When I filled out my kids’ preschool applications last year, the forms had spaces for “Mother’s Name” and “Father’s Name”. I could’ve just written our names in those spaces. I guess I also could’ve called up and complained or raised a stink. Instead, I simply crossed out “Mother” and wrote “Father #2″, then submitted the forms as normal. Why assume that the school was homophobic? It was far more likely that they just hadn’t had any gay parents there before (or any who cared about the forms), so the forms had never been an issue.

You know what? When I filled out their applications the next year, the forms had been updated. There were now two lines labeled “Parent Name”. A subtle change other parents are unlikely to notice, but that meant a lot to me. Best of all, I didn’t have to be someone’s pain in the neck to accomplish it.

But you can’t be silent. You don’t want your kids to get to school and have the teacher asking them about their “Mommy” or “Daddy” (or whichever parent your family doesn’t include). You never know when a clueless teacher might insist, “Oh no, you have to have a Mommy. Everyone does!” So don’t make your kids do the hard work.

To be honest, though, once you get past your initial anxiety, being an activist is kind of fun. It can be very empowering to apply for a family membership at the children’s museum, to hand a tourist my iPhone and say, “Excuse me, can you take a picture of my family?” or to call in an order to the pharmacist and then add, “But I’m going to have her other dad pick it up.”

4. People will generally be very nice to you (at least to your face, and that’s all that matters).

Before I had kids, I assumed I’d meet a lot of resistance from the anti-gay crowd as a dad. I worried that preschools might turn us away, that other parents would refuse to set up playdates with my kids, that we’d get sneered at or harangued in public. What can I say? I was stung pretty hard when Prop 8 passed, and I took it very personally. I may even have had a tiny bit of a chip on my shoulder.

But here’s the good news. While I’m sure some of that ugly homophobia is out there, I have yet to face it head-on. I wrote a piece for this blog a while back called “The 5 People You Meet as a Gay Dad“, wherein I discussed the reactions I’ve received from people who’ve met my family. And I admitted at the end that the worst thing I’ve dealt with is polite discomfort. That piece generated a ton of comments, and almost all the other LGBT parents who wrote in had similar experiences. Even those who lived in much more conservative areas had been pleasantly surprised at the support they’d received.

feeding-1So you can feel good about your decision to have a family in this world at this time. I’m constantly touched and encouraged by how accepting and friendly most people are towards us. They want to learn our story, or to tell me about other gay parents they know. I constantly hear things like, “My sister and her wife are trying to have a baby. I’m so excited for them!” Sometimes they treat us like celebrities, like the nurse when my son was in the hospital. She told us she’d always wanted to meet gay dads, and she jogged around the kid’s hospital bed to give us hugs.

So my ultimate advice is the same thing you probably figured out when you first started coming out: be yourself and be proud. Assume the best of people, and very often, that’s what you’ll get.

Now go read those other parenting books and learn about feeding, diapering, swaddling, bathing and all that. Being a parent, gay or straight, is the most amazing, rewarding and totally freaking difficult thing you’ll ever do.

You’ve got a lot to learn.

*****

I wrote this post in honor of Blogging for LGBT Families Day over at Mombian. If you’re looking for other blogs for LGBT parents, that’s a great place to check. And if this post helped you out, entertained you or you know some prospective gay parents who might enjoy it, please consider sharing it using the buttons below. If you’re new here, welcome, and I hope you’ll consider subscribing by entering your email at the upper right of this page (no spam, just an email whenever I update), and/or  following me on Twitter, liking me on Facebook or just leaving a comment below. Thanks!

65 comments on “What to Expect When You’re Expecting… and Gay

  1. Pingback: Blogging for LGBT families Day: Master Post of Contributions — Add Yours! – Mombian

  2. I relish the day when an article like this is not needed… it’s just a fact of life. That would be progress!

  3. “Being a parent, gay or straight, is the most amazing, rewarding and totally freaking difficult thing you’ll ever do.” Nothing but the truth!
    Another good piece of advice this post.

  4. I found this so interesting! I don’t know any gay couples who are parents but I don’t see why people think they should judge. Everyone has a right to be a parent if they want to be!

  5. There are all sorts of interesting perspectives here, things I’ve never had to consider, first because I’ve never had kids and second, I don’t think I know any LGBT parents. I know I’ll be careful about how I address anyone with a child from now on. We can take nothing for granted.

    • It’s great to be aware, but don’t feel bad if you make a mistake once in a while. It’s natural to assume parents are straight, since most are, and you’re likely to get some weird looks from straight dudes if you start asking them “Do your kids have a mommy or another daddy?” :)

  6. What a great post. I read it from start to finish even though it was quite lengthy and it’s past my bedtime. lol. I love that the school’s forms changed subtly. I would have been like ‘Whoop! They paid attention!” :) Keep up the good work!!!!

