From choosing how to grow their families to picking out parent names, LGBTQ+ parents have to hold a high level of intentionality, and parenting roles are no exception. While LGBTQ+ families have existed all throughout history, there has been little-to-no representation of queer families in the mainstream. That reality, in addition to the fact that gender roles and parenting roles have been tied together in complex ways for a long time, can make anticipating parenthood as an LGBTQ+ person a bit daunting. The sooner folks start thinking about how they plan to approach parenting, the better. Waiting to figure out how you see your role once you’re juggling burp cloths and changing diapers can be overwhelming.
In one way, the fact that LGBTQ+ parents can imagine parenting roles separate from gender expectations is a gift and leaves so much space for rule breaking, creativity, and making decisions based on what actually works for individuals. Not having a predetermined template to fall into is wonderfully liberating. It does, however, require extra layers of preparation, reflection, and conversation.
The hope is that every family is having these discussions — “What sort of ideas about family that I grew up with will I keep as I build this new family? What will I do differently?”. These questions are something every family will need to navigate on their own. Be patient with yourself. No one knows exactly what they’re doing when building a family, but it’s not like building a house — knowing what you’re doing isn’t a requirement, and having good intentions and working hard to meet them actually counts for a lot, and helps ensure that you’re building something sturdy. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind as you’re building:
Another way building your family isn’t like building a house is that there’s no point where the construction ends — you’ll be building this non-house in some way or another for the rest of your life. Today, this might mean rethinking ideas you had about breastfeeding/chestfeeding before your baby came along — ideas that were good, solid ideas that just may not quite line up with the reality of your experience now — or talking about alternate ways to handle parental leave next time around, if you plan on having another child. Tomorrow, being flexible might mean facing the fact that you and your partner have different ideas about how family holidays should work or how to handle a situation at your child’s school. You don’t have to know how to handle situations that haven’t come up yet, and you don’t have to stick with something you decided was right for your family before you had firsthand experience with having a child. Allow yourself to be flexible and give yourself grace!
It’s true that traditional parenting roles probably don’t entirely fit your family, but sometimes the surprising thing is how much isn’t different. All babies have pretty much the same basic needs, after all, no matter who their parents are. It’s not uncommon for one parent to fall into the primary care role, often just for practical, logistical reasons (based on, for example, differences in parental leave or if one parent is breastfeeding/chestfeeding). That role, of course, comes with centuries’ worth of gendered associations, which can leave some new parents feeling uncomfortable. It’s not an all-or-nothing package, though, and it’s also not necessarily a “forever” thing. You and your partner may move in and out of different roles with different gendered associations — or you may not. Either way, the important thing is to figure out what feels right for your family — even if what feels right is something that seems a little bit more or less “conventional” than you were expecting.
Know when to walk away
It’s possible that as your baby grows your family will come across healthcare providers, daycare providers, or teachers who won’t be respectful of your family and your identity. No matter how much you’ve faced situations like this before being a parent, it’s going to feel different when your little one is beside you. They will be just getting to know the world that you’ve been living in for quite a while now, and it’s up to you to decide which authority figures in your child’s life are the ones you want to take the time to educate about your family, so you can help them be a positive force in your family’s future, and when it might be better to just cut ties. This, of course, is easier said than done and choosing to cut ties can sometimes be a privilege. What you can do, though, is seek out inclusive professionals early and often. Get suggestions from other LGBTQ+ parents, look online for LGBTQ+ friendly databases, or call potential professionals and ask questions over the phone before booking appointments
Strength in numbers
You may know better than anyone that family isn’t only defined in distinct parent-child groups. As your family grows, connecting to other families like yours — in person or online — can be an important part of your family life, in ways as abstract as building a sense of community or as simple as adding to your list of people you could carpool with.
Find an organization, like Family Equality, that creates resources specific to LGBTQ+ families on how to find LGBTQ+ competent providers. You can find their virtual events here.
And as your little one grows up, just by having incredible parents like you, they’ll help shape a world that celebrates families like yours.
This content series was created in partnership with Family Equality, an organization advancing legal and lived equality for LGBTQ+ families and for those who wish to form them. Learn more at https://www.familyequality.org/.