Our Family is a series that celebrates two-mommy families and delves into some of the challenges they face. The goal of the series is to depict same-sex parent families in a way that’s authentic and dispels myths associated with same-sex childrearing. This week we chat with Telle, 31, and Kelly, 45, about their blended family, newborn daughter, Zoey, and their decision to co-parent with Zoey’s biological mother, Ane, 30.
ELIXHER: How do you define “family”?
TELLE: Any group of people in a social structure that live together, grow together, and love together whether they are near or far, no matter what the circumstance. There are so many ways to define a family, but the way I define it is complete and unconditional love for my immediate family members and anyone that has taken on the role of a very close friend and confidant. Biology isn’t all there is to a family, and I’ve had friends who have felt more at home with my family than with their own. Family is my greatest source of love and strength.
KELLY: I define family as my close relatives; my partner and my partner’s close relatives. Zoey is the newest member of our ever-expanding family.
ELIXHER: Tell us a bit about your family.
KELLY: I have two grown boys, ages 27 and 28, three grandchildren, ages 6, 4 and 2. I identify as a “femme,” and I happen to be bubbly with a welcome and open spirit. I have a live-in-the-moment type personality. We live on the north side of Chicago. My oldest son, John, lives one floor below us in the same building.
TELLE: My immediate family consists of my girlfriend, my 4-month-old daughter, Zoey, and my daughter’s biological mom, Ane. I also have a dog named Voldermort. I have no biological children of my own, however, I consider Zoey to be related by a bond that is just as powerful; love. I’m a soft-stud lesbian who prescribes to an old school train of thought as it relates to my family and romantic relationships. I’m very big on chivalry — opening doors, pulling out seats, wining and dining, and treating my lady like a queen.
Although there is often criticism directed at lesbians who tend to “adopt heterosexual roles” in relationships, I must say that I’m proud of the butch-femme history and everything it represents. It has served the GLBTQ community well throughout the decades. It’s natural to want to mimic our parents healthy relationships, which is traditionally at the heart of the matter. A large source of my pride is derived not only from my connection to and my sense of family and culture, but also the community of butch women before me who pioneered a path that allows people like me to be whoever we want to be; without fear of rejection, disregard, or disrespect for who we are, and how we identify.
My girlfriend is a high-spirited woman. Her heart is as kind as her soul. With that said, we love a healthy debate every now and then, but I’m the highly competitive one in the family, and everyone knows it. My daughter’s personality is still developing, but she has a beautiful spirit that shines through more every day. She’s full of smiles, laughter, and surprises and every time I look into her pretty little face, I can’t help but think of how lucky I am. She’s a very happy baby. Zoey and her mommy split their time, 50/50, between grandma’s place and mine.
ELIXHER: How long have you and your partner been together? And how/when did you know it was the “right” time to start or blend families?
KELLY: We have been together 6 plus years and have talked about expanding our family now and again, though the time became “right” more out of circumstance than anything else.
TELLE: She has two older sons so coming into the relationship, I knew I’d have to adjust to not only dating a woman with children, but dating a woman with grown children, somewhat close to myself in age. We’ve adjusted over the years. With the addition of Zoey, my family is just about complete.
ELIXHER: Can you talk a little more about co-parenting with Zoey’s biological mother, Ane?
KELLY: Ours is a complicated relationship that has had its ups and downs over the years. Ane and I get along well for the most part; though both of us are extra careful about what topics we discuss when we are all together. Ane and Telle’s past is something we all have in our minds no matter how far back we push it. Because of our situation, we are all a little closer than we might like to be, but it is working out great for Zoey. She has all three of her moms in her life at the same time, and that can only be good for her. The three of us each have our own mothering styles, and so far they seem to be merging well. It works well when one of us has had a long day and needs a break, another will step in or someone will say, “Your turn.” Both Telle’s and my family have been very supportive, and are of course full of questions about Zoey and our arrangement.
Sometimes the fact that Telle, Ane and Zoey are Black and I’m White makes me feel like the elephant in the room. Other times, I’m sure that my relationship with Telle makes Ane feel a little out of place. And then there are times that Ane and I will get to talking about something Telle says or does and there’s a lot of common ground found in that. On those occasions, we both enjoy watching Telle squirm a bit.
