In this Special Feature, Dr. Bergman discusses the mechanics of being a happy, healthy, gay family.
I have to confess upfront that this is one of my favorite subjects. I study it. I counsel parents about it. Most importantly, I live it, together with my partner and our two amazing girls. What follows represents a summary of my opinion however, I urge you to contact me directly for more information.
What you have to know at the outset is that your baby is going to be born to you not knowing anything about the world. Your baby won’t arrive with any opinions about how things are supposed to be. They arrive ready to be guided by you as to what’s right and what wrong. They don’t show up questioning what’s missing.
Gay parenting, and surrogacy is not about something missing. It’s not about something’s wrong. It’s not about saying, “We couldn’t do something this way so we had to do it this other way.” It’s not about loss as perhaps adoption can be. There’s no loss. No one has given anything up. It’s about creation.
As far as your child knows, you and your family are complete. Everything that your baby gets about your family, is going to come from you. Eventually the world around you seeps in, but mostly, it’s up to you to help them make sense of their lives.
For this reason, I believe it is profoundly important that you get comfortable with who you are when you have kids. Your level of comfort or unease translates to your child. You set the level.
The story that you tell your children is going to be their truth – nothing else. You can invent that story anyway you want.
Here’s my favorite story:
Daddy and Papa fell in love and got married and lived together and loved each other. We had so much love that we really wanted to have children to share it with.
To have children you need three things:
Daddy and Papa had the sperm, but we needed an egg and a uterus. So, a very nice woman gave us her egg and the doctor mixed it with our sperm. Then the doctor put that inside the uterus of another nice woman who very kindly allowed you to grow there for nine months.
When you were born, you came out of her uterus and into our arms. We took you home and you were our baby.
Simple, clear and truthful works best.
People always ask, me
“When should I start telling that kind of story?”
I say: the day your child is born.
You start telling the story even before the child can understand it and there is never a question about what happened. You tell the story in developmentally appropriate terms – so maybe you are not going to say sperm and egg and uterus to a two year-old or four year- old. The thing to remember is to tell the truth that’s developmentally appropriate.
“Who can I consult about what’s appropriate?”
Me. This is my area of expertise. This is my passion.
Surrogacy is a story of people who want to be parents. It’s the story of someone who needed help assembling all the ingredients. It’s a story of collaboration, love and intention. It’s a beautiful story.
Will your child say: “How come I don’t have a mommy?”
When you are a parent, you realize that children always say stuff like that. “How come I don’t have a mommy?” flows right along with, “How come I don’t wear glasses?” “How come our house is smaller than their house?” “How come I don’t have a dog?” “Why can’t I have a horse?”
When our kids ask such a question, too often, we make that mean, “Omigod! They’ve figured it out that something’s wrong with our family!” That doesn’t have to be the case. We don’t panic when our children ask us, “How come I don’t have a dog? Why can’t I have a horse?”
If we are not intentional with our response and comfortable with who we are, that’s when we have a tendency to inflate the importance of these questions. We end up adding negative meanings because we are scared we’re doing something wrong, but we’re not.
When your kid says, “Why can’t I have a horse?”
You can easily say, “I hear that.” “I know you’d like to have a horse. I’d love to have a horse, but we don’t have a horse.” “We can’t have a horse.”
I know from experience that when your child asks, “How come I don’t have a mommy?” you can easily and truthfully answer, “Because you have two daddies.” It really can be that simple.
What do you need to be a healthy gay family?
There’s no need to get defensive or scared. Your family is whole and vibrant. You are not coming from a place of scarcity.
You will probably need one other thing. The willingness to take a stand for your family everywhere you are.
Let’s say, you’re in line at the grocery store with 52 little old ladies or men in business suits or teenage hoodlums even, and the checkout lady says to your child “Oh you have such cute blond hair! Your mommy must have blond hair.”
What does taking a stand mean? It means, you, saying in front of that whole entire line of people, “He doesn’t have a mommy. He has two daddies.” That’s what it takes, everyday, everywhere you go.
My partner and I take this approach. What we end up with is my kids correcting people all the time. You say in public to one of my kids, “Oh, you have such pretty, green eyes. Your daddy must have green eyes.” They will say, “I don’t have a dad, I have a sperm donor.” They are as matter of fact as can be. My kids have been saying that since they were three years old.
I don’t mean you have to be on a soapbox. I just believe that you must tell the truth and not allow lies.
When you’re in line by yourself, you can say whatever you want. By yourself you can choose to be “in” or “out.” You don’t have that choice in the presence of your child. If you fail to take a stand, if you don’t say, “She has two daddies,” what your child hears is, “We are pretending that I do have a mommy because I should have one. We are pretending because there’s something wrong.”
So, don’t pretend like you didn’t hear it. Make the correction. Being a gay family doesn’t mean you are “political,” that may not be your intention. In truth, however, it turns out to be political sometimes.
Everyone always loves to ask:
“Aren’t you worried that when your kids get a little older they’re going to have really big problems with gender identity and sexuality?”
No. I’m not worried about it at all.
The research that’s been done (which isn’t very much) consistently shows that the children of gay and lesbian parents are just as well-adjusted as everyone else and more flexible. Gender identity seems to be internal. You have heard the classic example, right? Most gays and lesbians were born and raised by straight parents.
But still, won’t your teenager be ashamed to have gay parents?
Don’t panic though. Teenagers are ashamed about everything having to do with their parents. Adolescence is about individuating, differentiating and independence. The way that children work through this stage is by pushing against the thing they’ve been so close and connected to. That’s you, their parent.
It really doesn’t matter. Being a gay parent is just as much a pretext as anything else that’s going to embarrass them.
Whatever it is – You’re too strict. You’re too liberal. You dress badly. I even have kids in my practice who are embarrassed because their parents work out and are in great shape.
They will find something. The upside is that being the gay parent of teenager is not going to be worse. The downside is that it’s probably not going to be better.
How do you cope?
You develop a foundation of trust and respect. You instill these values in your child from the day you get them in the hospital. You repeat that they are the most wanted child in the world. You tell them the story of all the planning, the collaboration, the intention and the love that went into their creation. Your child will realize, there may be something different about your family, but there’s nothing inferior or wrong.
They’ll come out the other side of adolescence and love you again. Keep your checkbook handy.