Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to grade schooler, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national parenting and lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Wednesday
Aug142013

6 Things Not To Ask A Lesbian Mom

I have a filter problem, meaning that the filter between my brain and my mouth isn't always as engaged as it should be (perhaps you have noticed that with my writing as well?). And when I read over this guest post from my friend Susan (a Thunder Bay resident and brilliant writer), I realized not only that I have asked, or at least wondered (compulsively) about these questions, but also that I carry some of the assumptions that underlie them. And that bugs me, but I think this post will help me do away with some of those. Because it doesn't matter who carried the baby -- they are both "the real mom".


Guest Post: Your curiosity, my
privacy: Or, how (not) to talk to queer parents


I had an impromptu lunch a couple weeks ago
with three friends. All four women sitting around the table were mothers — each
of us, coincidentally, has two sons. Three of us were gay, one straight. The
conversation turned to the kinds of questions that queer moms are often asked by our
straight counterparts.


“Shouldn’t ask,” said the lone straight mom in our group. “I
just don’t think it’s fair that someone else’s curiosity should trump your
right to privacy.”


“Ask me anything you want,” said one of the queer moms. “Then
at least we can have a conversation.”


I can see the merits of both points. I’m
not interested in being a target for all kinds of random questions about my
family, particularly when I’m in the middle of wrangling my six- and
eight-year-olds. But I don’t want people to make assumptions about me either. Here’s my quick
guide on what to say — and not to say, to gay moms:


Don’t
ask:
“Who’s
the real mom?”







Instead
say:
“Do you
mind if I ask which one of you carried the baby?”
or, even better, “How did you guys decide to create your
family?”


This one is a biggie. It’s code, obviously,
for “Which one of you got pregnant?” or “Who’s the biological mom?” Either way,
it’s problematic, and potentially hurtful to both parents. The short answer is
this: we’re both the real mom, and
prioritizing one of us over the other because of biology is hurtful. Motherhood
isn’t particularly about pregnancy or biology, it’s the day-in, day-out
nose-wiping and diapering, cutting grapes in half so babies don’t choke and
weathering tantrums and sleep deprivation and cuddling and story reading.


Also see:



Don’t
say:
“Wow!
Two women! You’re so lucky — my husband is clueless.”


Instead
say:
“How do
you guys divide up parenting and household responsibilities?”


Newsflash: Although several
studies have shown that we do seem to have a better grip on the equal division
of labour
, lesbian parents fight about household chores too. In fact, our partnerships
are as complicated and as varied as heterosexual relationships, and they can also
take a hit when kids come into play. Don’t assume that being gay means that we
have a free pass on doing the hard work of building and maintaining our
relationships.


Don’t
ask:
“Do the
kids know who their father is?”


Instead
say (if you have to):
“Can I ask if you use a known or an anonymous donor? And what do you
call that person?”


It can be frustrating for two moms — yes,
the same ones who have been up every night for a year and a half and who have
read Goodnight Moon a thousand times
— to have people be so interested in the “father” of their kid, especially
since they’re the ones doing all that work child-rearing. For some gay moms, that
“father” is a scant teaspoonful of anonymous genetic material. For some families,
that genetic material came from someone they know: a friend or relative or
acquaintance who donated said material and who, in the grand scheme of things,
has very little to do with the ensuing children. In these cases, the correct
word is usually “donor” — not “father” or “dad.” Either way, recognize that
for many two-mom families, there is no “father.”


Don’t
say:
“Do your
kids have any male role models?”


Instead
say:
[You
know,
I can’t really think of what
you would say instead.
]


Another newsflash: Children have grown up
for centuries without fathers around to be “male role models.” Again, this kind
of question assumes that the two moms in question aren’t good enough to parent
their kids fully. If we’re lucky, we find all kinds of wonderful people, who
may identify in a variety of ways when it comes to gender, to be role models
for our kids.


Don’t
say:
“So,
what’s it like for you to be a lesbian mom?”


Instead
say:
“Have
you experienced any homophobia or ignorance as a two-mom family?”