  7. I absolutely love this post. YOU ARE SUCH AN AWESOME PARENT. I think families, gay or straight, can learn a lot from you and your blog :) Self acceptance, holding your head high when you’re different in any way, and teaching our children the same. I come from a ‘modern’ family of sorts (my brother and I are adopted and a different race to our parents), so I hear you on the assumptions well meaning strangers can make. Your children are so luck to have you and your co-daddy :)

    • Thanks. I love hearing that you could relate to some of this, being from a mixed-race family. One thing you can count on is that strangers will always be strange. :)

    • Thanks, Dave. I love hearing that other types of families can relate to this — I mean, not that I want anyone to deal with this kind of social discomfort, but I think we both knew that’s what we signed up for when we had our families, and there’s something terrific for me and for the kids about being ambassadors for our kinds of families.

  8. Pingback: News: Surrogacy, Colombia, Wizard of Oz, Lambda Literary Awards | GAYPORTALBLOG

  9. Pingback: News: Surrogacy, Colombia, Wizard of Oz, Lambda Literary Awards

  10. I, for one, loved your “not my kid, not my problem” attitude … BRAVO!!! And you are so right, it’s not up to you to educate, it’s up to the parents…. :)

    • Exactly. I’m not going to force my morality on other people’s kids. They’re free to tell them whatever they want about gay people when I’m out of earshot. My only message, which is appropriate to people of all ages, is: “I exist.”

  11. I love this post so much! It is so very true. Our daughter is only just past 1 year old and already I am anxious about what will happen when she’s older and how to explain things to her. Your post has helped immensely and I am definitely wanting to follow you a little closer! :)

  12. I loved reading this article – my partner and I get the same reactions from people. It’s nice to hear that we are not alone.
    Thank you for sharing this!

  13. Thanks for this – it pretty much sums up our experiences as gay dads too… we started out as gay foster dads and wondered (a dozen years ago) what response our kids would get, given that they already had lots of difficulties. Right across the board their friends were envious, and their parents were interested – the dads often wanted to know how to be a different kind of dad. This one little guy used to come over to hang with our foster son and he *loved* helping to make dinner – his dad called and told me he wanted in too! They were both so excited that there was a “way” to cook mushrooms. they got a cookbook and went on to cook together every week. Like my own dad, he just didn’t know there was any way to be with your sons that didn’t have to do with fishing, hunting or contact sports. I really liked the part about representing non-traditional families. we had a great teacher in the first few years of our son’s education and she wanted to make sure his family was represented and developed a whole curriculum around kinds of families. She was moved to find that many other kids (not our son so much) had different unrepresented families they also wanted to talk about and be proud of too – kids from one parent homes, or who were foster kids, or lived with grandparents, or kids from other cultures who had different kinds of multi-layered families – lots of different combinations. She came back and said the two parent heterosexual families were actually outnumbered and she created a curriculum where kids got to individually “represent” their families. Somewhere I still have a stack of little paintings of our son and his two dads “and that’s cool!” (though a good portion of the class admired his collection of superhero t-shirts and matching action figures even more than having two dads). We’ve also had appalling experiences with barely veiled homophobia, both in schools and in the LGBTQ community and I’m glad you alluded to some of the responses our families can still get. We always clean the walks for our elderly neighbour and a charismatic Christian family from down the road started showing up earlier than us to do it so that she wouldn’t have to deal with us. It was pretty funny until they said something critical of us within her hearing range and then it just got scary :) She and her husband had been so doubtful about us when we moved in next door and they became such great allies. Keep up your amazing writing – I look forward to your posts and love it when you republish blogs from before I discovered you.

    • Thanks so much for this comment, Aaron. I love hearing about other LGBTQ parents’ experiences. That cooking story is so sweet, and the fact that two gay dads could show a straight dad how to be a better dad is very inspiring. Same for the teacher. As for cleaning the walks, I would’ve sat back and let the other family do all the hard work, then gone inside to have some hot cocoa with your neighbor. :)

  14. I left a similar comment on another post, but this one is more recent so I’ll basically leave it here. I’m so happy to have found your blog. My wife and I are 8 and 1/2 weeks pregnant with twins here in Woodland Hills. I’m carrying, and have been quite a bit morning sick lately:). Your blog is so comforting and inspiring. Thanks again,
    Evalie

  15. Nicely written. I am a single mom so I have a bit different family as well, although it is more commonly found then yours I have come to receive similar responses when I say there is no dad. Dad has never been around. Even just today wrote a blog post about No Father (http://singlemommalosingit.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/no-father/) check it out if you’d like. But I just want to say kudos for being so amazing. I’m always sticking up for lgbt parents when the subject comes to parenting because I have only met amazing lgbt parents. And thank you for the book suggestion, going to look into it and see if it will help me explain to my son about our family, just the two of us.

