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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Role Models and Gay Parenting

Television has always provided role models for parents and families. The Cleavers from Leave It To Beaver were the near perfect parents in the spotless home. They rarely disagreed with each other or raised their voices. I read somewhere that although people in the ‘50s knew the Cleavers weren’t reality, it gave them something to strive for. In the ‘80s, The Cosby Show was touted as the new role model for black families in America. The Huxtables really weren’t reality either. Clair and Heathcliff were professionals, a lawyer and a doctor, yet they seemed to always be home, have time for the kids, and their beautiful home was always clean, despite five children living in it, and no one was ever shown scrubbing toilets or mopping floors. Even so, it gave families and parents, especially black families, a role model and something to strive for. I remember as a kid, wishing that I had a perfect family like the Huxtables. They were classy, and Clair was a strong, yet fun mother. And who wouldn’t want to spend time with a dad like Heathcliff?

By the ‘90s, sitcoms began to reflect reality a bit more. The home I grew up in much more resembled that of the Conners on Roseanne. A small, working class home with a blue-collar father who came home exhausted from back-breaking work and a mother who wasn’t all that fond of housework. Maybe the Conners didn’t so much give parents something to strive for as it just gave the vast lower-middle class of America validation that they were normal, and people liked watching them struggle through the same situations that the average family struggled with.

But for gay parents, we’ve had no role models. Maybe we’re finally getting our role models on ABC’s Modern Family with Mitchell and Cameron raising their adopted infant daughter. This show really cracks me up, so we’ll see where it goes. I can’t think of any other sitcom that’s depicted a gay male couple raising an infant, so this show truly is groundbreaking.

Sometimes I wonder if our family is “normal”, or even what should be considered normal for a gay couple raising twins. I’ve often found myself thinking, WWCHD? (What would Claire Huxtable Do?) when the boys do something like dump a pound of flour all over the kitchen. She had all the answers and was a perfect mom in my mind. But I’m not a woman, so it seems odd that I’m looking to an ‘80s sitcom mom for a role model. I guess we’re in uncharted territory here, pretty much left to figure out what the typical gay parent family does and what’s considered normal family interaction for us. I’ve found myself comparing my relationship with Nick to other married couples, which I never did before having children. I’ve thought that he’s done something no wife would have ever put up with at times, but gay men interact differently than a husband and wife, and what may be considered normal within a gay relationship would be considered odd for a husband and wife.

Gay male couples are often more independent, and the feminine/masculine roles aren’t always clearly defined. Just look at Cameron in Modern Family. On the surface, he’s the big queeny mother role who stays at home with the baby. If you met Cameron in real life, you might assume he’s the mother figure in all aspects. But he’s the partner with brute strength who stands up to anyone just as a strong father figure would do. He’s the one who used tough love with their daughter by letting her cry herself to sleep when Mitchell, the bread winner, acted like an emotional mother, wanting to run to the baby and coddle her every time she cried. Again, the masculine/feminine aspects of their relationship and parenting styles don’t fit the typical mother/father roles, but we see that between the two of them, they both mother (verb) and father (verb) their daughter. Cameron and Mitchell very well may be TV sitcom role models for gay parents as they seem to be reflecting the reality gay male parents live. In the meantime, I’ve decided to stop comparing our relationship and our family to married couples with kids. I’ll just love my kids and be myself, sometimes more feminine, sometimes more masculine. I think they’ll grow up to be truly unique young men, having been raised by two men who love them so much.


Tim and Louie said...

I just love Modern Family! Awesome show!

I believe that men, especially gay men, can "mother" their children in the maternal sense.

It also helps that I was raised by 3 women (great-grandma, grandma and mother) in that order.

So, I have no problems with switching gears in my head and act in a motherly fashion towards my children, when I have them.

- Louie

Brent said...

Just started following your blog. My partner and I have been trying to start a family. After a failed adoption, we are going the surrogacy route and meeting a potential surrogate this weekend! Very excited.

GayDad said...

Hi Brent! Good luck and feel free to ask any questions if you have them. Surrogacy can be a bit confusing. I have older posts in 2007/2008 that document some of what we went through with surrogacy and up to the boys' birth.

Mark said...

I'm so confused, which one am I? I do all the laundry and clean the house. But I also take out the trash and mow the lawn. I also 'bring home the Bacon' but Fred 'fries it up in a Pan'. But somehow it all works out. m.

GayDad said...

You're sort of like me Mark. I do the house cleaning and yard work, most of the cooking. I've noticed that straight couples we know tend to try and label me with the mother role because I stay home with the kids and have asked why I'm "forced" to do the yardwork on top of everything else. Well, I like taking care of the lawn and landscaping, I'm good at it, and my partner isn't so interested or good at it.

Mike and Mike said...

My husband and I have established a routine with certain role-specific tasks, but it was never a mother role or a father role. We never really thought about who has the more mother or father role, we always work as a team. My Mother-in-law is envious of this as she got no help from her husband. Many women in her generation have made the same comment.

I think it's better today with straight couples, but there is still this ridiculous societal ideology that you must fall into either a Mother role or a Father role and society often times get uncomfortable when you buck the system.

Our "role" as parents personally, is to be the best parents we possibly can and provide our daughters with a safe and loving home. I think being distracted by what role your playing does a disservice to what's most important...your children. And I'll smack anyone over the head with a frying-pan that disagrees with me!

Mike A.

Bobby said...

Fantastic post!

GayDad said...

Thanks Bobby! To Mike and Mike, I totally agree with you. We have plenty of accepting neighbors and friends, but even they try to put us into mother/father roles. It makes me feel uncomfortable when I realize that a friend who's a mother thinks I'm "filling the mother role" because I'm home with the kids.

I look back to when I was a kid and my father didn't change diapers, cook anything, clean anything, help with putting kids to bed, etc. I never thought about it until recently because it's so much work to do it all. I've noticed most heterosexual fathers I know are more hands-on than that, but still, they have their expected roles to fulfill. I really didn't put all these thoughts together until I had an "ah-ha" moment before this post. I think it's great that we have gay parents on prime time TV now that so far seems to paint a reasonably accurate picture of what we go through as gay parents - plus how we interact. It's understandable that we're expected to fill one role or the other since gay parents have been way under the radar until recently. As more of us have children, whether through surrogacy, adoption, or fostering, society will begin to understand us better!

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Anonymous said...

The last couple of days I've spent my lunch reading your blogs from the beginning. I'm a lesbian looking to start a family. I find it very interesting how you've progressed and life has changed from no kids to kids, to them growing up. I worry about the dificulty and the time and money and work and no family close by and coming out everywhere... all things you've also addressed. Thanks!

GayDad said...

Thanks for reading! I've tried to address all these points people may not think about. Expense and lack of time are the two huge things I've endured, which is obviously doubled with twins. With no family support (i.e., free babysitting) we only go out alone once or twice per year, eating out as a family is a rare occurrence since the boys' school is $1800 a month. There's probably never a "perfect time" to have kids in most people's lives, but somehow we've made it, as do most parents.

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