Posted by: Beverly Davidson, LMSW | March 4, 2014

What, exactly, is a gay parent?

If you live in Michigan, no doubt you have heard about the DeBoer vs. Snyder trial that is happening in federal court in Detroit, MI, the so-called “gay marriage trial.”  The trial is focusing on whether or not the Michigan ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and whether or not gay and lesbian parents are fit to be parents and can legally adopt and/or raise children.  Many witnesses for the plaintiffs testified last week about the effectiveness of gay parenting, and whether or not kids raised in same-sex headed households suffer consequences because of their parents.  These witnesses supported the fact that children are not harmed when raised by a same-gendered couple. 

Today, the State called its expert witness, Mark Regnerus, a sociology professor at UT-Austin, who testified that there are differences for children raised in same-sex parent households versus male-female headed households, creating negative effects for these children.  So, I’ve been pondering the notion of gay parenting, and what that exactly means.  As a woman who is gay, and who is a parent, I decided to reflect on a day in the life of a “gay parent,” to determine if in fact I’m really a gay parent, or if I’m just a parent who is gay. 

5am – My alarm goes off, and I race out of bed to make sure I get the much-needed run in before the children wake-up.  I get on the treadmill, run for 35 minutes and race to the shower, while my wife is now awake and making lunch for the big one, and entertaining the little one who likes to wake up at the crack of dawn.  She’s making a very routine lunch, cheese sandwich, fruit, carrots, and a special treat.  Nothing seemingly gay about that lunch, so it seems thus far we are just regular parents scurrying about in the early morning hoping we remember to even pack the lunch let alone make it healthy.

7am – Breakfast time, children are dressed and ready to start the day.  Toast is the preferred breakfast item, and so I wonder, is there a gay way to make the toast?  I check out the toaster (not sure what it is about gays and toasters, but I digress), to see if there are any secret compartments that only a gay mom would know about…nope, nothing, just a toaster.  (I suspect this piece of toast tastes the same as my neighbor’s toast across the street, and she’s not gay, but perhaps we should do a test someday.)   The toast pops out, the butter is spread, and breakfast is served.  We do offer hormone-free, organic milk for breakfast, perhaps that is the “gay parenting” part?     

7:30am – brush teeth, hair, pack your backpacks time.  I hear the usual whines and moans about teeth-brushing, and I tell the same story about how if you don’t brush your teeth they will turn green and fall out, the littles roll their eyes and proceed to brush, quickly I might add, and their Mama and I proceed to tell them to brush longer…blah blah blah….(I feel like I’m talking to myself most mornings)…..Now, is that the gay part? Because I’m really reflecting here and trying to figure out where the gay parenting difference is?   Brush long enough so your teeth don’t fall out?  Nope, I am betting most parents are having this same conversation at some point before their children go to school.   The worst conversation is the brushing your hair – our oldest has taken to wearing hats all day – she says it is her style, but we really know it is because she just doesn’t want to brush her hair.  But we continue to support her developing sense of self and let her wear her hat all day because we are great gay parents who want nothing but a healthy self-esteem for our daughter.  Oh, wait, that’s not the gay way of parenting, that’s just good parenting.  So, I guess so far no gay parenting difference yet and it’s not even 8:00am.

8:00am – off to school and childcare.  My spouse is volunteering in our older daughter’s classroom all week, so she gets to do the school drop-off.  (I am secretly glad about this as I get to go to work earlier, and truth be told, that means I get to stop at my favorite coffee shop for a fresh cup of gay coffee).   I check-in with my spouse later in the morning and hear how wonderful the study group went for the class, how proud she is of our daughter, and we are then off again about our workday.  I am pausing mid-morning to determine if my worrying about my youngest daughter’s developing cold is a gay parent worry or a regular parent worry?  I’m not sure, as I’ve never really thought about it that deeply.  Mostly what I know is that I’m super anxious when it comes to the health and well-being of my children and even after all these years I worry when they get the sniffles.  Again, I determine that is just simple old anxious parenting versus gay parenting….which in reality, will likely cause more harm to them than having lesbian mothers. 

