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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Gay Parents - What Will Our Children Experience?

Halloween is near and this past weekend brought parties and pumpkin carving to our neighborhood. Friday we attended a costume party with a mix of young families, babies, toddlers, and gay men. This may sound like an odd mix of people, but typical of where we live. Gatherings like this are great for me to spend more time with babies since I haven’t had much experience with them. I’m finding out that some babies are much “higher maintenance” than others. I’ve been asking lots of questions, like, “How often does he eat at six months” and “When did she start sleeping through the night?” One friend showed me her feeding/diaper changing log from when her twins were babies. With twins, this is a necessity to keep track of what and when they eat. I’m thinking about going high tech with an Excel spreadsheet to log all this information since we have a spare laptop. I can see the pie charts and graphs already, possibly comparing the feeding input to pooping output!

Sunday was our neighborhood’s second annual pumpkin carving party in the park where kids and parents gathered to carve out extravagant pieces of art or, in my case, a free-hand, traditional jack-o-lantern. The weather was warm and perfect for the occasion. Next year we’ll be out there with the twins, dressed in some sort of goofy baby costumes for sure.

I’ve been reading a suggested book the past few days, “Families Like Ours – Children of Gay Parents Tell it Like it Is”, by Abigail Garner. The book documented the experiences of children who grew up with gay parents. Many of the adult children described experiences of having their parents divorce after one parent came out – a very different experience than our kids will have. But much of the information they provided still applies. There were also a few who grew up with two gay parents from the beginning. A major concern I had before diving into parenthood was how the kids would be treated by society. We all know how cruel kids can be.

The book brought up issues I never thought of, such as grade school projects where kids create Mother’s Day cards or other family discussions where everyone is assumed to have a mommy and daddy. It’s going to be important for us to meet with our children’s teachers each year to explain our family situation and probably have a stronger than average relationship with their teachers. During grade school, the issues documented in the book were generally smaller and along these lines. Middle School or Junior High sounds like the time larger problems will arise.

Middle School is a difficult time for many students, but for children of gay parents, it’s often worse. This is the time when kids start discussing sexuality and no one wants to be outside the norm. One issue discussed in the book that concerned me was early sexual activity by children of gay parents. Children sometimes feel compelled to prove their heterosexuality at a young age if their peers accuse them of being gay. Other problems some of the children in the book encountered were anti-gay teachers, hostility or violence from peers, feeling a need to protect their parents from anti-gay sentiment, and learning when it’s ok to be “out” about their families and when it’s better to stay closeted. By high school, the problems usually subside to some extent. Then in college, children of gay parents tend to experience positive reinforcement for growing up in non-traditional families.

It seems like all the children documented in this book said that the earlier parents openly discuss the fact that they’re gay, the better. Even if the child was born with two gay parents, there needs to be an open, age-appropriate discussion before they start hearing anti-gay statements, or even the term, “that’s so gay!” If you wait until high school to have any discussion, they may have already begun to learn homophobia from peers. With that being said, the book points out that children raised in gay-friendly neighborhoods experience far fewer issues, which I suspect (hope!) will be the case for us. Also, because most of the children interviewed were adults, they grew up in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. I imagine that as time has passed and societal attitudes toward gay people have changed, gay parenting should be easier in the 21st century.


Louie said...

What an awesome post. I actually had tears in my eyes when I was reading how you are reading the "Families Like Mine" book.

These were tears of joy and happiness, because I see how much time, effort and preparation you two are going through to prepare yourselves for your soon to be born twins.

Imagine how much better our world would be if all "future" parents took the time and effort to prepare themselves for their future children. So that their children will then have a greater chance of growing up well and adjusted, with parents that have taken the effort to aquire good parenting skills vs. those that make it up as they go along.

P.S. - Abigail Garner was recently interviewed on the Queercents blog, check it out. It's a pretty good interview:


GayDad said...

Thanks Louis! I'll check out the interview.

I've actually had many thoughts on parenting that aren't necessarily gay related, but maybe I'll post them.