13 May 2013

Denying a Child a Mother

I think one of the greatest spoken oppositions to same-sex adoption revolves around the "need" for children to be raised by both a mother and a father.  Some studies seem to indicate that children raised by a mother and father fair better, overall and generally, than children raised any other way.  I'm not sure if polygamous households are included in those studies (are children raised by 4 mothers and 1 father even better off?), but the claim seems to be that a male and female parent, whether biological parents or not, make the ideal parenting pair.  Some studies seem to indicate that children raised by two parents fair better, overall and generally, than children raised by one, and additionally that parental sex/gender is almost if not completely irrelevant.  But despite the touting of studies, I don't think research or statistics are the reasons most people determine their position on same-sex adoption.  And I think most opponents, including many gay dudes I've spoken with, oppose it partially because of supposed future teasing and discomfort of children (you know, like Mormons adopting in Mormon-unfriendly areas or inter-ethnic adoption) but even more because they know how much they loved their mothers and the softness and warmth they brought to their lives, and they hate the idea of denying that to a child.  And I won't lie: it tugs at my heartstrings, too.

The softness of a mother.  The way she smells so nice and looks so pretty.  The quiet lullabies in soothing, motherly tones.  The soft, gentle touch on the cheek.  The building and management of a clean and organized home, a comforting shelter, a cooperative micro-community.  The tenderness, the emotional expression, the mother bear protectiveness, the singing, the click clack of the heels, the hugs when you get a boo-boo, the gentle way she cleans up scrapes...

I don't know that I can say anything or any figure can fully replace a mother, or--maybe more accurately--nothing and no one could replace mine.  I wouldn't trade her for any.

Dads are awesome, too.  The providence, the strength, the discipline, the example, the humor, the slightly awkward but meaningful arms around you, the musky smell of cologne, the shoe shining, the ability to objectively assess a situation and help you work through it without getting overly emotionally involved or blinded.  Mom could teach aspects of manhood to me, but she couldn't personally model it like he could and did.  How could you deny that to a child, either?

But then I pause and can't keep certain thoughts and memories at bay.  I can't quite get away with overlaying them with popularly favored binary gender roles without something inside of me resonating with a "wait just a moment".

I have memories of tender moments with my father.  Sometimes, I was sure if we had an intruder, my mother would be the one to beat the crap out of them.  Sometimes, my father was the one more concerned with fashion sense.  My dad was rough getting splinters out, but he also taught peaceful resolution through quiet strength rather than combative conflict born of insecurity masquerading as fierceness.  My mom got overly emotional sometimes, but she also taught us to play sports and speak up for ourselves.  Dad sang to us, even if in occasionally grating tones, and cooked and cleaned.  Mom fixed stuff and worked and handled the finances.  I wasn't raised by completely stereotypical, binary gender roles.  I was raised by a mother and father who taught me different, same, and overlapping or complementary things.  Neither is replaceable because they are my parents, and they are what I know, not because one is a woman and the other is a man.

Don't get me wrong: I don't deny having a male and female role model and caretaker was beneficial and even integral for certain aspects of development of my identity.  I believe it was and is for most children.  In fact, I still suspect that, all else being equal, having a mother and father may be _generally_ ideal, the easiest solution to gender identity development for most children.  And gender is a pretty undeniably core aspect of identity and psychological and social development and adaptation.  Ethnicity is another aspect of identity that some adoptive parents simply cannot model for their children, and some dismiss the value or impact of ethnic background while others try to connect their adopted children with strong role models or family who can be a resource to them.  If I ever have a daughter, I really do hope she has a close female role model, someone who can not only explain the realities of becoming an adult woman, physiologically, psychologically, socially, etc, which I could probably do pretty well at, but who actually understands it firsthand and can  identify with her about it on a firsthand, "I get it" level.  I won't be able to do that.  If I have a son, I will teach him about becoming a man, but I would like him to have a meaningful female role model in his life who shows him, rather than just abstractly telling him, what qualities to look for in a potential future spouse, assuming he's heterosexual, which he most likely would be.  And there might come a time when talking with his dads about his dating life starts to feel a bit off, like there's a disconnect.  Because there very well may be: dating guys as a guy is not the same as dating girls as a guy.  But building a good, stable relationship with communication and respect and healthy choices...that carries over pretty well, in my experience, and I hope to know a thing or two about that to pass on to my children.

I had to figure out the whole gay thing on my own. I had to seek out my own role models, people to identify with, people to sort it all out with.  I didn't have role models at all for same-sex partnership.  But I did have role models for partnership.  It would be easier in many ways if I continued to just live within the bounds set before me: I know what "husband and wife" is supposed to look like and have had excellent role models for it.  But this whole boyfriend and boyfriend thing has aspects about it that I'm not sure translate directly from my parental role models.  So I recognize that if I raise heterosexual children, which is the highest likelihood, they may be in a somewhat similar position.  I would hope that their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and our married friends will be all around them as models and will hopefully be people they can talk to.  I plan to not raise my children in a gay vacuum, or a white vacuum, or a Mormon vacuum, or an agnostic vacuum, or a male vacuum, or a Utah vacuum, or a middle class vacuum.

I guess that's where it really started to break down for me.  I cherish the softness of a mother and benefited from the discipline of a father, but let's be honest, there's enough fierceness, tenderness, protectiveness, singing, emotional expression, cool objectivity, and other traits to go around in my current relationship, and they're not contrived or unnatural: they're just us.  Neither of us has soft shoulders to snuggle into, it's true.  Neither of us has long, silky hair or wears perfume and heels.  If we had children, our children would miss out on that from their parents.  Some kids don't have physically active parents, or parents who communicate well, or educated parents, or emotionally stable parents, or funny parents, or socially connected parents, or principled parents, or culturally aware parents, or parents who respect individuality as well as social integration, or good-looking parents, or healthy parents, or rich parents, or politically powerful parents, or parents who care about cultural heritage, or parents who can take them all over the world, or parents of their ethnicity...  We probably couldn't give a child all of those things, and we couldn't give a child a mother, but we could give a child many of the positive traits, attention, behaviors, and lessons a typical mother offers as well as a good number of things an orphan might hope for, and we could give love from parents who went to great lengths and expense to bring that child into our family to be our son or daughter.

For me, the single biggest hesitation in feeling comfortable with going ahead with adoption has been the realization that though my child would definitely have a father, I would be, in a way, deliberately denying a child the exact kinds of motherly memories I treasured.  And that's not something to be casually shrugged off.  My mom is certainly irreplaceable, and there are memories of her I just couldn't duplicate with my children.  I would just try to make sure they have them as similarly as we can, or in a different but significant form, or with trusted and present, if not parental, loved ones.  Ultimately, I can only hope that if I ever did have children with a male partner that they would grow up as happy, productive, and fulfilled as any, that they would one day reflect back and find that though another parent or a mother might have offered something we couldn't, they can't imagine having to choose one of their irreplaceable dads to deny their children of.