In my two months as a parent, I've had the pleasure of meeting a lot of new parents. As a gay dad, I am the one signing up for little activity groups and social gatherings with other new parents. I am often the only father in the room. I find myself trying to "fit in" by discussing all of the things that new moms talk about: nap schedules, feeding, baby gear and "that the sidewalks are too narrow!" But there are some topics of conversation to which I cannot contribute (e.g., breast feeding). As a social person, this can leave me feeling a little isolated, almost as if I exist just outside the real parenting bubble. Because being a mom is different.
I have read countless articles on parenting, particularly about the issue of "mom shaming." I've also read their companion articles about the perpetually low expectations that society puts on dads. For example, a mom can be at the grocery store with her children and one is having a temper-tantrum, another is ripping items from the shelf while another is repeatedly asking, "Mom, can I get this?" The mom looks around to see other customers not-so-secretly judging her ("Why can't that woman control her kids?")
Meanwhile, on the other side of the grocery store we have a dad who is pushing a stroller with a sleeping baby. All of the sudden, balloons and confetti fall from the ceiling as the unsuspecting father is surprised to hear that he has received the award for FATHER OF THE YEAR!
Needless to say, the Expectations Game for mothers and fathers is about as fair as a hockey game featuring Canada and Iceland (LOOK AT ME WITH A SPORTS REFERENCE! So butch).
However, I have found the Expectations Game for gay dads to be a little more complex to figure out. It's like there is a heterosexual parenting league and then another league called "Other." Navigating the expectations in the Other parenting league has been challenging, especially as I keep dipping my toes in the heterosexual league. And I think it's because the expectations aren't clear.
As a gay dad, I had (mis)conceptions about what other people were expecting of us as parents. For example, "They're gay so their kid is always going to be dressed so well." I was putting pressure on myself to show that we could handle having a newborn and make it look easy at the same time. With gay parenting becoming more common, I feel as if gay dads put undue pressure on themselves to prove their parenting skills to members of the Hetero Parenting League (and their passionate fans). We share adorable Instagram photos where our child is dressed to perfection while baking a delicious loaf of sourdough bread. See, everyone: we got this! But, after two weeks, I gave up. Parenting is hard and we're not always at our best. I am going to contribute to the parenting community by being authentic, even if it means being judged by members of both the Heterosexual and Other Parenting Leagues.
This may all be in my head (if you took a trip up there, you may not make it out alive), but I think there is some truth to this line of thinking. For years, gay people having children was not an option. Now, through surrogacy, adoption and fostering, more and more members of the LGBTQ+ community are experiencing the joys (and hardships) of parenting. Every few weeks I see another study published with a title like, "Children of Gay Parents Don't Become Sociopaths." Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but gay parenting studies seem to confirm what people from our community have known for a long time: we aren't that much different from you. Some of our kids will be well-adjusted, productive members of society while others will struggle to find their place. These studies can seem like mechanisms to reassure our heterosexual brothers and sisters that there is no need to worry and that our having children will not cause The Apocalypse.
For now, I am going to continue to partake in activities with other new parents. I will share my frustrations and successes. I will analyze bowel movements and feeding patterns of other babies. I will humble-brag when my baby reaches a milestone three days early. But I will not try to hold myself to any standard other than the one that states, I am doing my best.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and change my baby. The diaper goes on the head, right?
Follow our parenting journey on Instagram @daddypapaandjasper