    • I loved your post, especially the salami line. :) Sorry to hear the guy was such a jerk. And let me reply that all the single moms I know are awesome, too. Proof that gender or even # of parents is less important than love, and your kid is lucky to have that.

    • Thanks – and seriously, I don’t get upset when people assume we’re a mommy/daddy family. It’s usually a safe assumption. What’s more important is how they handle the information that we’re not — and I’m sure you handle that part great.

  16. Wonderful post, I wish as many other mentioned here, I had read this 2 years ago before our first child arrived, in special the part that talk about other people reaction and support, its absolutely true, we received a lot of support and love from friends and people me met during the process. Today our family has grown after the recent born of our triplets!, let me tell you… going out to Ikea or the mall with 4 babies is a complete show. People stop us and ask all kind of questions, everybody stare at us, first because we drive a triplet stroller that is out of this word and then after realize there is not a female in our group. The worst case we just received a polite rolled eyes and go away. Most people are come afraid of the financial struggle or the amount of work we have ahead. we have to deal with another kind of animal, the multiple freak show kind. Ha, like we needed some other specialty to deal with.
    Anyway, we don’t have experience with school and children asking questions yet since our older is 17 months old yet. So I am glad I learn a few tricks and how to educate people when they ask about the absent mom. One answer it works great when they ask there the mom is: I said, “I don’t know” and look at their eyes and they feel horrible sorry for asking. Thank you again for sharing your experience!

    • Thanks for writing – and congratulations on the triplets! I’m sure your family does turn some heads. I got plenty of attention just from having twins. Just try to embrace it and enjoy feeling like a celebrity. Like I’ve said, most people (at least where I live) are very positive. We don’t need to be suspicious of their curiosity because it’s natural and they’ll probably be friendly in the end. Good luck!

  17. I have to admit due to my upbringing and religious background I am opposed to the gay lifestyle. However, I don’t hate anyone who is LGBT. I just found this blog and I have to say I am impressed. It seems like you guys are doing an awesome job at raising your kids. You love them and that’s all that should matter. You may have a different lifestyle than mine, but that’s OK. I can still support you and your partner. Keep on keeping on. you now have a new follower!!!

    • What exactly IS the “gay lifestyle”? The term truly makes no sense to me. My wife and I are family oriented, we don’t drink, we go to bed early, etc. This “lifestyle” would be no different if she had a penis instead of a vagina. It just has nothing to do with lifestyle. My lifestyle is the same as some of my straight friends and very different from some of my gay friends. Sexual orientation is no more related to lifestyle than hair color. I don’t lead a particularly “blonde lifestyle” either.

      I appreciate the positive comments, just wanted to deconstruct the terminology, because I feel that it’s very inaccurate and HISTORICALLY grounded in homophobia, though I understand that YOU are not homophobic.

    • I don’t understand this at all. You’re “opposed to the gay lifestyle”, yet you say “You may have a different lifestyle than mine, but that’s OK.”? Is it OK or isn’t it? If you want to be kind and supportive, great, but why start out with the judgment?

      • I’m not trying to be judgmental, but I guess my statement is confusing. I will just leave it as I will be kind and supportive to you and your partner.

      • i apologize for my words being confusing. I wasn’t trying to be that way. So, I will be just supportive and kind to you and your partner. Wishing you continued success in raising your kids.

  18. I’m a married straight woman with 3 kids. My ethnicity is East Indian, married to an ethnically Scottish man. My kids look like him. I am continuously assumed to be the nanny or babysitter – even when we’re together as a family. I know that’s not the same situation as what you and your partner face, but reading your comments about people assuming you to be the kind dad giving his wife the day off just made me relate to you.
    I want to understand that people are so programmed to think in certain ways, but I have to admit that sometimes I find their assumptions annoying. You seem so patient. I love that you have shared your thoughts about this. Yours is a rare voice that I have yet to hear in popular media. Thank you sk much for writing this!

    • Thanks so much for this comment, Asha. I feel horrible for what you’ve gone through. It does sound incredibly insulting and hurtful. You have every right to be snippy with people who mistake your role in your family… and then walk away happy knowing they’ll never make that mistake again! :)

      Glad you could relate to my post.

  19. Pingback: What to Expect When You’re Expecting… and Gay | PFLAG Atlanta

  20. I just loved this post – though I’m straight and way too young to be thinking about parenting. I’ve been reading some of your posts, you’ve got a new follower now!
    Keep up this great work!

  21. Hey Jerry, I was just about to write a similar post on being out in the world with kids on my blog (thegaydaddydiaries.blogspot.ca) when I decided to search out what other gay dads are experiencing. Thanks for this… very well written and we are having similar experiences here in Montreal as well. Glad to have found your blog!

  22. Pingback: What to Expect When You’re Expecting… and Gay | 2 Papas 1 Enfant

  23. Pingback: What to Expect When You're Expecting... And Gay — Everyday Feminism

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