Ever notice how children’s parties and baby showers quickly divide themselves into factions and cliques, much like the lunch tables in high school? Yeah, I’ve noticed that too. I may actually be able to provide some insight on the phenomena from my vantage point as a “pre-parent”.
I often get filled with dread when I get an invitation to a child’s party or baby shower. It’s not that I have a problem with children or the hosts. My fellow parent guests on the other hand, well, that’s a different story.
I get that once one becomes a parent, your individuality seems to have been slowly chipped away. With each middle of the night feeding, changed diaper, and tantrum, your identity as parent is becoming more secure. You have earned each of these stripes. You have rightfully earned a parental medal for the completion of each of these rites of passage. In gamer terms, you’ve “leveled up”. You are no longer a “pre-parent” and you want to show off your battle scars and discuss upcoming battles with more experienced parents. That makes perfect sense. And even if you wanted to discuss something else, what would you even discuss? When was the last time you saw a movie? Like, really saw a movie. From beginning to end. No interruption. No falling asleep. Can you think of a time? Most parents probably can’t. They probably also can’t identify a hobby that they are actively participating in. Hobbies are so off the radar, you probably don’t even know what would be considered a hobby at this point. Parenting has consumed you. It is who you are. You are PARENT!
So what the hell would you have to say to “non” and “pre-parents”?
Non- and Pre-parents don’t have these issues. They may have actually had time to read the articles that show up on your Facebook feed. They might have even seen that Spider-Man movie. No, the other one. Believe it or not, you’ve missed yet another super hero reboot.
And this is where the divide begins.
If the divide is crossed, the conversation inevitably is about the parents’ child(ren) and the non- and pre-parents’ lack of offspring. For “non-parents” it is a delicate dance of respectfully validating the parents’ decision to have children, while also suggesting that they have a right to choose not to follow the same path. This is a delicate dance, as parents have sacrificed A LOT to earn this title and can become defensive if there is any hint of judgement on the part of the non-parent. The non-parent is also sensitive. He or she (especially she) has probably been asked more times than you can count about why they have no children. This may or may not be by choice. That said, family members have been asking at every family event, friends who are in the process of becoming or are currently friends may have been asking, and at least one if not multiple interactions at an child’s party or baby shower circle around his or her decision to be a non-parent. They have been rubbed raw on the topic. This discussion is a delicate dance of smiles and small talk. Much like watching two territorial spiders meeting on a leaf for the first time (I may have watched Planet Earth just prior to writing this post). You could see why these two groups of people may want to avoid each other. To hold a conversation takes a lot of effort on both the non- and current parents’ parts.
It gets even trickier for pre-parents who cannot have children of biologically (pre-parents who are in the process of building a family are often entered into the parent fold as an intern or “parent for a day” status). Pre-parents are not welcomed as readily. Parents seem to react to these pre-parents with suspicion. I imagine the interaction being similar to when my dog Nora discovers a new frog in the yard. She needs to sniff it and poke it before she decides it’s safe. Parents seem to engage in similar behavior with pre-parents.
One of the first questions asked is: “So why don’t you have any children? Don’t you want children?”
This is the moment that pre-parents dread. They would have much preferred to talk about the weather, religion, or politics. There is often a long story needed to answer this question and that story is often laden with LOTS of emotions. This goes doubly so if the pre-parent is a member of the LGBTQ community.
The pre-parent often ends up discussing their fertility issues, history of interventions tried, and open themselves up for doctor referrals, homeopathic remedies, and comparisons to family members, friends, and acquaintances. Lots of personal information is often shared in this first interaction with complete strangers. This is incredibly uncomfortable.
If they are a member of the LGBTQ community, that question possibly taps into so much more. LGBTQ people have grown up fighting their own homo/transphobia, the judgements of family and peers, have had to come with terms with potentially not having children from an early age, and may have been battling their family for years about their negative opinions about them even considering becoming a parent. Not to mention all the media and religious organizations that have been spreading incorrect information about the deleterious results of children raised by people of the LGBTQ community.
I know that I am not required to answer these sorts of questions. That said, I understand where parents are coming from AND I am often so excited to not being treated as a leper at this social event that may be lasting for hours, that I begin explaining myself. My answer goes something like this:
“I do want children. It’s just that it can get very complicated when you’re a gay guy.”
This inevitably elicits the question I abhor. I REALLY REALLY HATE THIS QUESTION: “Why don’t you just adopt?”