Here’s the thing: most lesbian moms don’t
really know what it’s like to parent from any other perspective. I don’t
generally go around in the world thinking of myself as a “lesbian mom”: I think
of myself as a mother. On the other hand, there may be certain issues that I
face that are different than issues a straight mom has faced — having to
constantly come out, having to correct people who ask about my husband, having
to talk to my kids’ teachers about how to handle Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
gifts, how to deal with ignorant remarks. But these instances are minor in my
overall life as a parent.


Don’t
say:
“You’re
such an inspiration!”


Instead
say:
“Thanks
for sharing some personal details with me,”
or, “I'm picking up a coffee — can I get you one?”


Most days, I don’t feel like an inspiration
I feel like a workaday mother, doing the best I can to parent my kids with as
much love and patience as I can muster. I don’t need people to see me as
inspirational — I need people to laugh and cry and commiserate with over coffee
about the insane glory and challenge that is parenting, no matter what your
sexual orientation.  


In the end, I’m all for dialogue, especially for conversations that open up awareness and understanding about families like mine. I think what it comes down to is this: It’s not so much what you ask, it’s how you ask it. When you’re asking about the intimate details of a person’s life, you need to tread carefully.





Susan-goldberg-If you want to follow Susan's parenting journey you can find her at MamaNonGrata and at Today's Parent. She is also a contributor to VillageQ. Susan lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario with her spouse and two boys. Somehow she also found the time to co-edit the anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents and Our Unexpected Families.


Do you think it is okay to ask these questions?


image: Susan Goldberg


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Reader Comments (24)

Great post!! I laughed when I read the one about 'you're so lucky', assuming that because it's 2 women, chores and household duties would be divided up so much easier! and I hate to admit it, but that's honestly what I would assume, too!! I really enjoyed reading your answers though because you come across as 'hey, we're just like any other couple out there' and I don't think a lot of people realize that.
August 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeah
I wouldn't ask a gay friend a question beyond the level of detail that I would ask a straight friend.

THAT SAID, my questions often do border on "over the line" but friends do know that about me :)

Any advice for gay moms who are not in a relationship? I have friends who came out after kids/divorce and they struggle sometimes too. Especially challenging living outside of urban centres.
August 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie @nat_rea
PS - Hi Susan :) We met in Chicago.
August 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie @nat_rea
Hey! Nice to "see" you here!
August 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan
Sorry, but what the he** is a "lesbian mom?" Maybe I'm just dumb, but I figured the lesbian part was a reference to an adult relationship, and the mom part is just, well, "Mom". Is there a particular lesbian technique to wiping noses or changing diapers? I don't think so. If we're sharing personal info to build on a friendship, I'm sure we'll get to how being a lesbian affects your life, but to me, you're just another mom (both of you)and woman. I'm sure we have more in common than not.
August 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbecky
I remember a comedian who talked about the lesbian x phenomena. She pointed out that working as a supervisor and being a lesbian did not make her a lesbian supervisor. If it did her work would be very different along the lines of "hey, you, cut those fingernails before you hurt someone." Made me laugh out loud.

I think the line about questions has to start with do you mind if I ask...? cause some days I don't mind being the PSA (and speaking loud enough so everyone in the check out line can hear or the educational and awareness 101 . And some days I am too tired, overwhelmed or just done being a functioning human and have nothing left for anyone or anything, except maybe ice cream.

August 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTess
You know there are lots of people out there who don't have a clue... about many things not just "relationships and their dynamics". People ask questions that are not "politically correct" about numerous subjects. It should be taken as an opportunity to enlighten, not to take offence unless totally disrespectful of course. Everyone learns by asking questions, and we always tell our children that no question is a "stupid question" so why would that not be the same with ignorant adults? Just sayin...
August 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarie
What's with the 'you guys'? Is that really an appropriate way to refer to two lesbian moms? Thanks
August 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristine
I'm curious as to why your guest post refers to herself and partner as queer? Is that a reflection of how she feels about herself and her partner?Already there is a problem, never about having to answer about being a "MOM"

August 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermh
I don't know that I'd ask about the parentage or other personal things in a relationship. As a single mom I had some people ask questions that I felt weren't OK as well. Personally, I look at my cousin's marriage. It is a mixed race straight marriage with 4 kids, 2 are hers by birth, 2 by choice and all 4 are his. All 4 kids are loved equally therefore they all belong to the 3 parents involved. Yes, his first wife is part of their lives and they went through a lot of counseling to get to this place in life, but we have 4 kids in this world that know they are loved equally and unconditionally. Not everyone gets that. So in a family of any configuration, as long as the children are loved, it isn't my business who provided the genetic material, all that matters is providing the love and guidance our children need.
August 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTS


