Congratulations to the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party Ruth Davidson and your partner Jen, on sharing the joyful news that you are expecting a baby. We don’t know you – but we felt a particular thrill of excitement in hearing your news.
When my partner and I started planning our family over a decade ago, we didn’t know any other lesbian, gay, bi or trans (LGBT) parents. We barely knew anyone who knew any LGBT parents. There were few LGBT people in the public eye who had children. And it was inconceivable that a high-profile politician could announce their forthcoming baby with their same-sex partner with barely a raised eyebrow. How times have changed!
This means that you will be role models. Not only for people combining the demands of work and parenthood, but also for the ever-increasing numbers of LGBT parents. As you’ve said yourselves, to take ‘some of the taboo and mystery away’ from families like ours.
When my partner and I researched ‘Pride and Joy - a guide to LGBT parenting’ we spoke to more than 70 lesbian, gay, bi and trans parents, and their children. In our own ways, every single one of us is a role model.
Every one of us has inspired others in their journeys, whether it be other LGBT people who can now see people like them becoming parents; or straight friends, families and colleagues, who have expanded their concept of who makes a family. There is a wealth of wisdom out there. Now is a great time to be LGBT parents.
So, Ruth and Jen, we hope you don’t mind, but we’d like to share some of the questions that we’ve faced – as have many other LGBT parents - with you too.
Who’s the real mother?
Well, there’s a simple answer to this: you both are. Parenthood is about love and commitment, regardless of who is the biological or birth mother. As someone who is a biological mother to one of my children, and a non-biological mother to the other, I can testify to the truth of that.
Biological mum-of-two Jessica agrees, “Early on, we thought it was important that both of us had the chance to get pregnant, but I was happy to go through it again and my partner didn’t mind. Who gave birth is of secondary importance to us. The birth bit soon passes. We are both completely their parents.”
What will your child call you?
This is the fun bit. With two parents of the same gender, you can mess around with conventions for parental names, as well as for parental roles.
We chose mummy and mama – but could be mom, or mam, or mimzy, or mummy-papa, or be called by your first name, or do whatever you darn well please.
However, as lesbian mum Alison explains, in the end it might not actually be your decision: “We decided I would be called ‘mummy’ and my partner would be ‘mum’, but our son uses ‘mum’ generically for both of us. He’ll bellow ‘mum!’ and we’ll both say ‘yes, darling’.”
What about male role models?
Different family structures are increasingly common. It’s nearly a decade since legislation has stopped fertility clinics from turning away lesbian couples because of a child’s ‘need for a father’ (for more on this and other medical and legal ‘gayby’ facts, check out Stonewall’s guidance).
But this question still lurks under the surface: how can a child with two mothers learn about being a man – or a child with two fathers learn about women – without parents of both genders to show them the way?
Pretty well, it seems. Just listen to Shoshana, a child of lesbian mums now in her 20s: “My brother and I may not have had access to a father figure. However, we grew up in a society full of men we could watch, listen to and communicate with, allowing us to assess for ourselves which positive attributes we thought men should enact; a glorious pick ‘n’ mix gender toolbox.”
What about school? When forms ask for a father’s name? Bullying? Friends? When they want to bring home a girlfriend or boyfriend?
The main lesson I’m learning as a parent is, just when I think I’ve got it all sorted, things change. You face a new question, you find an answer, and then you uncover new challenges and new questions. This is parenting whatever your sexual orientation or gender identity.
Rajo, lesbian mum of teenagers, knows this well. “It’s hard to learn how to be a good parent,” she says. “But the children have taught me to be as honest as I can be. I say when I don’t know something, when I don’t have all the answers. I tell my children, I’ve never been a parent before, so we’re going to have to work this out together as a family.”
Ruth and Jen, this is only the beginning. What an exciting time ahead.
Sarah Hagger-Holt is the co-author of ‘Pride and Joy: A guide for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans parents’ (Pinter and Martin, 2017): www.pinterandmartin.com/pride-and-joy.html @LGBTparentbook