The Co-parent Dad
Many GBT men who first become dads in a former heterosexual relationship move on to form stepfamilies that include a new same-sex relationship. LGBT stepfamilies are actually quite common, which, again, isn't so dissimilar to stepfamily creation on the whole in the United States. According to the National Stepfamily Resource Center, 42 percent of adults report having at least one step relative, and 30 percent report having a step or half sibling.
It should go without saying, though, that LGBT stepfamilies face additional complications. “When dating a man as a man with children, I think the most important thing is to just keep it as normal as possible," Kenny Este-Scarle told me, who we first met in a Gays With Kids article that ran last November. Kenny adopted two boys with his ex-wife before divorcing, ultimately coming to terms with his sexuality, and then, eventually, remarrying his current husband, Greg.
“Don't make it a bigger deal than it has to be," Kenny told me, when I asked his advice to other gay dads who find themselves in the dating pool post-divorce. “It can be intimidating, but be upfront and honest with the kids and the boyfriend and let everyone involved know this is okay. Change is okay and can be an amazing journey!"
What about from the other perspective, as a gay man dating another man with kids? “Don't jump into anything," Greg told me. “Take it slow with the kids, let them warm up to you. When you start to date a man with children, it is a package deal. You can't just have him. You have to share. If you can't share then it's probably not a good idea to pursue this kind of relationship."
“I think it's important that a potential partner needs to get to know how the man and his kids interact," Kenny added, suggesting couples first spend time exploring how best to integrate the new relationship. “It's about becoming part of a family and growing together."
Kenny also encouraged dads with kids to include his new partner in parenting in ways that feel comfortable. “Pull the 'boyfriend' aside for tips, pointers, encouragement and any help he may need in developing a relationship with the kids," Kenny said. “It's best that the adults be on the same page so as to provide consistency in everyone's lives! It just makes it easier."
For Greg and Kenny, the decision to involve Greg centrally in parenting allowed the family to evolve in interesting and useful ways. When Greg first started dating Kenny, for instance, Greg was, in his words, just “dating a man with kids." Once their relationship evolved, and the couple got married, however, Greg's role in the family began to evolve as well. Now Greg is also “dad," and is an integral part of the co-parenting arrangement with Kenny's ex-wife, in a situation that works for them all.
It's not, however, a situation without its fair share of complexity. “How do I, as the 'first' dad, let the other dad do things in a way I might not necessarily like?" Kenny asked rhetorically. “How does the 'new' dad deal with the pressure or expectations of being a new parent, and feeling like the other parent is watching and judging him?" There are no simple answers to these questions, Kenny suggested. Rather, they need to be continually addressed and revisited in any co-parenting arrangement.
Of course, an increasing number of GBT dads are entering co-parenting arrangements not by way of former relationships, but intentionally, with other couples or individuals. Though couples entering intentional co-parenting arrangements don't have the added complexity of a divorce to contend with, the situation still presents many challenges. One might wonder, then, why anyone would intentionally choose to enter a co-parenting arrangement in the first place. Won't there be too many cooks in the kitchen?
“There were a few factors behind our decision to co-parent," Bill Delaney told me, who writes about his experience co-parenting for Gays With Kids. “The financials of raising kids in San Francisco, the most expensive city in the country, was a big one. The lack of extended family support since we're not local was another."
Moreover, Bill believes that having those additional cooks is more help than hindrance. “The overall effort it takes to be a full-time parent is daunting and personally I didn't feel up to the job," Bill explained. “Now we are a team of four fully engaged and committed parents and it works beautifully for us and more importantly, for the girls. They are often the envy of their friends."
Co-parenting, Bill explained, also helps avoid some other common problems facing other LGBT parents: “It's an odd thing. We don't have the usual conflicts that many LGBT parents or their kids experience when it comes to holidays such as Father's Day and Mother's Day, or other occasions where both a mother and father, or lack of one or the other, might be referenced. But then, we're also not the traditional opposite-sex parented family either, not even to those who have divorced and remarried which are at least structurally similar to our two-home, four-parent set up. It's a nebulous realm of in-between, but a bit of both. It's an untraditional family. It's pretty cool."
So, for anyone interested in getting messy in the kitchen, what's Bill's advice?
“Be thorough," Bill said. “Be sure you and your co-parents are a good match in temperament and ability to communicate." Bill also recommends discussing all expectations in advance, no matter how touchy or uncomfortable. “Religion, approach to discipline, legal custody, financial arrangements…" he listed. “Even views on abortion," he added, “should there be medical issues for the mom or the child."
Bill also suggests that co-parenting arrangements be put into writing, and that they cover more than just legal concerns. “It is about spelling out all expectations while everyone is calm and rational," Bill said. “You can refer to the agreement if there are disputes, as can legal authorities should it escalate. Consulting legal experts who specialize in alternative families doesn't hurt, nor does meeting with child care professionals who specialize in shared custody cases. We did both and it was a big help."
If you are considering entering into a co-parenting arrangement, there are some resources available that cater specifically to LGBT parents. Organizations like CoParents and CoParentMatch, for example, pair you with other LGBT parents interested in entering a co-parenting arrangement. And other sites such as coparently aren't specifically LGBT, but nonetheless provide resources for individuals who are co-parenting after a divorce. And, once again, check out the Gays With Kids archives for additional stories on LGBT co-parenting arrangements.