What Not To Say To Same Sex Parents

Summer, Washington state.
Summer, Washington state.

Latest figures show that approximately 19,000 children in the UK have same-sex parents. Yet people say the strangest things to these parents – assuming, for example, that their kids will inevitably be teased at school or that the intricacies of conception, birth and custody are automatically open to discussion, even with complete strangers. Even when peculiar comments are meant well, they can cause huge offence.

So we asked same-sex parents to tell us the comments most frequently made to them that they wish people would just stop saying.

1. Where did you get the eggs/sperm?

"If someone asks this question in front of our children, I respond with something completely off topic that makes it clear the question is not going to be addressed," says Dan Bloom. "If asked in private, outside the presence or our children, we volunteer that we used an anonymous egg donor and a gestational surrogate."

But others feel there's never a right time for this question. "I just don't think it's anyone's business," says Angela Wilkinson. "The irony is that our kids are both adopted."

2. Which one of you is the real parent?

You'll be hard pushed to find a question that riles same sex parents more than this. "My responses have included 'I don't understand your question' or 'If I understand your question correctly, we're both their parents,'" says Dan Bloom.

There are variations on the question, says Judith Barker, including "Which of you is the official parent?" and "What do they call the one of you that isn't Mum?"

"They all show enormous ignorance and just confuse our daughter no end when it's said in front of her."

3. Does your child miss out on doing dad (or mum) things?

"This seems to be a favourite questions from mums in the school playground," says James Williams, author of the blog 4 Relative Strangers and this year's National Adoption Champion.

"To be honest, I wouldn't ask a single mum if their child missed out on playing football - which is the usual gender stereotype. I always answer truthfully that my eldest son loves sports and horse riding, two things I hate but which my partner excels at, whereas my youngest son and I enjoy cooking together, building lego and, yes, playing football in the park."

But playground mums remain obsessed with the notion that a child needs a mother in order to lead a full life, he says. "I even had one mum say to me that she thought it was OK for Dylan and I to be parents of boys but she would question if two men would know how to bring up a girl. I'm half tempted to adopt a third child just to prove her wrong."

4. Is having gay parents hard on them?

No. These kids have two loving parents – or one loving parent if the parent is single - along with an extended family that adore them. How is that hard?

"The variation on this question is, 'Do they get teased at school?'" says Angela Wilkinson. "If I'm honest, I did used to worry about this, but I've never met a child yet who doesn't accept us the same as any other family, which – let's face it – come in all shapes and sizes, with step families, single parent families, foster families and more."

"I always point out that my child could be teased for anything," says James Williams. "The eldest has ginger hair and is more likely to be teased for that than anything else, whilst my youngest has a growth deficiency and is very small for his age.

"The other reply I give is that maybe people should spend more time teaching their children not to be bullies, then we wouldn't have to protect any of our children from bullying. Honestly, people seem to accept bullying as a way of life - and it really doesn't need to be.

"Once, when a girl in the park asked me where my son's mother was and I tried to explain that we were both our child's parents, the mum quickly interjected and said, "I don't think my daughter is mature enough to hear about that yet," says James Williams.

"She and I had a few words and I lent her a copy of Tango Makes Three - the book about the male penguins who adopt a chick in the zoo to share with her daughter. She did and we are all friends now. As I pointed out to her, my partner and I were hardly going to 'make out' in the school playground and I hoped that she and her husband wouldn't either..."

For Judith Barker, every time this is said to her, it feels like a slap in the face. "It suggests there's something wrong with being a same sex couple – a frightful secret to keep from innocent young minds. Others say they won't tell their kids because they worry the children will find it confusing. But really, what's confusing about it?"

6. "Wow, you are so brave."

"The first time someone said this to me, I looked behind me because I thought they must be talking about a spider being there or something," laughs Tony Charter. "Then I realised they meant because I am a gay parent. The problem was that whilst they meant it kindly, I was flummoxed. I've had many emotions about becoming a father, but have never ever felt brave. Does anyone?"

James Williams hates it too. "This gets said all the time, particularly as people know we have two adopted boys.


​It's so patronising. No, we are not brave, we haven't suffered in the way our kids did at the hands of their biological parents - if anyone is brave, it's the kids, who have have had to change schools, change families, change friends - and they cope. We just have to love them and give them the best life we can. I don't think that's brave, I think that's parenting.


7. Are you worried your son/daughter will become gay?

"I always want to laugh when people say this," says Tony Charter. "First off, there's no evidence to suggest that children of gay couples are any more likely to be gay. And second, so what if he is!"

James Williams agrees. "I usually answer, 'My parents were both straight - and look what happened!" Usually followed by, 'So what if they are gay? What's the issue, are you worried your son or daughter might be gay?' Anyway, no one becomes gay - it's not a choice. In fact, I sometimes respond by asking them at what age they chose to be straight."

8. Does your child call you both "Dad" then?

"Well, obviously not," says Will Dodd. "I think most people say this without thinking first, yet to me it feels like there's a sub-text that we can't both really be Dad. So it automatically gets my back up."

It's not like there aren't enough variations on the word dad in the English language, or indeed in individual families, he adds. "In fact, in our family, we are Daddy and Pa, so nobody is Dad!"

"The variation of this, which I hate even more, is 'Which one of you is the Mum?'" says James Williams. "That gets asked a lot."

9. "I didn't know you were gay, you look so straight."

"I have had this in the school playground," says James Williams. "I simply reply that next time I will come into school in my best drag outfit and mince across the playground. Honestly, what does being gay look like? Still, I think this preconception comes a lot from the media so I usually laugh it off."

Same sex parents don't have a "look" any more than straight ones do. And whilst James' preferred response is relatively kind, you might be met with shorter shrift from other gay or lesbian parents.

10. Do you think your kids will turn out OK?'

"Oooh, they're bound to become dysfunctional," giggles Angela Wilkinson. "God, it annoys me when people say this. Why wouldn't they be OK? Again, it's suggesting there's something wrong with us and that it will be against the odds for them to be alright in life?"

"I think by OK people mean normal," says Tony Charter. "And that they mean I'm not normal. So it's not a question that ever goes down well with me."