Motrin®‘s mission is to create solutions that stop pain from stopping you. Motrin® does this by effectively treating at the source of pain, allowing you to stay extraordinary and granting “unstoppable power.” Also unstoppably powerful? Moms. Of course around here, when we talk about Moms we’re talking about queer Moms. Lesbian Moms face unique challenges on the road to extraordinariness, and thus Autostraddle and Motrin® are proud to bring you “True Stories of Unstoppably Extraordinary Lesbian Moms,” an essay series featuring some of our favorite “mommy bloggers” telling stories of challenges faced and tackled.
We open today with a piece from Dana Rudolph, the GLAAD-Award Winning writer behind Mombian, talking about a more subtle challenge: how she dealt with an abundance of unsolicited input on the “right” ways to parent.
I knew my spouse and I were in trouble when we opened the gift bag we’d been given by our hospital’s pre-birth class and found that it was composed almost entirely of coupons for products promising to make parents’ lives easier. I’m all for an easier life — but balked quickly at the onslaught of messages characterizing parenting as an endless stream of problems solved by this-or-that gadget or pre-packaged food product. This went beyond the gift bag, of course, because the world was full of magazine articles, blog posts, and acquaintances happy to tell me the “right” ways to parent: what time we should stop breastfeeding, whether cloth or disposable diapers were best, or why only a certain brand of bottle would do. As a lesbian mom, it was especially hard to fight the urge to do the “right” thing, however slippery a concept that was, because I was representing a community, not just myself, I thought. It was almost enough to make me want to raise our son in a log cabin off the grid somewhere.
Yet we remained in suburbia and in the ten years that I’ve been a parent, one of the biggest challenges has been learning to tune out those directives and parent according to the particular needs of our son and also the values my spouse and I hold, with the advice of family and friends.
The first challenge was all the baby gear. We were overwhelmed the first time we set foot in a baby store to register, having been (kindly) pressured to do so by co-workers who wanted to throw us a baby shower. Sure, we needed some basics, like a crib, a car seat, a stroller, and diapers—but an electric diaper-wipe warmer? Not so much. And who knew there were as many options on baby strollers as on cars, including cup holders and built-in audio? (We opted for the former and not the latter.) Alas for us lesbian moms, though—one cannot, in fact, obtain babies at a baby store, despite how convenient that might be.
I’d constantly remind myself: women have been having children for thousands of years without [this product]. Will it really make our lives easier or definitively benefit our son’s development? Occasionally, the answer was yes. (Those little rubber-lidded cups that let kids snack on cereal without spilling? Terrific.) Most often, we passed. (I’m guessing Einstein’s mother didn’t have an digital music player-enabled belly band that played Mozart to him in her womb, and he turned out just fine. As did Mozart, for that matter.)
We didn’t need a specialty diaper bag when my old knapsack would do just fine — and there’s nothing like using a pack previously dragged to women’s music festivals and camping trips to make you feel connected to your lesbian identity, especially when the world’s always assuming you’re straight just because you’ve got a baby on your hip. I tried to limit what we hauled around — usually just a snack and drink, diapers and wipes, and a couple of small toys. I figured I could improvise for the rest, and that in itself was a good lesson for our son.
It felt awkward, sometimes, when I’d encounter one of those moms (they were inevitably moms, not dads) dragging around an enormous bag full of every item her child might possibly need. I’d wonder: Was I not being a good mom if I didn’t have three different kinds of snacks and eight toys at hand? Or was it that our society’s definition of a “good mom” was so bound up with consumerism (“if you love your family, you’ll buy our product”) that even I was seeing the gear-laden moms as “better,” regardless of what our actual parenting was like?
The truth is, though, that I’m the kind of gal who goes camping with little more than a bandana or a pocket knife, so of course I’d be the kind of Mom who’d take a minimalist approach to baby gear, too. That’s just me. I’m a minimalist, and I feel everyone should let their parenting identity reflect who they are as a person, whatever that may be. If you’re a gadget freak and have the wherewithal, by all means get a color video baby monitor. If not, get an audio-only one—or none, if your house or apartment is small. Ignore the ads that imply you’ll be putting your child’s life or college admission success at risk if you don’t BUY THIS PRODUCT RIGHT NOW.
Conversely, I tried not to pay too much attention to the people who advised abandoning certain modern conveniences for higher ideals. I sought a middle ground. When I was making carrots or squash for dinner anyway, for example, I’d purée some in the food processor for Junior—but I also bought some baby food in jars, for convenience. (Sometimes the apple-blueberry ones became my own dessert.)
From observing my son and his peers and the many differences among them, I eventually realized that the answer to most parenting advice was “it depends.” I had to give myself a virtual slap upside the head sometimes to snap out of it. Attempting perfection inevitably leads to failure, even assuming we could all agree on what “perfect” means.