Just adopt. Just adopt?
So I understand that parents who have been bestowed with fertility and privilege of being born sexually compatible with someone of differing genitalia may be lacking in information in the area of adoption. So I, inevitably start explaining:
“Well, American adoption is very expensive. It’s about 30k. Also you have to have home visits which also cost over a thousand dollars. You need to be chosen by a birth mother, and there’s probably another thousand steps I can’t even remember.”
The home visit can also be especially triggering for someone in the LGBTQ community. At the home visit, you are basically paying someone to come into your house and judge you. This can be hard if you have grown up feeling like you are being judged by everyone in your life. Having to pay for it can be salt in an open wound. Additionally, there will be questions about your family. If your family has not been supportive of you as a person or of you becoming a parent, this can potentially evoke even stronger emotions.
“Can’t you just do an international adoption?”
I am not sure what is with the word “just”, but it seems to happen often in these conversations. There is no part of adoption, foster to adopt, or any other method of procuring a child that is simple. One cannot simply go into an International Market, speak to an employee and be ushered to aisle 17 where there is a child you can select on the second shelf from the top and place gently into your shopping cart.
As a gay man, international adoption is almost impossible. Most countries will not adopt to a gay male couple. Those same countries will not adopt to a single male parent, as gay men have been paired with being a pedophile for so long that it is believed to be fact. In the countries that do allow for gay adoption (hey Denmark, love you!) you would have to become a citizen first. This means living in the country for a number of months and sometimes years. So, the answer to that question, is a resounding “no”.
“Well, why not get a surrogate?”
Throughout my life, I have had many girlfriends offer to have my future child. Although this statement is well-meaning, it can often sting. This offer is often given flippantly, and sometimes with a sprinkling of jest. If it is in fact a joke, it can actually be painful, as it is pointing out my inability to have children. If it is not, the fact that it is being thrown out there as an option so easily shows just how little consideration she has spent on the subject. Women who want to be a surrogate often have to take a lot of hormones, have an egg extracted (which is not comfortable AT ALL), have the egg fertilized and placed back into the womb. Assuming she is only pregnant with one child (as with IVF there is a strong chance of having multiple children), she still has to go through the pregnancy and give birth. After the birth process, she then has to watch her child get taken away by her friend. She has to be okay with letting her child go.
This ignores the cost of IVF, and what insurance will or will not pay. It ignores the cost of doctor’s appointments, increased amounts of food, time off from work, and a new wardrobe. It ignores the impact it could have on dating or on a relationship you presently have. It also ignores the discussion about what the birth mother’s role is going to be with the child and with you once the child is born.
The next question is inevitably about paying for a surrogacy services. If I were independently wealthy, sure. But also remember that in most states, no matter if it is a friend or through a surrogacy service, mothers often have a period of time that they can change their mind about signing over their parental rights. Often times, there is no guarantee that the adoptive party (gay man) will be compensated with the money spent throughout this pregnancy. In some states he will be require to pay child support.
In Maryland, where I am from, a mother has 30 days to change her mind. That means that I could be taking care of a child for a month, loving and bonding with him or her, just to have him or her taken away. I am not sure how I would be able to emotionally manage that. I don’t know if I would ever risk having children again.
“You’re a therapist, you should do foster care. Who would be better than you to raise a child in need?”
See my post on Adoption Vs Foster to Adopt.
But there is that added layer of “you’re a therapist.” That phrase induces so much guilt and I don’t think that’s fair. The guilt comes because the parent I am talking to is right. I would be an awesome parent for a child in need and it feels selfish at times to want to leave my job at work and to be able to come home to a house where I am not a therapist. I’m not sure if it is or is not selfish, and that may be why pointing out my occupation stings.
By the time this conversation between the parent and myself concludes, I have spent thirty minutes educating them on the difficulties of all these suggestions that I should “just” do. I am sure they feel sheepish and I know I feel like a buzz kill. By the end of the conversation, I feel like it would have been better if I had just kept to my corner by the finger foods, where I could shove food in my mouth anytime a parent comes near to avoid this very conversation.
So what can parents talk to non- and pre- parents about? Here are some suggestions:
You could discuss your job.
You could discuss what brought you to your decision to have children.
You could discuss how you know the hosts of the party.
You could ask if there is any information or advice they would like to hear.
You could ask if they want any resources.
Parents.com also provided these suggests: