A day in the life of a queer parent


What My Typical Day Looks Like

By Gayle E. Pitman

Wake up at 6:00. Make breakfast. Make my daughter’s breakfast. Make my lunch. Make my daughter’s lunch. Remember to give my daughter her vitamin. Kiss my partner go0d-bye (she leaves by 6:45 to get to work). Empty the dishwasher (if Amy didn’t do it already). Make my bed. Make my daughter’s bed. Remind my daughter to feed the cats. Sweep up the massive number of crumbs she managed to drop on the floor (how DOES she do that every day?). Find clothes for my daughter to wear – and ten seconds later, renegotiate that outfit while she sputters in a fit of anger. Wash face, throw on some makeup, brush my teeth, figure out what I’m going to wear (sometimes resorting to going through yesterday’s laundry, convincing myself that it’s-not-THAT-dirty!). Nag my half-naked daughter to hurry up and get dressed. Comb her hair, trying not to yank too hard at what the Tangle Monster left during the night. Get my daughter to brush her teeth. Put our shoes and coats on, get my daughter’s lunch basket, my lunch bag, my work bag, my purse, inevitably forgetting SOMETHING, and get out the door.

All this, and it’s only 7:30 in the morning. I could go on, but you get the idea, and no, I’m not trying to sound like Erma Bombeck. In many ways, this is a typical day in the life of a working parent – overworked, underpaid, too much to do, too little time, blah blah blah.

But I’m not just your typical, garden-variety mom. I’m one of two moms in the family picture. And because of that, I deal with things that straight parents never have to deal with. In fact, I think I stress out about things that I bet straight parents never even give a passing thought about. Straight people, for example, don’t have to explain why their family is the way it is. Imagine if I had a dollar for each time a child asked me, “Why does she have TWO mommies – and NO daddy?” Seriously – I get asked this quite a lot, and I feel compelled to come up with an on-the-spot explanation for a situation that really shouldn’t need explaining.

To be honest, the example I just gave doesn’t really bother me so much. I get asked a lot of questions, especially from kids, and I don’t usually mind answering them. The things that take up major headspace involve what I don’t see – the quiet, implicit, subtle attitudes that may never rise to the surface in an obvious way. People might act friendly on the outside, but hold horribly negative attitudes about LGBTQ people on the inside, and I may never know it – unless they inadvertently leave little clues for me to find. Like the unanswered invitation to a play date at our house: Maybe they didn’t get the e-mail message, or they were too busy to respond. Or . . . maybe they don’t want their daughter to come to our house, because they think we might be a bad influence. Or, watching my daughter playing by herself on the monkey bars, I wonder, Is she playing by herself because she’s determined to master those bars? Or is it because the other kids don’t want to play with the girl with two mommies?

The fact that these situations could be read in more than one way points to the reality of microaggressions in the lives of marginalized people. Derald Wing Sue, author of Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, defines the phenomenon as “the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities, and denigrating messages” that members of marginalized groups receive from people who are usually well-intentioned – and who are typically unaware of the underlying messages that they’re communicating. Microaggressions happen when people’s unconscious biases leak out in unintended ways – sometimes through what they say or do, and sometimes through what they don’t say, or don’t do. What makes the experience of microaggressions more stressful than obvious forms of discrimination is the inherent self-doubt it creates – especially because, on the surface, they seem so innocent and harmless. Is this person being homophobic? Or am I reading into it too much, or being too sensitive?  As several research studies have already indicated, that ongoing battle of self-doubt that microaggressions trigger is quite stressful, impacting both our physical and our mental health in a negative way.

Microaggressions show up periodically (I think) in all the various corners of my life. My radar is on the highest alert, however, in the school and parenting arena – with good reason, when you consider the research. A 2001 study, for example, found that one-third of students with gay or lesbian parents had been teased or bullied because of their parents’ sexuality – and that teacher intervention in these situations was either nonexistent or completely ineffective. A group of studies from the late 1990s and early 2000s indicate that teachers and student-teachers commonly held negative attitudes towards lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. (Transgender parents haven’t even made it onto the research radar screen in a significant way, although as an aside, Jennifer Finney Boylan’s book Stuck in the Middle With You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders is an excellent read.) And a recent study published in School Psychology Quarterly showed that, even when teachers or student-teachers had positive or neutral explicit attitudes towards lesbian and gay parents, their implicit attitudes (the precursor to microaggressions) towards same-sex couples – with or without children – tended to be negative. They say they’re okay with lesbian and gay parents, but their subtle actions might reveal otherwise – maybe, depending on how you read the situation. A scary reality, if you think about it, considering how much a child’s success in school hinges on the quality of the teacher-parent relationship.

I worry that my daughter will get bullied or teased – and that her teachers might not have her back. I worry that some kids might not want to be friends with her. I worry about building relationships with other parents, and wonder what they really think about us. I wonder if my daughter’s teachers are nice to us because they like us, or just because they have to be. And then I worry that I just worry too damn much.

All in a typical day of this working parent.

