When parents break up, everyone suffers. Some people suffer economically when their household loses income. Other people suffer when they don’t get to see their children as much as they used to (or in the ways they want to). In lesbian-headed families, NGPs (non-bio-moms) often have a legal disadvantage when it comes to custody. We all know of situations, both personally and through the news, that end with an NGP not seeing her kids. We’re not the only ones with this issue, as I recently learned while reading this post on Motherlode about the challenges of fathering a baby for a man never married to the baby’s mother.
Because of this, it is extremely important for all of us to do everything we can to create stability in our relationships when we have kids. Straight, married parents have the advantage of having all of their family relationships legally sanctioned. Some queer parents are able to solidify our relationships legally through marriage or second-parent adoption, but this option is not available to all. So I’ve been thinking of other ways that we’ve created stability in our family.
- Because we were in the (privileged) position of being able to each give birth to one child, we have created a balance that can keep our family relationships intact. If I were to try to take custody of Leigh and deny Lyn access to her, I know that Lyn could do exactly the same thing to me with respect to Ira. That puts us on equal footing and gives us equal power in the relationship, which in turn creates stability.
- After the birth of our first child, Leigh, my wife Leigh (who was the NGP) took on primary caregiving responsibilities for a while when I went back to work at three months. We were already both taking care of the baby, but when she became the primary caregiver she gained confidence and caregiving skills. Because she was the primary caregiver she had a crash course in parenting and solidified her relationship with our daughter. This both made her less likely to abandon the family and made it less likely that I would attempt to take the baby away from her. We were able to mimic this situation a little this past year after Ira was born — Lyn took two days at home with him and I took three days, giving me a “leg up” to gain that same confidence and bond.
- After the birth of each of our children we were both lucky to be able to take two to three months of leave. We took this leave together, and that had some distinct advantages. We spent the time enjoying our new family, getting to know our new baby, and discovering ourselves as parents. Now, there are also advantages to taking most of your leave independently (you get a longer total time with the baby, for one), but I think the most important thing is for both partners to take leave, no matter how you work it. Even if you plan to have a “traditional” family with a stay-at-home parent and a breadwinner, the breadwinner still needs time home with the baby to forge that bond that will keep your family intact.
So I ask all of you parents and would-be-parents, both queer and straight. How have you created stability in your family?