Mary always wanted to have children, one day, when the time was right. One big issue for her was whether she could be a good parent, or at the very least a good enough parent.
Coming out to her own parents hadn’t increased her confidence at all – one of the first things her (tearful) mother had said was that now she wouldn’t have any grandchildren.
Mary tried to say that maybe she would have kids, to which her parents expressed disbelief and worse still disapproval: “how could she do that to the poor innocent children?”, “they would have a terrible time being bullied” and numerous varieties of the “but it’s not natural” argument.
Over the years, her plans to reproduce faded as an issue within her immediate family, overtaken by more pressing issues of the day. Mary was in the long and weary battle to educate and challenge the persistent prejudice, overt and hidden, in virtually every conversation she had. While she had no active plans to have a child, it didn’t seem worth the energy to take on a theoretical issue.
When Mary met the love of her life, that all changed. She was going to try to get pregnant! Regardless of what her mother, her father or the rest of the world thought about it.
Mary was very aware that she had a number of privileges which were going to make her life as a parent easier, and more possible, than for some of her LGBT+ friends.
First off, she had a supportive partner and a good, healthy relationship. She had a secure home. She had a fairly well paid job, was entitled to standard maternity leave and would have a job to go back to. It wouldn’t be easy financially, especially when it came to paying for child care, but between them they would afford it. Mary knew only too well of women and men who didn’t have the luxury of choosing children at all.
She was worried about what the kid/s would have to face. Living in a small, conservative town wouldn’t be easy, they would be all too visible, easily marked as ‘different’. Tolerance towards adult homosexuals who were relatively non-threatening was one thing, but would the townsfolk turn once they knew children were coming? Would the liberal veneers peel away to reveal bigotry lurking beneath? Again, she was all too well aware of her privilege as a cis woman mother-to-be: the awful stuff her father said about gay men as parents was shocking. She knew, too, that many trans parents faced huge hurdles to have children and to keep being parents after coming out.
Mary knew she had to face discrimination and armed herself ready. She would often quote the brilliant research articles she had read, especially the American study done over 25 years with lesbian parents and 78 children all of whom were conceived by donor insemination. Gatrell and Bos (2010) found that at age 17 ‘…daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalising problem behaviour than their age-matched counterparts in Achenbach’s normative sample of American youth’.
Closer to home, the work of Susan Golombok at Cambridge University confirms that children brought up in ‘new family forms’ do just as well as children raised in traditional families. Crucially, she has found that for children to develop happily they do not need to have a male parent or a female parent, and that’s the case for children of both genders or none. The evidence suggests, therefore, that the presence of fathers in children’s lives is not essential per se.
What about mothers? Our findings lead to the controversial conclusion that the presence of a female parent is not essential for children’s well-being or their development of sex-typed behaviour. What’s the evidence? Although only a small number of studies have been conducted, the available findings show no evidence of raised levels of child adjustment problems or atypical gender development between children with two-parent gay father families and children from either two-parent lesbian or two-parent heterosexual homes. Children can, it seems, do fine without a mum.
Mary was lucky and became pregnant quickly. What she didn’t anticipate was how much her fear of being judged as a parent-to-be would be increased by casual prejudice: from introducing her female partner to a disbelieving and totally heterosexual ante-natal class through to her mother’s continued insistence that this unnatural family would damage their offspring. She found it hard to control her anxiety, especially after Charlie was http://www.mindout.org.ukfirst-born, she began to doubt her abilities as a mother, began to fear for both of them.
What would have helped Mary? The challenges for parental mental health are well-known (stress, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, financial worry, renegotiating relationships, attachment issues, social isolation etc). For all LGBT+ parents any or all of these are complicated by having few or no public role models, no public support, heteronormative expectations of parenting, poor treatment and fear of poor treatment by health and social care services, exclusion from LGBT+ spaces, isolation from prior support networks.
LGBT+ parents need all of our support, we need to celebrate ‘new family forms’. Many parents and their kids will have that support, but some may not or may have times of crisis or need, as a family or as separate people.
MindOut offers safe LGBT+ spaces to explore mental health. We have advocacy workers, out of hours online support, peer support group work, peer mentoring and a counselling service. All of these are available for parents, parents-to-be and those without children.
All of the services MindOut deliver are confidential, non-judgemental and independent.