And just who died and left lesbians in charge of how the world is to act and talk around them? Why cant you just take things in stride (ironically like straight people are supposed to regarding this type of relationship). I see gay parents being so totally ignored in this article (women ignoring men - can you get any more lesbian than that?) and whether THAT is any different? And just what multitude of males have been brought up for centuries without a "father-figure"? It may not be the bio-father, but there is almost always some male influence in their lives (grand-fathers, umcles, neighbours, even hired help, but NO male influence for centuries)? Just what country are you referring to? None that I have studied or lived in on either side of the ocean.The pomposity that exists in this article, especially towards men, gay and straight, is something that I find appalling. Maybe you need a course from gay parents on how THEY should be talked to, or about, and how NOT to refer to them or ignore them. Or is it the male domain (again!!) to just have to put up with this female garbage, added on to crap that society in general dishes out, which after reading this article, now seems far worse than what lesbian parents deal with. Would have thought a lesbian parent would be more forgiving, understanding, and respectful to their male counterparts, but as I said, Im appalled, not shocked by it. Other than when fighting for GL rights, many many lesbians that I have met do indeed act and talk like man-haters. This article definitely does NOTHING to dispel that. Gay parents feel the sting of society from everyone it appears, even lesbian parents.
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeaten
Gee... and I always wondered what kind of questions two gay men would be asked about their "child"... like 1) Who's the real dad ? 2) Which one of you gave birth ? 3) Wow, two guys, you're so lucky... my wife is a drama queen bitch. 4) Do the kids know who their mother is. 5) Do the kids have any lesbian role models.
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurious
why is everyone so offended?



August 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternot a lesbian
No, ONLY one of them is the REAL mother. they may both be parents but only 1 or maybe even none for example if its gay men couple will be the real mom or dad. it doesnt matter who you got the sperm from, or egg, there was stilla father or mother. and the child NEED to know who they are for medical history purposes. life without role models or even with them doesnt guarantee success or failure either way, personally i had no father and it caused major issues but this isnt all about personal. sound to me like the real problem here is that gay people cant just let go and have to think everything is some insult to them, converseley the general public is still very ignorant and gay people with attitudes like in this article dont help ease the situation. if you are unable to openly talk about any subject then you need to ask YOURSELF what YOUR problem is. we do not need to walk around our lives afraid to speak our thoughts and ask questions just because some gay person or religious person might get offended. get overyourselves. in gay couples there WILL be issues that no one can possibly know about for another 50-100 years after we see what same sex families can produce. having a kid and keeping it alive doesnt mean you were a great parent, creating successful generations is what matters, and what we find in the past often repeats itself, hetero couples make messed up people, single parents make messed up people, we will learn the same sex couples make messed up people to and then everyone can get on with their lives and stop debating and arguing over the stupidest stuff like this article. remember 15,000 CHILDREN died today from starvation and your sad petty article is about whether or not gay parents are bothered by questions they are asked in public. when you people get your heads on straight and start thinking about actual problems then you may begin discussing irrelevant petty subjects like this again if thats what floats your boats
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim
> Children have grown up for centuries without fathers around to be “male role models.”

And this is the problem with Canada today. That's why all your kids grow up to be uneducated drug addicts. Enjoy your broken society!!
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdesiboy2
From the perspective of a straight male, this was a very interesting read.

The only one I am a bit unsure of is the question on the male role model. My son finished grade 4 last year and had his first male teacher that year. One of the things a lot of the straight parents, both male and female, commented on was how great it was for our boys to have a male role model in the classroom. For the most part, elementary school teachers continue to be predominantly female.

I understand your point that you feel insulted by the question...that it suggests the absence of a male parent will compromise your child's upbringing. And I am not sure how to approach that issue in a way that would not offend sensibilities. But it can be an issue we have as straight parents when looking at the school system, so there is some merit to the question, particularly if you are raising young boys.

That being said, I guess a gay male couple should also face the similar question when raising children...what is there as a female role model for her!
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShawn
I enjoyed reading your article. I have an adoptive mum's perspective. I was at a playground once with my kids(Caucasian), adopted at age 4 and 7, in Canada. There was another Mum there with her 2 adoptive (Chinese) kids. I asked her a question about international adoption and told her mine were also adopted. Her response was interesting. " You can't tell your's are adopted." Similar experience, now I would phrase my question differently.
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercwykurz@sympatico.ca
As a new father I feel that referring to the "father" as just genetic material is offencive. I look at my daughter every day and there is a connection beyond her just being here, she is a part of me. Although she is only 4 months old I can see it in some of her expressions and of course physical features. I myself was raised by my Mother and my step Dad, and my biological father was absent since my birth to only show up in my teens. Although things have unfortunately developed with me having a lack of respect for him due to his failure to step up to his responsibilities as a husband and father (it's complicated), the connection a person has with their biological parents cannot be denied regardless of how they feel about it. And honestly as a child I always thought about what he was like and longed for that connection when I looked at my friends with their Dad's (my step Dad was amazing but it never was the same). When I did meet my father I was amazed of the similarities in features we shared (for example our hands are identical) and was shocked of some habits he had that I thought I had developed through cause and effect or action reaction but turned out to be genetic I guess, even small weird things like the way I like certain things displayed just because that's the way I like it (my brother who I also met in my late teens had the same tendencies and hands, lol!). A child is the continuation of a genetic code that has been passed down since the beginning of mankind, it is the most precious and valuable asset anyone possesses as it will determine the set of attributes that a person has. To toss that out and say it's worthless is silly, it's more precious than gold.
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHJ
I really enjoyed your post, although I have to respectfully disagree with the 'father' question...well, I can't disagree per se as obviously some people do find it rude but if I had anybody in my life (sexual orientation aside) who used a donor and who I felt comfortable enough with to ask the question I would ask what the children knew, or could find out about their 'biological father'. Mostly because I feel it's important to acknowledge that the children have a right to know and ask questions (and I'm not saying that yours don't, or that it's common, but I do know people who are of the mind that 'I raised them, I should be all they need, so they shouldn't have questions') and this is one way to open up that conversation. But also admittedly I'd ask out of my own curiosity- I'm adopted and I'm interested in seeing how other parents discuss it with their children. Whether he is in the picture or not, the children do still have a biological father who can have a big impact on their lives, and I feel that to disregard that isn't fair to the child who will grow up to have questions about their biological identity (not that all children do, but some will).
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWillow
Why the hell would anyone say oh your such an inspiration...Its just a girl and another girl they didnt cure aids or cancer.
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterR
I think we are all too quick to take offense these days. I would examine the intent behind the questions. Are they meant to be offensive or degrading or is the asker simply curious? Someday we will stop having conversations altogether for fear of saying something incorrectly or offending someone. Anyone reading this article will now hesitate to have a "real" conversation with their LGBT acquaintances. A sense of humor is always a great thing to bring to any conversation. Let's all lighten up!
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjust sayin'
If you're not in a close friendship with the parent in question, although they may be openly gay/lesbian, there are still some questions that are simply too personal. How she or her partner got pregnant is very personal, the child's relationship (or lack thereof) is also very personal. You just don't ask strangers or acquaintances that type of question. In a close friendship, these thinks will come up naturally when the time is right. In the meantime, the general public does not have the right to ask whatever they want.
August 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbecky
I agree with the posters who say that it's inappropriate to ask questions that are invasive...especially if you've just met the person. If you are curious, there are other places you can find answers. The "lesbian" mom is just like any other Mom you meet. Talk to her like you talk to any other Mom. If you form a friendship, you may get to the level where you can ask those questions...it's just not something you do right off the bat. Let good manners be your guide.
August 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMhtammi@gmail.com

Please help! Please spread the word; if the LBGT community would all share this story, perhaps Kaydance could come home!
Read just the homepage & then, if you can find it in your heart to help, share this website everywhere you can think of, ask others to share it, please tweet WITWIK
www.where-in-the-world-is-kaydance.jigsy.com
signed,
Desperate to find Kaydance.

January 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTasha

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