Then there were all the messages about the extra burdens LGBT parents carry. We do tend to face different hurdles than many families, and they can be significant—but for over 40 years, out LGBT parents have been finding ways to go over and around them in order to have the honor and the joy of raising children. We’re here, we’re queer, and we’ve gotten used to it.
Most profiles of LGBT families in the mainstream news, however, seem to be about them being LGBT families, focusing on the difficulties they faced in either starting their family or obtaining legal protections. Stories focusing on other aspects of LGBT families lives are rare. Granted, it’s vital that the world is aware of these obstacles so that we can change minds and laws, and reading about LGBT families who’ve faced similar problems as you have can be incredibly comforting. But an endless stream of stories about LGBT families facing problems because they are LGBT (even if they overcome those problems) can be draining.
I’ve tried therefore, not to let all of the things we’re told can be “issues” for LGBT parents turn into issues. Take the start of the school year. One common piece of advice I’ve heard is to set up a meeting with one’s child’s teacher (at least in the early grades) in order to get a sense of their level of knowledge and acceptance. This can be useful if you live in an area where there might reasonably be problems, or if you’ve heard rumors about the particular teacher that you’d like to confirm.
In our particular community in liberal Massachusetts, however, we’ve always figured the odds were pretty good that the teachers would be accepting. Instead of separate meetings with our son’s teacher each year, my spouse and I simply show up to the Parents’ Night held during the first week of school. We introduce ourselves—not with “We wanted to let you know our son has two moms,” but with “Hi, we’re [son’s name] moms.” Both ways alert the teacher to the fact that there is a two-mom family in the class (a useful reminder to keep language inclusive)—but the first way emphasizes the difference about our family; the second, simply on who we are. The former implies that our family structure needs a special announcement because it could be a “problem” in the classroom. Again, our method may not be the solution for everyone—sometimes it’s better to be clear and proactive—but for us, living where we do, it’s been a way for us to avoid focusing on our difference as if it was going to be a problem.
It can still be tough. Many LGBT-inclusive children’s books focus on a child being teased because of her or his parents. It’s a valid concern for some families—and these books were groundbreaking in portraying our families at all—but I always worried they’d put fears into my son’s mind that weren’t there already.
More recent books (including ones by Newman) have shifted away from this “problem” approach and more often depict LGBT families simply living their everyday lives.
Sometimes focusing on the “problems” of LGBT parenting also serves to distance us from potential allies. Television portrayals of LGBT families, for example, have mostly shown LGBT parents just starting their families, concentrating on what seems to set us most apart from “traditional” families, and treating it as a problem to be overcome. I can’t count the number of storylines about a lesbian couple and their wacky search for sperm. Even in family creation, though, LGBT parents hardly stand alone. Straight, cisgender people also foster and adopt, undergo fertility treatments, and use donors and surrogacy, too—and we can often find common ground with those families.
I am thrilled that shows like ABC Family’s new dramas are showing LGBT parents raising older kids and dealing with issues that any parent of adolescents might face, as well as issues that are LGBT specific.
Not that there aren’t challenges we face specifically because we are LGBT parents—most notably, the lack of legal rights in many states for both parents in a couple, even in this new era of federal recognition. But we can’t let ourselves be defined solely by our differences.
We also can’t let ourselves be pressured by the constant buzz of messages contrived to make all parents worry that we’re not attentive enough, educational enough, or even stylish enough. One of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve gotten is from those who remind me, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” If we make every small hill into a big one, we won’t get very far.
Parenting rocked my world, to be sure—but at the end of the day (a long and exhausting day), I am still much of the same person I was beforehand. I know my values and interests, and am hoping to convey most of the former and a few of the latter to my son. My touchstones are my own childhood, my own parents, and friends who got to parenthood before me. Yes, we will encounter challenges, big and small—and I have concerns about this whole raising-a-teenager thing that’s coming up—but I hope the challenges stem from my son’s actual needs as he learns and grows, rather than being placed upon us by a society that likes to invent them.
We don’t plan to have another child (we figured we’d quit while we’re ahead), but if we did, a better item for our new-baby gift bag might be not coupons, but a mirror (an unbreakable, child-proof one, of course). It might remind us to parent according to who we are, based on the needs of the child in our arms. The rest is optional.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian, a leading lifestyle blog for lesbian moms and other LGBT parents, covering a mix of parenting, politics, diversions, and resources. Mombian was named “Outstanding Blog” at the 2012 GLAAD Media Awards by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Dana also writes a regular “Mombian” column for several LGBT newspapers around the country, and has reported on a variety of other LGBT political and legal topics for both mainstream and LGBT publications. She has been a speaker at numerous LGBT and blogging events.
Dana began her career in Internet content development, strategy, and marketing during the first dotcom boom, and has worked at a startup, a Fortune 100 corporation, and a non-profit, in addition to her freelance work. She balances parenting, job, and blogging in the Boston area with her spouse of 20 years and their 10-year-old son.