I was raised by a fabulous set of lesbians in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early eighties. There were a lot less kids of gay parents then, even in San Francisco, and although it may have been an unusual childhood, it was a very happy one. Now that I am of an age to be having kids, I am reflective about the parenting practices that made my parents such successful caregivers. Each of us has to decide what from our childhood we will replicate when we have children of our own. The attributes that stand out from mine are not necessarily brought about by their having been gay but they are ones I associate with the community. And although I will most likely be parenting with a man in a more hetero-normative environment, I plan to implement some “queer” parenting concepts. So here is my list of the exemplary values my parents passed onto me in my childhood:
Appreciate difference: My parents always exposed my brother and I to a diversity of people and cultures, whether it was wheelchair basketball or exploring different religious services. One year we celebrated every holiday listed on our calendar after researching the customs.
Advocate for your children: When I was in elementary school my parents put a lot of effort into making sure my school met my needs. They held in-services so my teachers would know how to handle things like family trees and Father’s Day with respect to me. They lobbied the district to make sure there were books in the school library that represented me and reflected my experience.
Let them be themselves (in terms of gender and otherwise): My parents let me wear mismatched all pink ensembles for years. They also let my, now rugby playing, younger brother put on make-up with my mom, Nina, in the morning and once wear a skirt to school. Now that I have fashion sense and my brother is proto-typically male, they still support us wholeheartedly in our endeavors, encouraging me to go to acting school and sending my brother cross-country to compete in martial arts.
Put your children before your political ideals: Even though my mom might have preferred me to play with Tonka trucks, and my brother to not refer to women as “hos,” she put who we are as people, our identities and preferences above her own ideas. She never made us feel like who we are and how we express it would have any effect on her love for us. My parents have never pressured us to be anyone other than who we are, regardless of how different we were from them.
Be intentional: Perhaps because gay parenting does not, generally, come about quite so effortlessly, there tends to be a certain consciousness imposed that might be otherwise taken for granted. Because they were working outside of tradition, they explored what exactly they wanted to pass along. They did the same work that I am now trying to do, figuring out what they needed to do to give their children the best life they could provide. Take a minute to think about why you do what you do with your children? What routines do you take for granted?
Stand up for others: Perhaps because I was raised in a marginalized community, early on, I was conscious of the oppression of others. My parents taught me at a young age to stand up for those in need and ally myself with people fighting for social justice.
Celebrate life: I was never without a feather boa in life, that’s for sure. All people benefit from more celebration in life regardless of occasion. So bring on the glitter and sequins for everybody.
Suggestions for actualization: Find out what diversity is around you and explore it with your kids. Investigate and advocate for them in their learning environments. Create a list of what makes your child unique and encourage them in the activities they instinctively enjoy. Teach your kids to think critically and look at both sides of any issue. Give them chances to create social justice, work at a soup kitchen and visit the elderly.
Though I may be heterosexual, I plan to raise my children in a way that appreciates the many virtues and values of the gay community. Feather boas for all!
(And p.s. the title was just a joke in the wake of the Amy Chua controversy.)