The M-Word

My 2-year-old son Luca loves story time before bed. It often starts with a negotiation about the number of books we are reading tonight. When I can bring him down from ten to about three books, we dive into characters, voices, actions and quite the giggle fits. One of today’s books had a picture of an adult duck with some ducklings. Luca immediately called it a mommy duck with her baby duckies. There was no mention of a mommy in the story so where did this idea come from? He doesn’t use the word mommy to refer to anyone in his life, so why is he using the M-word?


A while back I was inspired by a fellow gay dad blogger and his piece on this very subject – in fact, I am re-using his title with his permission of course. Designer Daddy talks about his son’s birth mother and their struggle with the M-word.

Our birth story is quite different. It included a donor and a surrogate, both of whom Luca calls Auntie and is involved with. We have been very careful NOT to use the word “mother” since it implies a parenting role, which both Aunties do not play. A unique relationship has blossomed between Luca and his Aunties and they are exploring and defining it on their own. It’s actually a beautiful thing to be witness to and we look forward to many more gatherings with them. Luca has many other female role models in his life. He has both grandmothers, my sister whom he calls “Tía” (Aunt in Spanish), an Oma (our donor’s mom), and many of my friends who are either Zias (Aunts in Italian) or other honorary Aunties. But none of these formidable women are called the M-word.

I’ve heard Luca use the word once before. We were swimming at a friend’s house and her little girl kept calling her mom mommy. After a while, Luca started doing the same. He never heard or didn’t register my friend’s name so he assumed it was Mommy. We had a good chuckle and I never thought of it again. I dismissed the idea thinking he was too young, but perhaps Luca already understood something I never gave him credit for.

Nevermind Luca, I never sat down to think of the concept myself. For gay dads it’s very natural to be hypersensitive to how we socialize our kids. We are aware of some of the challenges they will face that most kids might not have to – including the mysterious question about the M-word. As I try to intellectualize all this, I am quite happy to say that I am both mom and dad to my son. In fact, I recently read a neuropsychological paper that studied brain activity in new parents. It was one of the few studies that compared heterosexual mothers and fathers with gay fathers as primary care givers. The main conclusion was that primary care giving mothers tend to access the emotional areas of their brains when responding to their babies, while their husbands access more cognitive circuits. The gay dad brain showed signs of accessing both emotional and cognitive areas equally, thus behaving like a hybrid mom-dad brain.

Sure this sounds great to me, but now how do I explain all this to my 2-year-old? How will we define the M-word together? Am I flying off the rails here and putting WAY too much emphasis on the word? I wish he could just tell me what he’s thinking!!

Cue the ever-so-quiet voice of simplicity in my head: Why don’t you just ask him?

Ehem, ok… So Luca, is it a Mommy duck or a Daddy duck?

It’s a Mommy Duck.

Is it maybe a Papa duck?

No, it’s a Mommy Duck.

Does Luca have a Mommy?

No, Luca has a Daddy and a Papa. (Facial expression saying DUH, don’t you know?)

Yes, and we love you very much.

Quack quack!

It was that simple and he understands it perfectly.

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