Zoey, on the other hand, always has a place with each of us alone or all of us together. Zoey is the glue that holds it all together. None of us knows what the future holds. I’m just living day to day and enjoying watching Zoey reach milestone after milestone.
TELLE: The experience of co-parenting with Ane, a woman who is not my girlfriend, has been eye-opening, challenging, and a constant learning process from start to finish. It has had its ups and downs, but my outlook remains just as positive as it was the day I agreed to co-parent. I am forever the optimist, and one that would never turn my back on a child. The co-parenting aspect of my daily life, coupled with my growing bond with my daughter, has been quite the reward all on its own.
The decision to live under one roof, at least during my daughter’s early-formative years, was something we all arrived at before she was born. Before bringing it to my girlfriend’s attention, I had to do some soul searching because I knew it would be a drastic change for us, and her feelings had to be considered before anything was to go forward. It was a tough decision for everyone, but with some major and minor adjusting, we have managed to make it work despite hiccups along the way. Some of the other challenges of co-parenting have to do with making sure that everyone is on the same page, adhering to a set schedule, and honoring the goals that have been laid out. The greatest challenge for me has been adjusting to my daughter’s needs while also ensuring that my girlfriend’s needs are being met, that she is content, and any fears she might have are worked through and eventually put to rest. She has been absolutely wonderful every step of the way.
Zoey’s biological father expressed some interest in her after she was born, but after realizing that his interest only went so far, my own fears were quelled. Making sure our family and friends respect our situation regardless of their personal feelings is of the utmost importance, because a beautiful baby girl who needs love, support, and stability has arrived, and as long as I have breath in my body I intend to make sure that she never wants for anything.
ELIXHER: Describe a typical day for you and your family.
KELLY: We are up early in the morning, around 5:30am, I normally walk Voldie (our dog) in the mornings, Telle walks him the evenings. I watch the morning news while getting ready for work and occasionally pop my head into the bedroom to remind Telle that she needs to get moving so we won’t be late. We are bad about breakfast on workdays, so at the most it’s toast or drive through on the way to the office. We have Wednesdays off and normally have Zoey from Tuesday night to Thursday morning, and then again on the weekends. Wednesday is also laundry, shopping or just hang around the house day. Once it warms up, walks, picnics, and biking are fully utilized. This summer will be especially nice as we’ll be doing all these things with Zoey, so we’re excited. This morning Zoey and I sat out on the balcony and enjoyed the sun and fresh air…did I mention I love that we have a balcony? I work two Saturdays a month, so when we are both off we try to sleep in a little, though Zoey doesn’t usually agree with that notion.
TELLE: Early to work, late to bed. Depending on my schedule, I take care of my daughter in the evenings, as soon as I’m home from work. She has become the highlight of my day ever since she was born. We eat dinner together, watch TV in the evenings, and then tend to our own devices, which for me means catching up on blogs, writing articles, poetry, stories, and planning for my family’s future. That’s a constant. My days are full so there’s never a dull moment.
ELIXHER: What’s your favorite family activity?
TELLE: Spending quality time with my girlfriend is my favorite activity, and the most important thing that keeps my family strong is that togetherness. My girlfriend and I go camping a few times a year, and family visits top our traveling list. To be at one with your woman, and at one with nature, at the same time, is a beautiful and humbling thing. Since Zoey has become a part of our life, we spend the bulk of our time together with her when she’s with us.
KELLY: Being together is number one, we both love our computer time, for games, browsing, Facebooking and things like that. We both like political debates and often have the TV news on and get into lively conversations about what’s going on in the world. I try to see my parents and sister a few times a year and Telle comes along during these trips. My parents love her and we seem to all have a great time together. We also head up to Telle’s mom, sisters’ and brothers’ homes for visits, soul food, birthdays and such. We all seem to enjoy each other and now that Zoey is in the picture, we are doing much more visiting as the family always wants to smother her with loads of attention and kisses.
ELIXHER: At what age and how did or do you explain to your kids that some families have two mommies or two daddies? What was their response?
KELLY: My sons were mostly grown when Telle and I got together so they pretty much understood how everything worked. They had lots of questions when I first “came out” to them, but have been very supportive from the start.