3:00pm – I pick up the kids from school and they inform me that it is now March and our local Dairy Queen is open….yes, it is 12 degrees outside and they still want ice cream.  So, what does any good gay parent do?  They take them to DQ!!!  I do insist that they sit in the car and shiver with their ice cream and not eat outside, for fear that some random bystander will notice how gay that is and call child protective services on me for being a neglectful “gay” parent.  I must say that seeing their cold little faces gleefully eat their Dairy Queen ice cream in 12 degree weather, when it is supposed to be about 40 degree weather, made my heart smile.  And, I relish in the fact that I am relegated to being the best mommy in the world right now for giving them ice cream in the middle of the freezing cold.  Again, I don’t think that is being gay parent, I think that is being a Michigan parent who has survived what has been the coldest winter in memory and who has had to deal with cabin-fever children for months. 

4:30pm – Homework time.  My gay parent self is wondering how I should help my oldest practice her multiplication tables….should I get my tools out and help her realize that when you multiply 3 nails by 3 nails you get 9 nails?  Nope, probably not a great visual, I think I’ll just stick with the online program her school recommends.  There of course are some moans and groans through this, as she would much rather play American Girl dolls with her little sister.  So, I ask, is anyone noticing if there is anything gay about my parenting yet?  If so, please let me know. 

5:30 – Mama arrives home to joyful greetings from our littles, as they show her how we are playing bowling with the paper towels and 5 lb exercise ball in the hallway.  Our littlest is ecstatic about getting a strike, but dismayed when her big sister tells her that she only gets one turn when she rolls a strike.  And the big sister, well, she’s a rule follower, even in paper towel bowling, so we must adhere to that.  It is hard as a gay parent, I mean parent, to honor the exuberance of one child and the practical nature of the other.  When any parent, gay or not, figures out how to parent two very different children equally well, let me know.   

6:00 – Dinner is ready and we all sit down together at the table to discuss the day.  We play our “Roses and Thorns” game together as a sneaky way to get them to tell us about their thoughts and feelings of the day, because how dare we just ask “how was your day?” That is most certainly to get met with a look of disdain from the big one and an over-exaggerated story from the little one.   We share many laughs together at dinner, plan the evening, and determine having dessert first at Dairy Queen is what we should be doing everyday.

7:00 – Storytime and bedtime routine begins.  The big one settles into her own reading and the little is enjoying some quality reading time with her Mama.   I am cleaning up the dishes, getting things ready for the next day, and feeling blessed yet exhausted that another wonderful day of gay parenting has passed.  And, it will begin again tomorrow at 5 am as we do the same thing day in and day out, and we do so with joy, frustration, anxiety, tenacity, boredom, and always, love.  

This trial has brought up many questions and notions about parenting.  While I think the trial is in the end going to be a positive event, I do worry about the effects of the testimony surrounding “who makes a better parent?”  If we look at research, we can say that children living in strong neighborhoods and being raised by educated, middle to upper-class, white married or partnered two-parent families fare better than any other child.  So is this trial setting the stage for tests on whether poor parents should have children? Should single parents raise children?  Should parents in high-crime high-poverty stricken areas raise children?  Should parents of color raise children?  Should divorce occur when there are children involved?   If we are absolute, not many very people should be raising children.  I know I do not want to go down that road.  I have worked with children and families as a social worker for 25 years – and parents who are gay, parents who are single, parents who are divorced, parents who are black, and quite simply, just parents, all want the same thing for their kids.  They want their children to be safe, happy, loved, and to find a place of belonging in the world.  Many of us as parents will try to help our children reach these goals through many different channels, some more effective than others.  Being a parent who is “different” than the mainstream does not make us better or worse parents, it may help us have varying perspectives on the world and how we approach parenting.  However, at the end of the day, my guess is that we all tuck our children in, kiss them on the cheek and gently say, “sweet dreams, baby, see you in the morning.” That, quite simply, is what parents do.  That, quite simply, is just love.

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Responses

  1. Sounds a lot like what our hetero household was like when our kids were young. Except for the gay coffee part, I drink tea.


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