Doing Away With Gendered Parenting Roles

“Two moms are better than one!”

“Moms do it best!”

“He’s a really good dad!”

“Just wait ’til your father gets home!”

As we began exploring what parenting might look like for us, we knew pretty early on that W was going to be just as active and probably slightly more active in raising our future kid. In our Western cultural norms, this means that W, being a dude, is a super-duper amazing dad. Or a Mr. Mom.

Because deep deep down (OK, actually not that deep down), we equate “parenting” with “mommy.” W wants to be a great dad. But he’s not a Mr. Mom. He’s a Mr. Dad.

PROOF: Go to the Parenting website right now. Parenting is the largest magazine for parents in the US market, known for their 3 magazines: Parenting, BabyTalk, and Working Mother. Just go to the regular homepage. Count how many times you see mommy vs. daddy vs. gender-neutral articles. Yup, told ya’ so.

The outdated notion that women are better at parenting is boring, cliché, and simply untrueWhile it may seem like not-a-big-deal, perpetuating the idea that mom=parent is dangerous. There is no biological argument to be made that kids need a mom and a dad, though that is exactly what has been argued in court time and again by anti-same-gender marriage folks. Any person can be a great parent. Or a horrible parent. Any person can be a nurturing parent. Or a stern parent. Or teach their kid to cook. Or to throw a baseball.

This way of thinking is also damaging to single parents. If you need a man and woman, single parents are lacking one half of the ideal parenting structure. The unspoken stereotype is that a single parent is, or should be, someone who is looking to not be single anymore. About 1/4 of U.S. families are headed by single moms and about 6% by single dads. Our system doesn’t do nearly enough to support single parents, making it so that many single parents live in poverty, but the issue with single parenting is not that the person lacks a partner. Some single parents may feel that they would prefer a partner. Some are happy with their families, just the way they are. It makes the stigma even higher for single dads, who are either viewed as super men or as incompetent idiots when it comes to parenting, by nature of their gender. (Also see, man can’t cook/clean stereotypes.)

It is the reason we can’t stop talking about “working women” or ,”Can women have it all?!” As long as women are the ones expected to do most of the housework and parenting, it doesn’t matter if they are also the CEO of a Fortune 500. They truly can’t have it all and not because it is too high of a goal. Because the gendered system is flawed. This is the reason K never saw herself having kids. Because you can’t have it all. So K picked career and community activism and social justice over family. Even now, K is having to think about which boards she will resign from, how many after-work meetings she can rationally commit to each week (since W works nights and someone has to be home). Until parenting is gender neutral, seen as something that anyone has equal skills and responsibility for, and until we really address reforms that make it possible to work AND parent, like, you know, PAID PARENTAL LEAVE, we’ll have to keep reading annoying pseudo-feminist pieces about women “having it all.” Noooooooo!

Lastly, this thinking continues to put gender into a binary system. What about folks who, like W, don’t identify strongly as Man or Woman. Like many people in the transgender community, W doesn’t feel strongly that he is the man of the family, but he definitely isn’t a woman. He is definitely not cisgender. So he leans towards the man box. But just slightly outside of it.And, of course, there are also people who identify as genderqueer or genderfluid. What about them?

One of the discussions we had early on was whether there was another word for “dad” that would be more fitting for W. We found some lesbian dads and queer parents using “Baba,” but we’re not sure if that works for us. There really aren’t widely recognized words yet for parents who fall outside of “mom” or “dad.”

Until we start challenging the notion of gendered parenting roles, all of us, not just queer parents, we will continue to struggle to break free from the weight of socially ingrained parenting stereotypes. First step, change the way we talk about parenting. Celebrate all types of parents and families. Affirm that a good parent can be a parent of any gender or relationship status. Stop saying that kids need “male role models” or “a mom’s love,” even if you have the best intentions. Maybe one day we will be like Sweden and have a gender neutral toy catalog. Until then, keep on keeping on, mamas, papas, babas, and parents of all stripes.

What is a queer family?

The first blog post is always the…awkwardest. So let’s start with this really basic question: What makes a family queer? What is a queer family?

When we think of LGBT families, we usually think of two moms or two dads. More specifically, we think of two cisgender lesbian moms or two cisgender gay dads. When the acronym “LGBT” is used, the “B” and “T” are often silent. The “Q” isn’t even there. LGBT is often used as a catchall acronym for our communities–it’s pretty common. But LGBT organizations, service agencies, and media outlets often focus primarily on cisgender gay men and lesbian women. That’s also pretty common. There’s nothing wrong with two cis moms or dads and those families could certainly be queer, but these representations are not inclusive of all queer families.

It carries over, we found, into the parenting realm. Parenting resources are already overwhelmingly heteronormative and gender-normative. The specifically LGBT resources that are out there are mainly geared towards gay men and lesbian women. By resources, I mean books, websites, social networks, “mommy” sites. So we decided to join the blogosphere, where there are some awesome LGBTQ* parents out there (see our blogroll) doing awesome stuff. There’s still a lot of room to grow. To my knowledge, there are few resources for parenting as an openly bisexual person. Few resources for parenting as a transgender or gender non-conforming person. For QTPOC (queer trans people of color), for poor queer folks that want to have kids, for anyone that wants to buck the norm of the traditional heteronormative family, there just isn’t much support or advice out there.

But I know queer families are out there. I know more than one seemingly-hetero couple where one or both parents are bisexual. I know single queer parents that are raising awesome kids. I know families where one or both parents are trans*. Some of those trans* parents are stealth. Others are not. I know lots of queer people who want to have kids in the future (and plenty who don’t).
In fact, such a large number that it’s inevitable that more people will eventually start writing and talking about queer parenting.

So what’s makes a queer family? The answer is, I don’t know. Or, rather, I can’t define it for you. People who identify as queer tend to want to be…queer. We don’t want to disappear or blend in. We want to change the systems, not conform to them. We want to check ourselves, check the systematic advantages we have and own our privilege. We want to be inclusive of diverse experiences across race, class, sex, gender. We want to be included in convos we’ve traditionally been left out of. We want to thoughtfully participate in “traditional family” or queer “traditional family” or throw “traditional family” out the window.

A queer family could certainly be a family with or without kids. Queer families can have two moms or two dads. They can have one mom and one dad. They have have one parent. They can have more than two parents. They can also include one or more people who identify as trans* or genderqueer. They can include bisexual, omnisexual, pansexual, polysexual, asexual, or queer people. Queer families have kids by marriage, kids from previous relationships and/or pregnancies. They can add kids through foster care, adoption, surrogacy, sperm donors (both on and off the books), and good old-fashioned P-I-V intercourse. They can include beloved furbabies (our pet children). They can include supportive queer family relationships that came about out of kinship or necessity in place of or in addition to our legal/bio families.

This blog is about our queer family–a queer power femme, pansexual, Korean-American adoptee, vegan, feminist, cisgender woman and a label-wary, fashion-forward, queer, trans* boi. With lots and lots of furkids. Looking to add 1 human kid to the family. We will blog about our baby plans, our furkids, our personal views and lives, social and activist issues pertaining to queer parenting. We will try to raise larger issues about queer parenting and welcome the perspective and feedback of others. We are excited. A little scared. Let’s do this.

– K & W