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11 Comments

Filed under children, covert homophobia, homophobia, LGBT families, mental health, psychological research, stereotypes

11 responses to “A day in the life of a queer parent

  1. Great article, Gayle. I was marrying two men on a public beach a couple of weeks ago in my very gay-friendly town, and noticed that a father and young daughter left the beach … and I wondered, were they ready to leave, were they trying to get out of the way, or did the dad disapprove, and not want his daughter to see the inevitable hand-holding and kissing that comes with a wedding? Regardless of his reasons for leaving, it was my thought process that disturbed me. Sometimes I wonder what it says about me that I think these things … are these thoughts a sign of my own microaggressions?

    • Thanks for your comment! I wouldn’t call them microaggressions – rather, I’d say that you’re engaging in the same “functional paranoia” (yes, researchers actually call it this) that LGBTQ and other marginalized people engage in. Who knows why they left the beach – it might have had nothing whatsoever to do with sexual prejudice. But that’s the crazymaking nature of microaggressions and implicit prejudice – there’s no perfect way of proving what the accurate read on the situation is.

  2. I am sorry that you feel this way, and have to wonder about all the little interactions with people in your larger parent/school community.

    • Thanks for your comment! And you certainly don’t need to apologize for the potential behavior of others. I don’t think it’s only our daughter’s school that triggers these thoughts in my head – because, as you know, her school is just amazing and awesome in so many ways, and we love being a part of that community. I’ve had microaggressions occur so many times since coming out 20 years ago, that I think it’s become an automatic-pilot response for me to read various situations through that lens. And yet, when obvious homophobia crops up in my life (and it does), I still get surprised and caught off-guard by it.

      One of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had with our daughter’s school was her classroom birthday celebration. Her teachers told a special story that incorported both mommies – and Amy and I both cried through it. And later, during free play, several kids did ask us what was up with the two-mommy thing. 🙂

      • Well, speaking for myself, I am always grateful when my children get to experience diversity in their school and social environments. The birthday story is a perfect way for young children to be introduced to the idea of two mommies (or two daddies, or any other family shape) if they haven’t heard of it before. The birthday story is told in such a loving and magical, yet matter-of-fact way I think it easily leads to children’s acceptance. Curiosity is present in children always, and responding to it with calm and honesty and age-appropriate answers is the best way to handle it … and, well, just about everything.

        This might be related to your experience or might not, but I have observed that there is a high level of distraction among parents of young and school-age children. Social rituals and good etiquette sometimes fall by the wayside. They/We do not always have time to follow through or even participate in a full conversation. I often wonder why my phone call wasn’t returned or the invitation wasn’t responded to or why some other slight happened. Sometimes I fear that’s because I am different and unwanted. When I’m not feeling insecure, I tend to assume that the other parents just blew it because they had too much going on, too much on their plates.

        (And sometimes I realize I blow it or am hesitant simply because I don’t remember a person’s name.)

        ~Sara

  3. daynuh

    Microagression is a term I’ve been hearing a lot more over the past five years or so.
    I dug reading this one. Thanks for keeping up with the blog!

    -Dana

    • Thanks, Dana! I think the term “microaggression” is very useful, because it puts a name to what many marginalized people experience. Derald Sue breaks down the experiences of microaggressions even further in his book, identifying the various ways they can show up.

  4. David

    Re: your third paragraph. I think you’re finding stress where a simple, “Because that’s the way OUR family is.” should suffice. There are plenty of non-mother/father familys around, such as single father, single mother, grandparents w/no mother or father, aunt/uncle raising child, sibling raising child, etc, where the same questions are raised and a direct answer usually ends the matter. I think that you may be feeling that the question is, in some way, an indictment of your life choice when it is, in reality, simply a request for knowledge. Children are curious and, unless they’re in the why-why-why stage, will just move on after satisfying their curiosity.

    • David, if you read my fourth paragraph, you’ll see that, out of all the questions and comments I get, the curiosity questions I get from kids are the ones I mind the least. It’s the more subtle situations that can be much more stressful. The challenge with microaggressions is that, when a person finds themselves in such a situation, it’s often very difficult to tell whether it’s just an innocent comment or an indictment of who they are.

  5. Robin

    Hi Gayle!
    I too am a mom in a two mom family. We have two little boys (10 and 9 years old). We have been very fortunate I guess because only a couple of times have we felt singled out for being a non-traditional family. So often the friends we have (which are basically heterosexual with two kids of their own close to our kids’ age), have so many of the same issues we have with sibling rivalry, or homework, or food concerns that our unique situation drops off the radar. But we live in California in the East Bay, so that is a pretty open-minded place. Some friends of ours asked us to consider moving to Texas, since they were moving there. No way! It would be impossible. This restriction is something I have thought about from time to time. We cannot move to just any place in the country.. (not yet anyway). Our children’s emotional health would be in jeopardy. The recent court rulings however have been incredibly helpful. They have made such a huge difference to my family – even though, as I said, we feel pretty much like we fit in.

    • Much of the time, our unique situation drops off the radar too. We have lots of heterosexual friends with children, and we talk all the time about just general child/parenting issues. Although Sacramento isn’t as LGBTQ-friendly as the East Bay, I don’t have qualms about being out in general, or out about our family structure. However, I’m with you – I wouldn’t move to Texas, or to lots of other places in the U.S., largely because the rights we have here in California would get stripped away once we established residency. There’s a report that came out a few years ago titled All Children Matter this paints a very clear (and disturbing) picture of the restrictions LGBTQ families face in the U.S.

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