I always think of this time of year as “parenting season. ” The month between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (or Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, if you’re celebrating in the plural) always bubbles over with media coverage about moms, dads and families. For a few weeks, at least, our efforts to raise children and balance family, work and personal needs are lauded and appreciated.
It can be a stressful time for us LGBT parents and our children, however, when our celebration is often tempered with constant reminders that our families don’t fit the traditional mold. We must discuss with partners and children how they wish to observe the holidays, and how donors, surrogates, birthparents and parents’ gender identities and expressions figure into the mix. We must sometimes try to convey this to our children’s teachers and other caregivers (with greater or lesser degrees of success).
But judging from Mother’s Day, lesbian moms, at least, are having a pretty good run. The holiday has helped raise awareness of our families even as it underscores our differences. The New Yorker showed a pair of moms on its Mother’s Day cover, reading a card while their brood of kids peeked out from the staircase. And numerous mainstream channels, including the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and Slate have covered lesbian and transgender moms as part of their reporting on the holiday.
We also have the new drama “The Fosters” to look forward to on June 3. The ABC Family show, from executive producer Jennifer Lopez, features a biracial lesbian couple and their mix of adopted, biological and foster children. It promises a different look at an LGBT family than we usually see in mainstream media, which has tended to focus on white, upper-middle-class couples just starting their families together.
Given this wave of recognition that not all families fit the mother-father mold (and an expectation that this year’s Father’s Day will be similarly inclusive), one might rightly ask if there remains a need for two separate parenting holidays.
The fact is, our country does have an official “Parent’s Day,” since President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1994. It hasn’t caught on as a popular observance, however. I’m guessing this is because of how ingrained the other two holidays are in American culture, and also because — let’s face it — in couples, each parent often likes to have a day of his or her own to relax and be pampered.
Might we do what more and more fair-minded organizations are doing with paper forms, and use “Parent 1 Day” and “Parent 2 Day”? No — what is proper on a form sounds too clinical for a holiday.
Another solution would be to follow Rutgers University law professor and gay dad Carlos Ball’s suggestion and focus (not just for the holidays) “on what it means to mother and to father a child,” instead of on the gender of the parent who is doing the mothering or fathering, as he says in his book “The Right to Be Parents.”
In the U.K., Mother’s Day is indeed called “Mothering Sunday,” although its origins have to do with returning to one’s “mother” (home) church, rather than the act of being a mother. Still, there’s no reason we couldn’t use “Mothering Day” and “Fathering Day” in Ball’s sense of the words, celebrating the actions of parents rather than their genders.
Of course, we must then expand the traditional definition of “to father a child” beyond just a procreative act, and better acknowledge the childraising role of most fathers today. Once we do that, though, how can we speak of what it means to “mother” and to “father” a child in ways that don’t fall prey to traditional notions of gender? Do the terms themselves trap us in a gender binary from which many of us are trying to escape? One can “mother” with strength and with gentleness; one can “father” with a sense of nurturing or of discipline. One can be a parent of any gender and do all of the above — and then we’re back to a situation where each parent still doesn’t get a day to her or himself.
I am not sure I have any universal solution. As with all holidays, therefore, I say, find an observance that works for you and your family. Make your own traditions, and celebrate with abandon.
As part of your celebrations, I hope you will consider joining me for the eighth annual Blogging for LGBT Families Day on June 3. I hold the event between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day each year in order to honor both equally, but also to recognize that not all families fit into those neat categories. I invite all bloggers — LGBT, our families and allies — to write in support of LGBT families that day. Just post on your own blog and submit the link at mombian.com to be included in the master list. (If you don’t have a blog, simply leave a comment on my master post that day.) Even if you don’t contribute a post, I hope you’ll help spread the word about the event, and come by to read about some of the many families and allies in our community.
The best wishes of the season to you and your families.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (www.mombian.com), an award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBT parents.