3 min

Pressure to be parents

With rights come heteronormative expectations

Dear Dr Ren,

My boyfriend and I got married two years ago, and even at our wedding (yes, at the ceremony) people started asking about when we were going to start our family.

I have sisters who have luckily produced grandchildren for my mother, but Colin is an only child. Well, you can imagine. Every family event is peppered with thinly veiled (or not) suggestions about how full our lives would be if only . . .

Then there was some research that said gays made bad parents and Mumsy backed off for a while, but apparently our friends didn’t get that memo.

Look, we’re happy we’ve won the right to marry, and to adopt, and to have access to surrogates, et cetera, but the pressure is getting to be a bit much. Even our gay friends are sorting themselves into parent and non-parent groups. It’s all just so . . . heterosexual!

I don’t expect you to solve a whole social issue, Dr Ren, but could you at least help us with something to say to end the questions, or maybe how to feel a little less . . .

Under Pressure

Dear Under Pressure,

I wondered how long it would take for a question like this to arrive. If you talk to some older grooms, they’ll get all pensive, recalling the years of struggle for any recognition at all of gay rights. And they may be impatient with you for complaining about a problem they could never have imagined being within their grasp when they were young enough to parent.

We have now won sufficient equality (at least in this area) that we must endure the discomfort of heteronormative expectations of marriage. You know: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Colin with a baby carriage. We didn’t like it when we didn’t have the choice, and it isn’t a whole lot more comfortable when choice is taken away on the other side!

I’m right behind you, UP. Just as we cheer that we can be like everybody else, everybody else expects us to be just like they are. Phooey.

As to that study that got you off the hook with Colin’s mom, it was done by Mark Regnerus from the University of Texas, a researcher in the areas of sexual behaviour, religion and family. It hit the headlines because it upended all previous findings that kids with gay parents were actually a little better adjusted, especially regarding independent thinking and trusting they could talk openly with their parents. And guess what? Upon closer inspection, the research was severely flawed, his bias transparent, and Regnerus soon went down in academic flames. But you needn’t tell Mom.

Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the psychology behind why folks are so enthusiastic about you doing what they are doing, in this case becoming parents.

We all crave acceptance and inclusion. That’s why we root for our school/team/country/lifestyle. It’s why family and team spirit and even patriotism works. In its simplest form, it’s a good thing.

So when other gay newlyweds step bravely into parenting, they want and need supportive comrades. They want your vote of approval, to hear you say, “That’s such a grand idea that we’re considering it, too.” And when your straight family members are pushing you to have babies “just like them,” well, consider it their way of recognizing you as part of their group, not different. It’s really a paradigm shift for many of them, and they deserve our gratitude for this inclusion, annoying as it can sometimes be.

Taking this into account, it’s easier to bristle less when pressed with the well-intentioned, if irritating, kids question. You can always say, ”Oh, we’ve just gotten married. We want to honeymoon for a while before we start thinking about what comes next,” and deliver it with a saucy wink. When that one wears out, you can simply answer that you’ve considered parenting and decided against it. Period. You really needn’t explain your life choices to anyone.

Colin’s mother, however, deserves and requires some special regard. She longs for grandchildren to love and depends upon her only child to supply them. She needs to understand this is one problem Colin can’t fix for her. They’ll need to forgive each other for their mutual and individual disappointments. An honest and heartfelt conversation (or two), devoid of blame and guilt, would go far to resolving this unfinished business. A family counsellor may be helpful with this process.

It’s pretty fantastic that people who want to have children, regardless of orientation, can do so now. If only those people who don’t want to have children would stop doing so . . . but that’s a column for a different audience. At least we don’t have that burden!

We want, deserve and are winning the rights to marry and form families. With those rights comes the whole package of social mores, traditions and expectations. We get it all, bothersome bits included. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Focus on the big picture, on all the barriers we’ve downed and the opportunities now available to us. Cheer the choice we do have and go give your husband a kiss.