TELLE: I plan to start explaining families and their differences when Zoey gets older and begins to ask questions. There are books, detailing other families experiences, as well as my heart to use as a guide. I look forward to explaining our unique family make up, and helping her to understand that families come in different shapes and sizes. Even still, we’re special in our own unique way.
ELIXHER: What has been the biggest challenge raising children as a same-sex couple?
TELLE: The biggest challenge has been gaining acceptance from those both inside and outside of the family, on top of those outside of the GLBTQ community with its normalcy of non-traditional families. With the discovery of the modern family, there’s been a growing surge to define and understand all of the different types of families that have emerged as a result of societal acceptance, and escape from the traditional family structure. The biggest challenge will always be acceptance, or a lack thereof. All families are different and same-sex families are becoming more the norm as of late.
KELLY: Our situation is pretty unique so the same-sex part seems like a breeze. The fact that Zoey has three moms, and a distant, yet involved birth-father, is a much harder thing for co-workers, extended family and friends to understand. Though, again, most people have been very supportive.
ELIXHER: What has been the greatest gift?
KELLY: Watching Zoey grow and thrive has been the greatest gift. Seeing my partner “get it” as far as how strong your love for your child can be has been amazing and heartbreaking at the same time. I think she understands my relationship with my sons more now and therefore understands me more. It has not been easy, but I truly believe it has brought us closer together in a real and lasting way.
TELLE: Besides the birth of my daughter, the love that she has brought into me and my girlfriend’s life has been indescribable. Having a child gives you a new lease on life, and if it doesn’t, then it should. The love of my family is my greatest gift.
ELIXHER: What advice do you have for other same-sex couples thinking about starting a family?
KELLY: Research, do your paperwork, talk to a lawyer and then just go with your heart and understand that it’s not easy for anyone, same sex or traditional families. We both have family members in “traditional” relationships with children. A married “male and female couple” raising their kids together is more the exception than the rule for both of our families. Single mothers and part-time fathers are issues that some of our collective family members face. Our circumstance might be different than the societal norm, but at least we are doing it together. I think we are the most normal members of both of our families.
TELLE: My advice is to do your research first and foremost. Go off of more than just good intentions and basic human instinct. Make the best of your good, possibly great intentions, and do things the right way the first time around. Know your options, have an open mind and heart, and most importantly, communicate openly with all parties involved about your intentions. Understand that emotions will be heavily involved, and even stronger when the baby is born. My best advice is to talk to a lawyer or professional who can advise you. For lesbians, I suggest contacting the National Center for Lesbian Rights. They have great information on hand, and awesome staff that will guide you in the right direction and provide information directly related to the state in which you and your partner reside. Get as much paperwork processed as possible prior to starting your family, regardless of how long you’ve been together. People change, and feelings change, so protecting yourself early on in the process means protecting your future relationship with your child along with your partner. Last of all, best of luck, for your world is about to be turned upside down.
ELIXHER: What advice do you have for parents thinking about co-parenting?
KELLY: Actually write down what your plans are before getting in too deep. When someone is pregnant and everyone is happy and anxious for the baby to come and to be healthy and happy, lots of things are planned and talked about. Once the baby is born and life gets back to some normalcy everyone’s memories don’t always work the same way. Talking, planning and getting absolutely everything in writing beforehand is the one thing I wish we had done better.
TELLE: My advice for other couples, regardless of the relationship’s makeup, is to research, research, research, and to plan every last detail out as earlier on in the process as possible. Sit down and talk to an expert in the field of same-sex adoptions and same-sex family planning before deciding to take the plunge. It is very important to understand that emotions can often accompany the best of intentions, but feelings can change after the baby is born. Everyone needs to protect themselves and so that their relationship with the child is legally recognized whether they are the biological parent or not. For everyone’s peace of mind, get things agreed upon – upfront. Don’t wait for anything. This is not a decision you should go into lightly; it’s a serious lifetime commitment. One that will impact the life of your family and your significant other forever, so treat it like it’s the greatest investment you will ever make in your life. After all, when it all comes down, our children are our greatest gifts.
To read more about Telle’s journey, visit Stud With Swag.