The Gay or Lesbian Stepparent
Kid Reaction: Fear!
Kids of the same sex as a gay or lesbian parent sometimes react to the news of their parent's sexuality with fear. They fear that the new partner will take their parent away from them (this is common in heterosexual relationships, too), and they also fear that because their parent is gay, that will make them gay, too.
- Your partner should reassure the kids that nobody will ever take the child's place in the parent's heart and life. (You, too, can participate in this important conversation.)
- Sexuality is random throughout the population. Reassure the kids of this fact, even if they don't ask.
When and whether a person should come out to their children is a personal choice that often depends upon your situation. But under the best circumstances, many gays and lesbians say it's wise to let the kids know. Honesty includes being honest about sexuality.
Don't Be Wicked
Don't ignore the kids just because you don't understand them. People who haven't spent a lot of time around children (and this includes many gays and lesbians) often feel uncomfortable around children. Give it time. Go to the library and read up about child development.
A co-parent is one of two equally responsible participating parents in a child's life. A co-parent is not necessarily a biological parent. The term is often used to designate one of a child's two parents when the parents are gay or lesbian.
When children learn to be comfortable with a gay parent's sexuality, they will have learned to be comfortable with their own as well.
The Kids' Reaction to You
How will the kids react to you, their new stepparent? If their parent has come out as gay or lesbian before you two got serious and decided to make a life together, the issues you'll face will be very similar, if not identical, to those that heterosexual stepparents face.
If your partner comes out to the kids at the same time that he or she presents you as the big love of his or her life, there may be a very different reaction. The kids may have known you as a friend of their mom's or dad's for a long time, they may love you in that capacity, and yet they may flip out and reject you now that they understand that you play a more intimate role in their parent's life than they had realized.
Don't feel bad; this kind of reaction is common in many heterosexual cases, too (“You mean you and John do it, Mommy? That's terrible!”). And the closer you've been with the child, the more she may feel betrayed by you. Nope, she'll think, he's no longer my friend; he likes my daddy better than me!
So, who are you going to be to the kids? As in any stepparenting relationship, your role will be defined by you, your partner, and the stepkids. Here are some ideas to get you started thinking about your role.
- The “traditional” model of the gay stepparent (if such a thing can be said to exist) is to use an aunt or uncle as a model. You can be tough and eccentric “Uncle” Bobby, who hangs out with Dad. How about wild “Aunt” Lizzy? Of course most aunts and uncles don't sleep with Mommy or Daddy, so it's not quite the same thing. But being a concerned, semi-involved adult is never a bad place to begin.
- What do you do when you're an in-the-closet stepparent? How do you stepparent when the child doesn't know? Whether or not the kids understand the situation, you can participate in their rearing as a responsible, involved, and concerned adult. You don't need to claim the title of “stepparent” to have a real impact on their lives.
- Your role as a stepparent is even more open to interpretation than it would be in a heterosexual relationship. You're not facing the same wicked assumptions, so in some ways, you may not have as many struggles. You can parent deeper, sooner, and more broadly.
Although most children of gay parents are born into heterosexual relationships, the incidence of “turkey baster,” sperm bank, and surrogate-mother babies born to gay and lesbian couples is rising. A co-parenting situation differs from a stepparenting situation in that there is no other bioparent to participate in child rearing or provide emotional input in the child's life.
One of the challenges of being the non-biological co-parent is fixing the concept in people's minds (including your own) that you are an equal parent, and you've got to do this all without the benefit of the law. Consider signing a co-parenting agreement (there's more on this in Gay or Lesbian Stepparents and the Law). Writing the agreement will help you clarify your role. Also, in more and more states, non-biological co-parents are securing their legal rights to their children by adopting them. There are more details on adoption in Stepparent Adoption
More on: Nontraditional Families
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.