Lessons Learned: Same-Sex Parenting and Marriage
Marriage and parenting changes you. You have new obligations to a partner and children, your schedule and bank accounts are vastly different from your single years, and you are all of a sudden seen as “mature” and “stable.” What I didn’t know was that marriage and parenting would change my ideals and beliefs in more profound ways than learning that I could function on interrupted sleep. I’ve synthesized my top three lessons learned from my first five years of marriage and parenting.
Aha #1 – “Fair” trumps “equal.”
Make no mistake about it. I believe in equality – marriage equality, gender equality, racial equality. You get the gist. This ideal has been so strong that it never occurred to me that there can be another way, that in many situations there needs to be another way. Entering marriage and parenting, I imagined that all things would be neatly split down the middle. There would be no division of labor based on gender since we are both women. I wash a load of clothes. She washes a load of dishes. I pick up our daughter Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She picks her up Tuesdays, Thursdays, and drops her off at the sitter on Mondays. However, life has never been that neatly categorized.
Instead, it meant adapting to what our true needs were. My wife was in a prestigious teaching program where she worked practically around the clock for eight weeks over the summer and then additional graduate classes at least one weekend a month, in addition to teaching full time. During those times, “equal” would have been the death of us because it was physically impossible for us to share the parenting load. Truthfully, our my push for a more even division of labor created more tension and tears that delayed us reaching a solution that honored the best of us and forged a united front. We realized that just as you wouldn’t give everyone that entered an emergency room an aspirin in the attempts at being equal, we needed to focus on delegating tasks and roles that were rooted in being fair. Through these trials of degrees and careers, we have finally come to a place where we strive to have each of our needs met and a peaceful household than one where each task is equally distributed.
Aha #2 – Gestational parenting isn’t a prerequisite for primary parenting, nor does establishing a bond with your child happen automatically.
All of the books for parenting can be divided into two types. There are the ones dedicated to the ins and outs of conceiving a child for women in a variety of situations – gay, straight, single, et cetera. And there are the ones that have a chapter or two for the prospective father advising how to grin and bear their female partner’s changes that will soon be over. These books are similar in that they end with the birth of the child, and they are silent about what the non-biological parent can do to establish their role as parent beyond assisting the pregnant partner as they transition into their role.
To say I wasn’t ready to parent is a gross understatement.
I had no language for processing my own feelings of grief as I faced my own infertility and miscarriages. I had no idea what my role was to be with a newborn beyond putting together the nursery furniture and burping her after she was done at her mother’s breast. However, how life would have it, I was quickly thrust into a primary role as my wife was hospitalized for weeks after our daughter was born, and I was all alone with a newborn at home. Later when my wife was in her first year of graduate school and teaching, my more flexible schedule allowed me to take on many of the parenting duties. It was through these circumstances that my relationship with my daughter became established into one that biology couldn’t create. I am her mother and she is my child. Our strong bond has taught me that involvement, time, and intentionality transcend biology and titles.
Aha #3 – Beliefs and values aren’t static, even when they are long-standing.
I entered into parenting and marriage with all sorts of ideals. We would raise our child vegetarian, cloth diaper, never yell or spank, and the list went on. Except life isn’t a neat checklist of experiences and circumstances. Instead, it’s one where each chapter shapes the next and where guiding principles develop as a result of those chapters. In short, life changes. Take religious education for example. Before our daughter was conceived, we agonized about whether we would baptize our children and raise them in the church. My wife thought that a structured religious experience was an important foundation for our kids to have. I was skeptical and worried about the possibility of our children being exposed to traditional views that invalidated our family. We had several debates and discussions about this. After our daughter was born, the need for ritual and religion no longer seemed important. We never formally chose god-parents, though our closest members of our tribe stepped into that role. We never talked about christenings, and I don’t think any family members asked. My daughter started participating in Sunday school at the church I attend first out of a desire to give her mommy (my wife) some solo time each week. We adapted to our changing needs and used our values as starting place for conversation, not the meter-stick to measure how “good” we were parenting.
These are just three lessons of many. Some are more trivial (like I really am not phased that my daughter has a cavity, though I still abhor high fructose corn syrup) and others are still taking shape (who is the true me in the face of my many roles). I look forward to the truths and awakenings that the next five years will bring.
- Aleia Mims
Aleia Mims is a wife, mother, daughter, and sister for whom writing is a form of liberation. She shares her journey so that others may name their own experiences and realize their higher truths. Her commitment to self-empowerment was a key feature of her eleven years as a classroom teacher, and remain as such with her current work at an education non-profit in New York City. Follow more of her journey at liberationtheory.wordpress.com and on Twitter @liber8ntheory.