Discussing Modern Families

Posted on 27 Feb 2011 at 2:11pm

This post comes from Ellen Kahn, HRC Family Project Director, in celebration of Goodkin’s Modern Family Blogger Week. Check out all the blogs and submit your Modern Family Blogger Week entry today!

Earlier this week a local news channel featured a segment on the emergence of “gay dads” in the Washington, D.C. area.  The reporter visited the home of one gay couple who was hosting a few other couples, with children in tow, to be a part of the scene.  The footage included a sea of adorable toddlers running around, reading books, playing with toys, etc.—the usual “playdate” chaos and fun many of us experience in our own homes.  The dads talked about their journey to parenthood, the sense of community they have, and as one dad put it, the desire to raise children transcends sexual orientation, “it’s just what couples do.”  D.C. is largely viewed as a great place for same-sex parents to start a family because there are “so many of us,” we have good laws (marriage and joint adoption), and a generally progressive political and social climate.  The dads agreed that being connected to the local LGBT parenting group, Rainbow Families D.C., provides additional support –their kids get to hang out with other families like theirs, they can share information about friendly pediatricians, schools, congregations, and can affirm one another’s experiences.  Overall the segment was very positive, not biased at all (thank you to the reporter for not inviting someone to give “an opposing view”!)

I had the pleasure of being interviewed for this piece as well, and in the end had one very brief sound bite.  I don’t take that personally, and fortunately the sound bite was a good one to choose; I shared my observation as someone who has led local “Maybe Baby” groups for over 12 years, that what we thought was just a trend, the so-called “gayby boom” a few years ago was, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg and the number of gay men enrolling in Maybe Baby has steadily increased.  Just last night at an adoption forum hosted by HRC, over 30 adults turned out and the vast majority were gay men.

Further into the interview I shared a story, actually more of an “inside joke” that is common among us queer parents—gay men are destined to become the PTA presidents.  I have several friends for whom this is true, so it has become somewhat of a stereotype.  This led to an interesting conversation, and one that I think gets to an important characteristic of the Modern Family, and one that will have social change implications.  In a family with two dads (or two moms) there are not the same prescribed roles or expectations based on the gender of the parent. In a two-dad family, a dad is going to go to PTA meetings, help with bake sales, go on school field trips, volunteer on committees, and yes, even become the PTA president!  In the typical “straight couple,” it’s the mom who fills this role—it’s the tradition, perhaps the expectation for women: moms do “these things,” and dads do “other things.”

How refreshing for us modern families to break out of these gender “norms” and engage with our kid’s schools, sports teams, play groups, etc. because we want to, because it is important, became we know it’s important to be engaged, and visible.  Modern Families will change the way people think about the role of mothers and fathers, about the way society has limited those roles, and hopefully will inspire straight moms and dads to try out some new ideas.  I can just imagine the PTA moms telling their husbands, “Honey, why can’t you be more like Josh’s dads!  Why do I have to do all the carpooling, lunch-packing, and PTA meetings!”  This is not to suggest that all (straight) dads are disengaged from school life or from the 9 to 5 lives of their kids—the younger generation of dads is definitely more open to sharing the load, even changing diapers without being asked, but I think we would agree that there is still a differentiation of what moms/dads do in a typical family, and most straight moms I know say that they do much more than 50% of the day to day child care and household tasks.  Our gay dads are great role models for other dads and for other families.  Whether motivated by the idea of “proving” ourselves, or by our personality types, or by the more basic drive of commitment to our kids’ lives, our increasing presence in school hallways, on soccer fields, and in community activities both strengthens our own families and helps people stretch their understanding of what it means to be a family.  So hats off to all of the modern families out there, and a special tip to the gay dads who follow their dreams, sometimes against the odds, and bring their love, compassion and creativity to a new generation of children!


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