Parenting in the LGBTQIA+ Community
Being a parent in the modern world is difficult, no matter who you are. For Pride Day, we wanted to spotlight an incredible set of parents: Carrie and Malene. Carrie and Malene live in Florida and have the absolute cutest daughter on the planet: a two year old named Olivia. In the following interview, you'll see into Carrie and Malene's life and discover what it's truly like to be in their shoes as LGBTQIA+ parents in 2019.
Make sure to follow Carrie and Malene on social media!
Have you ever faced prejudice as an LGBTQIA+ parent? If so, how did you respond? What do you think the most effective way to respond is?
Carrie: On social media - mostly YouTube - yes, many terrible comments. These I usually choose to ignore, but I do not delete them. Some people fear or hate my "lifestyle" and that's a fact. Unless the comment is crude, in which case I report and block, there's no point in censoring.
To my face - yes, but usually not with malicious intent. I am asked ridiculous, stupid, rude, personal questions all of the time - by strangers, friends, and family too. But for me at least, it almost always comes from a place of genuine curiosity. People may not have met a lesbian parent, or someone from the LGBTQIA commuinity at all. Would I ask a straight couple how they made their baby, or how they have sex? No! So is it intrusive to be asked questions like that? Yes. However, people are usually simply curious and they just don't know. The most effective way to respond is to be kind and gentle. I think it is crucial to not react in a defensive manner and it's about gently educating. If I want people to approach me with acceptance, then it would be hypocritical for me to react to genuine curiosity that has no ill intent in a defensive or unkind way. I am actually a fairly private person, but the reason I share so much about my personal life on social media is because I think it is important to educate and normalize our family "situation". I also remember when my wife and I were starting to talk about making a family, we turned to social media to find other same-sex families and it helped tremendously. It helped to not feel alone, and it helped to be able to ask some questions or hear stories and points of views. I am contacted on social media frequently with questions from same sex couples. This is why - as long as the question does not cross my personal boundaries - then I always take the time to respond.
Although I anticipated it, I actually have never had anyone ask me, "Who's the real mom" or make a comment (to my face) about Olivia not having a father. That was a pleasant surprise because I have read plenty of those stories from other couples. We do get some really nice remarks about how nice it must be to have two moms. It also made me sad once when a pregnant friend's mother shared her excitement with me at the baby shower that her daughter was finally going to have a baby of her own... when in fact, her daughter already is a mother to one child, she just didn't give birth.
I have been asked on more than a couple occasions, "So, does that make you the Dad?" ... which is where my Instagram name came from my.name.is.momma - because I'm not the dad, and I'm not the "other" mom either. I'm Mom. Olivia calls me Momma. She has two moms (Momma and Mor, which is Danish for Mother). She doesn't have a dad. That brings me to the other comment I frequently get. "Do you know that dad?" .. "Who's the dad?" ... "Will she ever know her father?". My response is that Olivia doesn't have a dad; we used a donor. I always politely and gently educate on "Donor, not Dad".
In the hospital, all documentation and conversations during the tours are about the "dad" instead of the birth partner or parent. Even though they're looking right at me standing there in the group, it was all "the dad can wait here... the dads can do this..." which was incredibly frustrating for me. Like, hello??
Malene: I feel like we constantly have to come out to other parents or at play places etc.
What advice do you have for a new parent in the LGBTQIA+ community?
Malene: Find other parents like you. Whether it’s two dads or two moms. It’s so nice for your kids to sometimes to see other family structures similar to theirs, as they’ll often be “the outsider” at school etc. Also be open with your kids, don’t hide your family, and if people get it wrong, make sure you correct them in front of your kids, so they see and feel that you’re not ashamed! Example: Comments like “oh she must be having her daddy wrapped around her finger with that smile” I would always make sure to say “actually Olivia has two moms, but she sure does have us under her spell” with a smile always. Usually people are more embarrassed that they just assumed one thing, so it’s more uncomfortable for them than you.
Carrie: I suggest following social media, blogs/vlogs of families in your situation. It's great to have for support and also just to surround your news feed with like-minded families.
Carrie - we noticed you're a working mom! How do you personally balance work life & home life?
I consider myself to be very driven in my career. I do not like to "meet the requirements" or "coast" along. So learning to have a balance has been a big challenge for me. It's been something that I've had to make a conscious decision that I wanted to do. Then learn how to do it. And then work at it every single day. When I'm at work, I stay focused and work hard and smart and manage my time and my priorities. Every single hour of the day I am triple-booked or more. It's a constant decision to decide where my time is best spent to do my job that day.
When I'm at home, I leave my phone on the kitchen counter and make sure that I'm being present with my family. As a manager, that's not possible 100% of the time, but it's about creating boundaries and drawing a line so that I'm only taking calls/messages from home when it's necessary. I find that getting to the gym in the mornings gives me more energy throughout the day, and helps me manage my stress better. So, even though this is another hour I need to squeeze into my day, it is worthwhile. For this, I decided to take that hour off my mornings before Olivia is awake so it's not cutting into my family time.
If you ask my wife, she would probably tell you I'm much better at this work/life balance thing than when she met me and I was working 80-hour weeks... but it's still a work in progress! ;)
What can a community do to create a safe and accepting environment for LGBTQIA+ parents?
Carrie: I think using terms like parents and spouses, instead of assuming a gender or role is comforting.
What are some unique challenges that you and your wife have faced as parents?
Carrie: When traveling or making travel plans, there are some countries that we will not go to since it's not safe for our family. And there are some places here in our own country that we avoid or change how we act (do not hold hands, for example)
Malene: Finding a balance between letting her know that her family is normal, but at the same time raising her knowing how much we’ve had to fight for and how much we will continue to have to fight for when it comes to our family structure. For example, when it comes time to get her into school is possible we could pass some challenges. I recently listened to an executive speak about her same-sex family and how their child was refused at the first preschool they applied for because they were same-sex family. Finding the balance of being our authentic selves, but staying safe. Going to be hard to explain to her that she should never be ashamed of who she is or who the family is, but there will be some situations where we would have to be a little more aware of our surroundings and try to blend in for safety reasons. And eventually will have to explain to her that there is hatred in the world some people will say and do nasty things just because of who we love.
What's the best piece of advice you can offer other same-sex couple parents? Any general advice for parenting?
Carrie: The best piece of advice that I received was from another non-gestational parent. I was talking to her about my concerns about bonding with my daughter since I wouldn't be carrying her, or breastfeeding, and planned to be the working parent. She told me that you get back what you put in. I am so thankful for that advice because I feel like it really made a difference. When Olivia was a baby, I often got up in the night to comfort her when she woke up. It would have been so easy to tell myself I'm too tired, I have to get up for work soon, she wants Mor not Momma, and every other excuse. We also took something and made it ours. For us bath time was always Momma/Oli time, and we had so much fun!