When I asked my 7-year-old son what he thought I should write in my parenting column about Mother’s Day, he said, “Tell them that having two moms is just like having two people of any kind take care of you, except it’s more work on Mother’s Day. ”
I’m a little worried, since at his current age we haven’t even asked him to make us breakfast in bed. I’m not seeing a lot of waffles in my future.
His comment got me thinking, though, about what it means to be a mother. For me, motherhood began with the birth of our son. For others, it may begin with fostering, adoption or partnering with someone who has children from a previous relationship. And some may choose to use the title “mother” instead of “father” as part of accepting a female gender identity (although I also know transgender parents who continue to use their original parental titles even after transitioning).
But becoming a mother is only part of what it means to be a mother (or a parent of any gender, for that matter). Raising a child involves caring, feeding, butt-wiping, guiding, motivating, listening, picking up after, teaching them to pick up after themselves and otherwise preparing these growing humans to become functioning members of society. If they learn to make waffles along the way, so much the better.
As my son explained to me when I asked what more I should tell my readers, “To be a parent of a child, you have to allow your child to make some choices but you to make some others. It’s especially important that you be nice to your child and not mean, otherwise he or she will not grow up right.”
I’m not sure if that last comment is a social observation or a threat — but I can’t disagree with his overall assessment. Parenting is indeed largely a matter of nurturing and encouraging a child’s growing independence while balancing it with a certain measure of adult wisdom and responsibility.
Of course, all that talk of wisdom and responsibility can make parenting seem like quite the dull chore. To me, however, one of the best parts of parenting is that it has given me an excuse to do many of the things I haven’t done since I was a child — visit children’s museums, play on playgrounds, reread Dr. Seuss, make baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanoes in the kitchen. Raising a child is a reminder not just to take responsibility, but also to get out and play, to wonder anew at how the world works and to ask lots of questions.
And being a parent doesn’t mean knowing all the answers — just being willing to try and find them.
It also means being protective of our children. That protective instinct can manifest itself in various ways — from shooing a toddler away from the stairs to comforting a teen after heartbreak — but for me, it has also sharpened my desire for LGBT equality. I want equality not just for myself, but in order to protect my son legally and financially. I want it so that he grows up proud to be a citizen of a country that values and respects all of its people, and treats them all equally. I want policies, understanding and inclusion in our schools, camps, sports and other children’s and youth programs to make sure he never feels his family is inferior.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, however, can seem designed to underscore that our families are different. Many LGBT parents have concerns about how schools will approach the events and whether they will, even unintentionally, make our children feel uncomfortable about their families.
But they may also give us an excuse to have conversations with teachers and with our children about our families, making the occasions into learning experiences rather than anxiety-producing ones.
There’s also no reason we can’t repurpose one of the holidays to fit our families, or to use the entire time between the two days to celebrate each of the many people whom we call “family,” including donors, surrogates, birth parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents of donors, etc. — whatever works for you. Make it into your own tradition — hang one family member “apple” on a hand-drawn family tree each day between one holiday and the other, for example. Make a dinner at the end that celebrates the heritage or geographic locations of your family — or just their favorite foods.
Being a parent can sometimes seem like trying to juggle on a roller coaster. Being an LGBT parent can sometimes seem like trying to do so without the safety belt everyone else is wearing. But the experience is really not so different for any of us. It takes balance, flexibility and nerves of steel. Sometimes you need to grab on to the people around you; sometimes they grab on to you. Sometimes you all throw your hands up into the air and yell. Mostly, though, you just enjoy the ride, even if you can’t see what’s coming around the next bend.
My son’s final comment to me about the column was, “My mothers have also given me a lot of love.”
Maybe someday he’ll make us waffles in return. But really, just having him say that is enough.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.